This is a grilled cheese sandwich with ham added. In France, it’s traditionally baked and you use béchamel. I’ll give you two recipes: an easy one from Vincent Price (more about him later), and then one you’re more likely to find on restaurant menus, and certainly if you order one in France. You’ll get four sandwiches out of each one.
NOTE: You might also have heard of something called a Croque Madame. That’s a Croque Monsieur with a somewhat runny fried egg plopped on top. Check with your cardiologist before taking Croque Madame.
Vincent Price tells you to take eight slices of sandwich bread (white bread is implied), on four of the slices put one slice each of Gruyére, ham, and Roquefort, top with the remaining four slices, and fry in butter in a skillet until the sandwiches are toasty brown on each side. You can also beat an egg with a little milk, brush the sandwiches with this, then fry in the butter. VP tells you to quarter these if serving as appetizers which, genius, I never thought to do this…
OK, Cousin Matthew, that’s the catch? The catch is you do not want to stop there, so grab your Gauloises and head with me to Paris’s romantic Left Bank.
8 slices of hearty white bread, preferably from a single loaf that you slice yourself, and each slice should be a little thicker than a sandwich slice. It needs to hold up to the béchamel sauce.
4 thick slices of smoky ham from the deli or a butcher
8 oz. of Gruyère cheese, grated.
Make the béchamel sauce first. In a small saucepan melt 1/2 stick of butter (4 oz.) over medium heat. Add a little flour, maybe 1/4 cup and stir this around for 3 or 4 minutes, no more. Gradually add in 12 oz./1 1/2 cups whole milk and keep stirring, another 4 minutes or so. You should see the sauce thicken at this point. Do not use some weird butter substitute or anything less than whole milk. Turn off the heat, move the saucepan over, and stir in something like Grey Poupon mustard, 2 tbls. approximately. Don’t use anything sweet, like Guldens. You want this to be a little tangy.
This is when you can slice the bread if you want. Get the oven up to 425 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Spread all 8 slices with béchamel. Add a thick slice of ham to each of four of them, then sprinkle on about half the Gruyère. Top with the remaining four slices, béchamel side up (this is important) then sprinkle the rest of the Gruyére to top. Put the four sandwiches in the oven and bake for 10 to 15 minutes until the tops are an Instagram-worthy crispy golden.
Caution: If you’ve never had one, this traditional version is very rich. You’ve never met me in real life but trust me when I say that to get through two of these in one sitting is a heroic undertaking, and I am not a small, finicky person. And the other thing is these do NOT make for good leftovers, so I recommend one per person. Even the béchamel sauce doesn’t keep really well, but it’s a very easy, adaptable sauce so it’s good to know how to make it. These sandwiches are usually eaten at lunch or dinner with a simple green salad. I like to accompany with cornichons, too, if I have any.
Now about Vincent Price: Aside from appearing in seemingly every Edgar Allan Poe screen adaptation ever made, he and his wife Mary were very talented home chefs who published lots of cookbooks in the latter 1/3 of the 20th century. He was also an extremely erudite art collector with exquisite taste. Apparently he was very chatty, thoughtful, and witty. I wish I could have met him.
This was all known to me but the Vincent Price Croque Monsieur popped up on one of my favorite websites, Silver Screen Suppers which is a semi-regularly published compendium of celebrity recipes. It’s fascinating. I urge you all the check it out.