Croque Madame

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Oh, I’m sorry. Did you come here looking for an anemic salad to start your new year off right? Sorry I’m not sorry.

A while back, I shared a long brunch with friends on a very lazy Sunday at one of my favorite under-the-radar Milwaukee establishments. The croque madame I had was served open face, doused in mornay sauce and it was simple and totally scrumptious. We lingered over another round of bloodies, chatting about nothing and everything and upcoming weddings and how far we had all come since we met at Marquette.

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Croque madame has haunted me ever since so, obviously, I’m here to get you hooked. Don’t let the Mornay sauce freak you out– it’s just a cheesy béchamel sauce. Does making a béchamel freak you out? It shouldn’t. Once you’ve got this mother sauce under your belt, you’re on one slippery slope to better macaroni and cheese,  soups, lasagna… not to mentioned smothering biscuits, impressive souffles… It’s a gateway drug. My secret is adding the milk to the roux slowly, a cup at a time, whisking like mad after each addition to avoid any lumps. Then just simmer away, whisking it up every few minutes. The recipe below will yield a LOT of mornay sauce, so feel free to halve the sauce recipe or invite your friends over for lunch.

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And if you’re one of those poor souls who thought I’d serve you up a healthy salad first thing outta the 2013 gates, feel free to assuage your guilt by serving this with a big, fresh bowl of dressed greens on the side. Truth time: I had two bunches of kale for breakfast this morning.

I know. I don’t know what’s wrong with me either.

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Croque Madame
Serves 2 as a hearty meal or 4 as a part of a bigger spread

4 slices of good bread, lightly toasted
4 tablespoons Dijon mustard
8 thin slices baked ham
1 cup shredded Gruyere cheese
Mornay sauce (recipe follows)
4 eggs

Move an oven rack to the uppermost position and preheat your broiler. Meanwhile, line a cookie sheet with parchment paper or foil. Lay the bread on the pan and spread each with a tablespoon of Dijon. Top each slice of bread with a couple slices of ham and about ¼ cup of cheese. Place the pan into the oven to melt the cheese and crisp up the ham under the broiler—about 2 minutes. Remove the pan from the oven and quickly top each slice with a dollop of Mornay sauce. Return the pan to the broiler for 3-4 minutes until the sauce is heated through and sinfully bubbly. Watch carefully so it doesn’t burn!

Meanwhile, fry your eggs in a well-greased skillet over medium heat until the whites are firm and the yolks remain liquid. Top each slice of bread with an egg and munch to your heart’s content.

Mornay Sauce:

3 tablespoons butter
1 shallot, finely minced
¼ c. flour
1 bay leaf
4 peppercorns
4 whole cloves
4 c. milk
¼  c. grated parmesan
1 c. shredded Gruyere
nutmeg (whole is best, ground will do)
salt to taste

In a large, heavy-bottomed saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat. Once melted, add the shallot and cook until translucent, about 2-3 minutes. Sprinkle in the flour while stirring constantly and cook for another 3-4 minutes. Tah-dah! You’ve made a roux.
Increase the heat to high and then, whisking like a maniac, slowly pour in the milk and whisk until the mixture comes up to a simmer.When you’re simmering, turn the heat back down to medium-low and add the bay leaf, cloves and peppercorns and continue to simmer for 30-40 minutes until it looks thick, rich and creamy. Be careful not to scorch it— this means that the proteins and sugars in the milk have burnt (and stuck!) on the bottom of the pan. Stirring it fairly frequently and watching your heat levels should help avoid this. If it scorches, just throw the sauce into another pan and continue to cook (on lower heat and stirring frequently). Once thickened, take the sauce off the heat and strain into a bowl. Add the cheeses and a few gratings of nutmeg (or about a ¼ teaspoon if you only have pre-ground nutmeg). Taste the sauce then add salt to your preference.

 

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3 Responses to Croque Madame

  1. Scott says:

    An incredible sandwich!

    The Croque Madame originated from the croque-monsieur, which is a tasty hot ham and cheese grilled sammie. It is an example of French “fast food” which, obviously, bears no resemblance to ours. Most cooking historians say that it started to pop up around 1910. Don’t know for sure, wasn’t there at the time. Many dictionaries attribute the name to the egg resembling an old fashioned woman’s hat. According to Le Petit Robert Dictionary, the name dates to around 1960.

    The famous French chef Jacques Pepin made a version using chicken instead of ham that he showed on PBS’s “Our Favorite Sandwiches” with Julia Child. But who in their right mind would substitute chicken for ham? Really.

    I’d serve it with a nice salad; perhaps some braised leeks, a full bodied sparkling wine, a pair of flannel pajamas and a full day of The Carol Burnett show reruns (or in your case, West Wing).

  2. Laura says:

    Dad– braised leeks! YES. Those have been on my mind lately… They fit my “let’s take something really healthy and cover it in fat and cheese” motto. I guess now I have to give them a shot.

  3. Uncle Steve says:

    Great photos of the Croque. Given that I am on my post-Holiday-binge diet/cleansing/rehab, it is a bit of a taunt. If you are ever interested in a guest-contribution, I can take a stab at doing a chronicle of one of my frequent manic food projects.

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