This is a grilled ham and cheese sandwich taken to great heights which only the French could have dreamed up. OK, I came up with the Provencal part of the sandwich, the rest I give credit to the French. It was first seen on menus in some Paris brassieres and bistros during the early 1900’s. The name given to it was “Croque Monsieur”. The translation being derived from the French verb croquer (to bite) and a reference by the bartender that the ham came from a gentleman (monsieur) who was the local butcher sitting nearby. It was a toasted sandwich made with Ham and Gruyere or Comte cheese.
With any great story, there is always a leading lady who steps in. She doesn’t appear until the 1960’s. A fried egg was placed on top of the Croque Monsieur. Giving the appearance of a lady’s hat on top of this “gentleman” sandwich inspired the name “Croque Madame”.
The French are renowned for their five “Mother Sauces”, each being a foundation for culinary creativity of future generations throughout the world. Bechamel, Velouté, Espagnole, Hollandaise & Classic Tomato Sauce. In 1903 these sauces were being published by Auguste Escoiffier in Le Guide Culinaire. A few years later our “Mother Grilled Cheese Sandwich” (a.k.a. Croque Monsieur) started making appearances in Paris bistros.
Since then, the variations have been as endless as the lights of Paris. The English invented the Welsh Rarebit sandwich and here in the United States, we came up with the Monte Cristo. Each is a variation of the legendary Croque Monsieur.
It’s a rich dish so the ratio of bread to meat and cheese needs to be right. You need the toasted bread to have a “bite”, not to be too thin and crunchy. And, not too thick and soft. The right amount of cheese to create the “gooey” factor. I chose Comte cheese to keep the “French” thing going. It is made on the other side of the Alps from its Swiss sister, Gruyere. The right amount of ham to get the sweet/smokey flavor. The egg, what’s more delicious than cheese, ham and eggs. Its silky, smooth texture can make one swoon.
And, my addition the “Provencal”, baked tomato slices with garlic and herbs for sweet acidity and pops of herbal delightfulness. I crave a flavorful tomato in the winter when that is basically impossible to find. Baking them encourages the sugars to blossoms, giving you burst of summer memories. You’ll encourage the most flavor out of vine, roma, cocktail, cherry or grape tomatoes. I also added a Mornay Sauce (daughter to the Mother Sauce Bechamel) because I wanted that extra creaminess and it just seemed like a very French thing to do.
Vegetarian? That would be a Croque Mademoiselle. Eliminate the ham. Keep the tomatoes and maybe add some baked zucchini to it as well.
Croque Madame Provencal
ROASTED SLICED TOMATOES
- 1/2 pound On the Vine Tomatoes sliced ¼ inch thick (8 slices)
- 1 tablespoon Avocado Oil
- 1 1/2 teaspoons Garlic Minced (1 large clove)
- 1/4 teaspoon Dried Thyme 3/4 teaspoon, if using fresh
- 1 tablespoon Fresh parsley finely chopped
- 1/8 teaspoon celery seed
- 1/4 teaspoon Coarse Sea Salt
- Fresh Ground Pepper
- 1 1/2 tablespoons Unsalted Butter
- 1 1/2 tablespoons Flour
- 1 cup Whole Milk warmed
- 1 cup Comte Cheese shredded
- 1/4 teaspoon Dijon Mustard
- 1/8 teaspoon Salt
- 8 slices Crooked Tree Breadworks Brioche Bread 3/8 inch thick
- 2 tablespoons Unsalted Butter
- 2 cups Comte Cheese shredded
- 16 slices Ham about 8 ounces
- Mornay Sauce
- Roasted Tomatoes
- Arugula and Avocado for garnish
- 4 Farm Fresh Eggs
- 1 tablespoon Unsalted Butter
- Salt to taste
ROASTED SLICED TOMATOESHeat oven to 375 degrees.
- Slice tomatoes (or halve if using smaller tomatoes). Arrange on a baking sheet and drizzle with avocado oil. Sprinkle with garlic, thyme, parsley, celery seed, salt & pepper.
- Bake for 30 minutes. Set to the side. Note: Can be made 2 days ahead.
- In a small saucepan, melt butter over medium low heat. Once it begins to bubble, whisk in flour. Continue whisking 4 minutes, not allowing the roux to brown. Slowly add the milk (continuously whisking), let the sauce thicken before adding more milk. Slowly add the cheese, whisking till it’s melted. Season with the mustard and salt. Set to the side and keep warm. Note: Can be made the day prior and reheated on low heat.
- Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees. Heat a nonstick sauté pan or cast-iron skillet to medium heat. Melt half the butter. Toast the bread on each side for 2-3 minutes. You will have to do this in batches. Add more butter as needed. Place the toast on a baking sheet.
- Top 4 of the bread slices with ham. Spoon 1 tablespoon Mornay Sauce over each sandwich. Top with Comte.
- Top with Roasted Tomatoes. Add the top layer of toast.
- Top each with 1 tablespoon Mornay Sauce and Comte Cheese.
- Place in oven and cook until cheese has melted, and the sandwich is warmed through (about 15 minutes). While in the oven, go to “The Madame” step.
- Once sandwiches are warmed through, place under the broiler for 1-2 minutes to brown the top. Serve immediately topped with the fried eggs.
- In a non-stick or cast-iron skillet, heat the butter over medium heat. Crack the eggs into the pan. Reduce the heat if the butter is getting to hot. Cook for 2 minutes, or until the whites are mostly set. Cover for one minute or until the whites are set and the yolk is still runny. Immediately top on sandwiches and serve.