“I suddenly discovered that cooking was a rich and layered and endlessly fascinating subject. The best way to describe it is to say that I fell in love with French food- the tastes, the processes, the history, the endless variations, the rigorous discipline, the creativity, the wonderful people, the equipment, the rituals.” - Julia Child
With French food being among the most popular in Europe, there are plenty of tasty dishes that budding chefs can learn to make.
One of the quickest and easiest dishes to make is the Croque Monsieur. While it's essentially a ham and cheese sandwich at its core, the way you make it and the use of bechamel and melted cheese on top of it makes it so much more than a cheese toasty or grilled cheese sandwich with sliced ham.
In this article, we’ll look at just how you can make it.
Where Did the Croque Monsieur Originate?
The dish is popular in Parisian bistros and is often ordered by tourists and locals alike. It’s quick to make, quick to eat, and great with a side of fries or salad.
But is the Croque monsieur even French?
The answer isn’t that simple.
Certain historians trace the Croque monsieur to Australian aboriginals. It’s travelled a long way. Of course, it changed a bit on its journey.
These Australian nomads would wrap their meat in two slices of dough and cook it over a wood fire. This recipe made its way further afield with roots in Indonesia.
You’re probably wondering how this came to be the Croque monsieur we know today.
It wasn’t until the 20th century that the Croque monsieur would appear in France. In 1910, a Parisian café on the Boulevard des Capucines starting offering the Croque monsieur; slices of with melted cheese and slices of ham.
It was an instant success and started popping up all over the city. More and more cafés and bistros began offering them to Parisians and tourists. However, it wasn’t called a “Croque Monsieur” yet.
Outside of Paris, a “Croque” referred to toast that was made by soaking the bread in eggs. Funnily enough, this is basically what we call “French toast” in the UK. The word made its way into the city.
Historian René Girard gives another explanation:
In his 1947 book “Histoire des mots de la cuisine française” (History of Words in French Cuisine), he mentions the bistro “Le Bel Age”. The chef Michel Lunarca had to replace the bread due to a shortage in the city. He chose to use sliced bread rather a traditional baguette. When the customer asked which meat he had used, he replied: “du monsieur” (implying the meat was human) as a joke. I guess you had to be there...
Nevertheless, the legend lived on and the whole world became enamoured with Croque monsieurs.
Louis Leprince-Ringuet defined the Croque monsieur in 1966 as:
Ham between two slices of bread covered in cheese which is baked in the oven.
Now there are several different types of Croque monsieur. In Paris, it’s served with bechamel sauce. However, the recipe can also call for fruit, vegetables, etc.
There are related dishes all over the world, too. In the US, there’s the grilled cheese, the cheese toasty in the UK, welsh rarebit, and in France, the fast-food chain Quick serves their Quick’N Toast.
The most famous variant, however, is probably the “Croque Madame”. This is a Croque Monsieur with a fried egg on top.
There’s many a great “Croque”.
Discover some other great easy recipes.
The True Croque Monsieur Recipe
Now you know the history of the Croque monsieur, you should learn how to make one.
Here’s the recipe for a traditional Croque monsieur.
Ingredients for 4 people:
- 8 slices of bread
- 50g of softened butter
- 4 slices of ham
- 8 slices of cheese
- 100g of grated gruyere cheese
- 4 tablespoons of milk
- A pinch of nutmeg
- Salt and pepper
Butter the bread on one side only. Add a slice of cheese. Before buttering the slices of bread, you can always toast them.
Add a slice of ham to four of the slices. If the ham’s too big, you can always fold it in half. Place the other slices on top.
Mix the grated cheese, milk, salt, pepper, and nutmeg in a small pot. Place the mix on top of your sandwiches.
Now place your Croque monsieurs onto a baking tray and bake for 10 minutes.
If you prefer Croque monsieurs with bechamel sauce, you just need to place the bechamel on the lower slice and top of the sandwich before sprinkling the grated gruyère on top.
After something more substantial?
Learn how to make a quiche.
Different Types of Croque Monsieur
Who said there was only one way to make a Croque monsieur?
Each year, more and more variations are popping up. Here are a few you could make at home.
The Croque Madame
The Croque madame is the most similar variation to the original. All you have to do is add a fried egg to the top of your Croque monsieur. Heat your frying pan while the Croque monsieur is in the oven so that the two will be ready at the same time.
Hawaiian toast is great for anyone who enjoys a sweet-savoury mix. This is even easier to make than a Croque monsieur. Take four slices of bread and take place a slice of cheese and a slice of pineapple on each one... that’s it!
I’d recommend using gouda for the cheese as it goes together really well with pineapple. You can also add honey and walnuts if you want. If you love sweet and savoury combinations, try toast with blueberries and goat’s cheese.
There’s a Croque monsieur for all the seasons. Instead of ham, you can add mushrooms and onions. This is great in autumn.
There are even Croque monsieurs for vegetarians. You can use ingredients such as avocado, onions, tomatoes, cheese, and basil. You can slice avocados or crush them before adding them to your sandwich.
Similarly, you could enjoy it with spinach, artichoke, and cheese.
Just like with pizzas, there are now dessert versions of the Croque monsieur. Put simply, you can add sweet things to your Croque monsieur. Marshmallows, melted chocolate, the choice is yours!
If you've got a sweet tooth, you should learn how to make your own crepes.
Why not add pizza ingredients to your Croque monsieur?
Tomato sauce, mozzarella, and ham. And there you have your pizza Croque monsieur.
Or you could learn how to make a pizza from scratch!
For when your Croque monsieur just isn’t French enough. Start by adding a bit of tomato sauce (not ketchup!), aubergine, and courgettes. You can even add some garlic and herbes de Provence. Enjoy!
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Advice for Getting the Most Out of Your Croque Monsieur
To make your Croque monsieurs a success, you need to get the right ingredients.
Firstly, carefully choose your bread. You can get white or brown bread. This depends on your taste. Generally, brown bread has more taste than white bread. However, if your ingredients don’t have a strong taste, you might want to avoid brown bread and opt for white bread.
When it comes to cheese, you should opt for cheeses like gouda. Some cheeses respond well to pepper, too. If you want something stronger, opt for Roquefort.
As for a side dish, go for a salad with a nice vinaigrette. You’ll want something light with a Croque monsieur. However, if you are really hungry, you can always have it with french fries. That’s how they do it in Paris, after all.
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