It figures that I wouldn’t write a proper Fourth of July post, but I would do one for France’s Independence Day, the 14th of July. What can I say, I’m a francophile?!
I spent three wonderful summers in Paris and fell in love with Bastille Day (as it’s known abroad)… I have fond memories of picnics on the Champ de Mars behind the Eiffel Tower where every year there’d be a huge concert and fireworks!
Anyway, I may not be celebrating Bastille day in France or let alone here, but I thought today would be a perfect day to dive into French cuisine for my culinary project around the world.
To me, French cuisine is hearty and comforting with rich flavors – dishes like cassoulet or beef bourguignon or steak frites with sauce béarnaise come to mind. Yet, it also has such class and beauty – rows and rows of beautiful éclairs and mille feuilles that line pastry shop windows. And it’s a cuisine with integrity – using the best ingredients and preserving their culinary history. There’s so much I miss about Paris and France and food is high on that list. I would love to add every French classic to my culinary repertoire from pain aux chocolat to cuisses des grenouille to terrines!
French cuisine is also one that interests me the most as a homecook and foodie. So much of my “culinary education” is intrinsically linked with that of French cuisine from classic techniques to the brigade system established restaurant kitchens. One day I’ll dive into Auguste Escoffier’s recipes and read more about his influence on modernizing haute cuisine. I’ll learn about the nuances of regional French cooking and I hope to travel to more areas of France to sample their cuisines.
Thus far, I’ve made several French dishes since starting this blog – French Onion Soup, Moule-Frites, Galette des Rois, Bouchée à la Reine and Les Palmiers — and plan to make many more – baguettes, croissants, and macarons to name a few. But today, I decided to make Croque Monsieurs. These sandwiches are a Parisian cafe favorite (popular since the 1900s) – a ham and cheese sandwich slathered with béchamel sauce and toasted until golden brown. Cheesy and creamy goodness! Really while ham and cheese sandwiches are good, anything with béchamel sauce is GREAT!
The beauty of this recipe is how easy it is to make!
First, assemble your sandwiches. Start with thick slices of white bread (I used a Tuscan loaf I had) and spread with Dijon mustard on both sides. Top with ham and Gruyere or Swiss cheese – don’t be shy with your toppings.
Once you’ve got your sandwiches ready, toast them in a pan with a little butter until golden brown!
Next, start your béchamel sauce. Béchamel is a white sauce made by thickening milk with a roux of butter and flour. It’s a classic mother sauce in French cuisine and sounds super fancy, but is actually ridiculously easy!
First make your roux which is equal parts butter and flour. Melt your butter and once it starts to bubble, add your flour, stirring continuously. You want to cook the flour taste of it it and it will turn to a paste like consistency. Add 1 cup of warm milk and a pinch of nutmeg, stirring continuously. Your sauce will thicken within minutes… it’s magic!
Top your sandwiches with your béchamel sauce and shredded Gruyere cheese. Place under the broiler until golden brown and bubbly.
And with a fried egg on top, you’ve got yourself a Croque Madame! (Apparently, in the UK and the US, a croque madame can also refer to a croque monsieur where the ham as been substituted with chicken and without any mention of the egg).