“A grilled ham and Swiss, please.” No, this not your typical, lowly, grilled ham and cheese sandwich. This sandwich becomes, oh, so much more, when Frenchified.
The Croque Monsieur is, by far, the most popular and most quintessential of Parisian bistro fare after the roast chicken and steak frites. The sandwich consists of thin slices of ham and gooey Gruyère nestled between hearty slices of country bread, and slathered with a creamy béchamel sauce. You can turn it into a Croque Madam by topping it with a sunny side up egg. Serve it with a side of leafy greens, and you have a quick meal-so French in its simplicity and sophistication.
In Paris, pain Poilâne is the bread of choice. With good reason. Their beautiful loaves provide a slightly crunchy yet chewy crust with the hint of sourdough and a tender middle. After a few days (if it lasts that long!) the crust grows firmer and the sourdough becomes tangier making it the best bread for flavorful tartines or breakfast toasts with jam and butter.
Poilâne’s main shop is on the rue du Cherche-Midi, in the heart of the 6th arrondissement, and is always one of the first places I visit when I am there. I can’t resist picking up a whole loaf and one (or three) of their divine, buttery, apple tartlets.
In NY, I am lucky enough to have several terrific bakeries to choose from when I am in need of a good bread. Two such bakeries are located on opposite ends of Manhattan. Orwashers (http://www.orwashers.com/) is on the upper east side and Pain D’Avignon is on the lower east side (http://www.paindavignon-nyc.com/). Despite these distances, separated only by a subway ride, I am lucky in that I can pick up bread from both bakeries at my favorite food market, Fairway on the upper west side.
I love the bread from Orwashers and many of their loaves come wine- and beer-infused, which is really interesting and fun to pair with different cheeses and meats. They do have many traditional bread recipes as well, and while they are also famous for their massive hand filled doughnuts, their black and white cookies are the best in the city. (IMHO) But you do have to make the trek up to their store to enjoy those!
If you find yourself on the lower east side, hidden away in the Essex St. Market, you can find the first retail outlet for Pain D’Avignon. Long before this shop opened, Pain d’Avignon had been supplying prestigious NYC eateries like Eleven Madison Park and Momofuku with bread from their wholesale bakery in Long Island City. Their sourdough breads and croissants are truly terrific.
For this iteration of the Croque Monsieur, I am making one sandwich from each, a Pain D’Avignon Sourdough and an Orwashers pain de campagne. They both had different levels of sourdough flavor; the Pain D’Avignon was much more like a SF sourdough and lighter in color and texture while the Orwashers’ pain de campagne had more crumb and a grainier texture. Both are just right for making this amped up grilled cheese!
The béchamel for this recipe is made with a dash of cayenne pepper instead of the traditional nutmeg but you can also add a dash of nutmeg if you would like. Just be careful not to add too much salt as the ham is also salty.
A few years ago I received Panini press and it’s been sitting in my basement pantry for quite a while so I pulled it out, cleaned it off and used it for the first grilling of the sandwiches. In the recipe, David doesn’t just say to brush the slices with butter, he says to brush them without restraint with melted butter. And that’s exactly what I did!
Once the sandwiches were golden brown and toasted, I moved them to a cast iron skillet for final cheese melt under the broiler.
The first bite, the crunch of the crust, the buttery toast, the oozing cheese and béchamel and the salty ham, it’s what grilled cheese dreams are made of. At least, French ones.
This week’s recipe can be found on page 137. For details on recreating this and other recipes, check out the CookTheBookFridays site and see others who are also cooking the book-
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