Most of us grew up eating grilled cheese sandwiches made with American cheese or Velveeta. As children we loved them and begged our moms for more. But as we grew up and our palates evolved, the cheeses weren’t as good as we remembered. We craved something more, but often weren’t sure what that was.
If we had grown up in France instead of America, we would have asked for Croque Monsieur sandwiches. And if we were living large, it would have been a Croque Madame which is the same sandwich with a fried egg on top. Comforting, satisfying, and incredibly rich, either of these makes the perfect lunch, especially on cold days.
One thing that really sets this apart from ordinary ham and cheese sandwiches is the cheesy bechamel sauce that you pour over the top and then broil until bubbling and melted. Talk about decadent! The French really know how to live 🙂
The blending of the creamy, smooth bechamel sauce and grated Gruyere is brilliant. The natural bite of the cheese is mellowed by the lush sauce and the two together are addicting. If you cannot find Gruyere, any Swiss-style cheese will work.
When the cheeses melt in the sauce, it gets quite stringy. If it is too thick, whisk in small amounts of milk (no need to warm it) until you get it is smooth. You want it fairly thick so it will stay on top of the sandwiches when you spread it over the tops.
The cheese sauce takes the place of the usual butter in these “grilled” sandwiches. We get plenty of luscious fat from the blend of cheeses, so I promise you won’t even miss the butter!
Why do I have the cut off the crusts? You don’t, it is a matter of personal choice. But when the sandwiches are served with the cheese sauce ladled over the top, they can get pretty messy and are much easier to eat them with a fork and knife. A simple grilled ham and cheese is more often eaten by hand and benefits from the support the crusts give the sandwiches.
This is one of the quintessential French dishes that we enjoyed during our visit to Paris last fall. One bite and I am back alongside the Seine, watching people as we sit outside a little bistro. I love the simplicity of this meal, so common there and a vast improvement over what we normally eat here.
In America a Croque Monsieur is usually served without the cheese sauce, as a simple grilled ham and cheese sandwich. If you are feeling extra decadent or in need of extra protein turn this into a Croque Madame by adding a fried egg on the top, with the egg yolk melting into the cheese sauce. You are welcome to serve it any way you want, but for the most authentic French experience, definitely try it with the sauce over the top. C’est magnifique!
This is part of Food Network’s Comfort Food Feast ~ make sure you check out everyone’s interpretations of grilled cheese sandwiches. You will be thrilled at the variety and creativity of these wonderful writers!
Have a fantastic weekend ~ see you next week for Chocolate Monday! 🙂
Jane’s Tips and Hints:
Pre-grated cheeses may be convenient but they are not the best choice for sauces. The additives they contain to help keep the strands from sticking together during packaging also prevents it from melting smoothly. Buy blocks of cheese and shred it yourself for the best sauces.
You will see that I recommend replacing the all-purpose flour with either sorghum or a GF flour blend. You can use the sorghum 1:1, but the blends contain starches. You don’t need as much for thickening. In addition to reducing the amount of the flour, you may need to add a little more milk. Remember that the sauce will thicken as it stands – you want it thick enough to smear over the top slices of bread.
- 2 cups milk, plus more if needed
- 2 tbsp butter
- 3 tbsp all-purpose flour, sorghum flour, or 2 tbsp Gluten-Free Flour blend *
- 1 tsp kosher salt
- 1/2 tsp freshly ground black or white pepper
- Pinch ground nutmeg
- 5 cups (12 oz) freshly grated Gruyere cheese, divided (see hints above)
- 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan
- 16 slices French or gluten-free sandwich bread
- Dijon mustard, preferably Edmond Fallot brand, made in Dijon, France
- 8 oz baked or boiled ham slices such as sandwich meats
- Parsley, for garnishing
- Preheat the oven to 400°F. Note: If your oven has a “Toasting” feature, you can use that instead.
- Place the milk in a saucepan and warm over medium heat to just below a simmer. There will be tiny bubbles around the edges of the pan and steam rising from the milk’s surface. Pour into a Pyrex or other heatproof glass measuring cup with a spout. Wipe out any residual milk sugar in the bottom of the pan.
- Place the saucepan over low heat and add the butter. When the butter is fully melted, whisk in the flour. Cook for 2 minutes, whisking constantly, until the raw flour aroma is gone and the mixture begins to smell slightly nutty. Whisking vigorously, slowly pour the hot milk into the butter–flour mixture and cook, until the sauce is thickened, about 3 minutes. Get the sauce as thick as you want now because you cannot boil it once the cheese is added.
- Remove the sauce from the heat and whisk in the salt, pepper, nutmeg, 1/2 cup of the grated Gruyere, and all the Parmesan. Set aside.
- Cut the crusts off the bread slices and place on 2 baking sheets. Bake for 5 minutes. Flip each slice over and bake for another 2 minutes, or until toasted and browned on both sides.
- Lightly brush half the toasted breads with mustard on one side, place a slice of ham on top of the mustard smeared bread, and evenly sprinkle with 2-1/4 cups (half of the remaining) Gruyere. Top each with another piece of toasted bread to make 8 sandwiches.
- Ladle the cheese sauce over the top of each sandwich, sprinkle with the remaining 2-1/4 cups grated Gruyere, and slide the baking sheet back in the oven. Bake the sandwiches for 5 minutes to warm the ham. Turn on the broiler and broil for 3 to 5 minutes, or until the topping is bubbly and lightly browned.
- Sprinkle with the parsley and serve hot.
- * Gluten-free flour blends contain starches that are more efficient thickeners than plain flours. You may not need as much if you are using a GF flour blend.
Create a New Tradition Today!
This recipe is part of Food Network’s weekly Comfort Food Feast. See the links below for inspiration and great recipes and check out our Pinterest page for even more!
- The Heritage Cook: Gluten-Free Croque Monsieur Sandwiches
- In Jennie’s Kitchen: Homemade Pizza Pockets
- Food for 7 Stages of Life: Best Caramelized Mushroom and Pineapple Grilled Cheese Sandwich
- Dishing With Divya: Egg and Mushroom Cheese Sandwich
- The Cultural Dish: Croque Monsieur and Madame
- Weelicious: Grilled Cheese Pickle Panini
- Swing Eats: Mind-Blowing Grilled Cheese: Sriracha Ketchup, Kettle Potato Chips, Pickles, Sharp Cheddar (gluten-free)
- Red or Green: Cheddar, Peppadew & Basil Panini
- Napa Farmhouse 1885: Inside/Outside Grilled Cheese with Bacon, Avocado & Sundried Tomatoes
- Taste with the Eyes: Grilled Halloumi Cheese Salad, Savory Meyer Lemon Whipped Cream
- Creative Culinary: Inside Out Grilled Cheese with Tomato
- The Mom 100: Fork in the Road: Great Grilled Cheese Sandwich
- Daily*Dishin: Grilled Cheese Italian Style: Pepperoni and Parmesan Crust
- FN Dish: 6 Gooey Grilled Cheeses You Can’t Live Without
Let’s connect! If you ever need any entertaining or cooking advice, need to alter a recipe for gluten-free, or want recipe suggestions, don’t hesitate to email me. Thanks for reading!
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