05 May, 2012

Variations on a theme: Ham & Cheese

What's more American than a ham and cheese sandwich?  Unless it's French? Or contains turkey?

When we were little,  Mom would slap boiled ham, American cheese and French's mustard on Wonder bread and send us off to school.


A few years later, we moved to Europe where we discovered the Croque Monsieur  and its more feminine rendition, the Croque Madame.  The Monsieur was a sandwich made up of a grilled Gruyere cheese loaded with thin slices of ham and fried in clarified butter, and covered with Bechamel or Mornay (Bechamel with cheese) sauce. The Madame substituted turkey for the ham.  Strangely (at least to me) recent menus list the sandwiches as identical except for a fried egg topping the Madame.  When did that happen? It should be a Croque Monsieur à cheval (on horse back).


It you want to go Made-in-the-USA, you can stick with "The Hot Brown," an open-faced sandwich of turkey and bacon, covered in Mornay sauce and baked or broiled until the bread is crisp and the sauce begins to brown. Many Hot Browns also include ham with the turkey, and either pimentos or tomatoes over the sauce. 


None of these are exactly diet food, but if calories are really not a concern, go for broke with a Monte Cristo: turkey, ham and Swiss cheese on battered egg bread, and deep fried.  It's served dusted with powdered sugar and a side of strawberry jam.
Me, I'll stick with the Croque Monsieur. 


Croque Monsieur

3 Tbsp unsalted butter   
3 Tbsp all purpose flour   
1 1/2 cups whole milk, gently warmed   
1/2 tsp salt   
pinch of nutmeg   
4 Tbs grated Parmesan cheese   
8 oz grated Gruyère cheese ( 1 1/2 cups)   
12  very thin slices  Black Forest Ham   
Dijon mustard   
8 slices thick-cut French sandwich loaf   
2 Tbsp unsalted butter, room temperature  


Make the sauce: In a small saucepan on low heat, melt butter until foamy. Add flour and cook, stirring constantly with a flat whisk until smooth, about 2 minutes. Slowly add milk, stirring continuously, and cook until the mixture thickens enough to coat the back of a spoon, about 2 minutes. Remove from heat and season with nutmeg and salt and pepper to taste. Stir in Parmigiano and 4 tbsp grated Gruyère. Set aside to cool. It should be very thick.

 Preheat oven to 375° Set aside 4 Tbsp of the grated gruyere. Place the bread slices on a rimmed sheet and bake for 5 minutes, turn and toast an additional 5 minutes. Remove pan from oven.

Butter one side of 4 slices and place, butter side DOWN back on the rimmed pan. Spread the top of those slices with mustard. Lay down three slices of ham on top of the mustard, then top each with a quarter of the remaining cheese. Cover with the remaining bread slices. Bake in oven 3-5 minutes until cheese starts to melt.

Turn on broiler.

Spread the sauce generously all of the top of each sandwich. Make sure to spread it out over the edges so they don't burn. Sprinkle to reserved Gruyere over the top of the Mornay sauce. Place this under the broiler until the cheese is nice and bubbly and everything is warmed through, roughly 4-6 minutes.

Serve with a tossed green salad and chilled white wine! 

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