During a recent trip to Paris, Chris Kimball was re-introduced to the savory, cheesy wonder that is a well-made croque monsiuer by master fromager Laurent Dubois. For the uninitiated, the croque monsiuer is like your classic grilled cheese and ham sandwich, just with the volume turned up to ten. Instead of yellow mustard, spicy-tangy dijon is used. Instead of cheddar, nutty gruyère. For an extra bit of cheesy creaminess, the French use one of my favorites: béchamel, or flour and milk mixed together and thickened on the stove until it has been whisked into a white silky sauce.
The only problem? As délicieux as these sandwiches are, not everybody's willing to monitor a stovetop roux for 30 minutes to make the béchamel. The minute Chris returned stateside, our team at Milk Street set to work to make a weeknight (or even weekday) version, and the oven-baked three-layer croque monsiuer was born. They devised a shortcut béchamel, allowed us to batch them in the oven rather than cooking one-by-one on the griddle, and, to top it off, they made it a double-decker.
For the faux-béchamel, we whip together a quick "sauce" of crème fraîche, shredded Gruyère, dijon mustard, salt, pepper and, for a hint of je ne sais quoi, a couple shakes of nutmeg. That’s it, the hard part is done. The rest is just assembly, which is as easy as buttering one side of bread, slathering a tablespoon of the cheese mixture on the other side, and topping with ham and another piece of bread. Then repeat the process one more time. Next, the sandwiches bake in a screaming-hot oven for ten minutes, are flipped so each side has the same level of buttery crispness, then baked again for another seven minutes.
The final step—arguably the most important of them all—is to spread even more of the nutty cheese mixture over the top of each sandwich, then broil them until they retain a beautiful, rich golden brown hue and the cheese is melted into bubbly submission. (A word to the wise: once your sheet pain is under the broiler, watch it like a hawk—that “béchamel” can go from beautiful to burnt in no time.)
The final result is everything you’d want in an elevated ham and cheese: crispy on the outside, creamy on the inside. Every ingredient shines through, from the tangy dijon which adds just enough acidity to cut through the richness, to the warm, slightly sweet nutmeg which serves as the perfect agent to round out the flavors. It’s amazing what can be achieved in just 35 minutes.
To complete the meal, I decided to lean in to the chic Parisian vibe I was going for with a spring mix salad and a simple, citrus-forward vinaigrette. And with only a bowl, plate and sheet pan to clean, I was left fully satiated with the rest of my night free. 10/10, I will make these sandwiches for dinner again and again.
Photos courtesy of Sydney Manning
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