Some of my fondest memories during my trips to France took place in small cafes and brasseries. During my first visit, we arrived in the middle of winter. It was snowy and cold, cold, cold. We stayed next door to a bakery and each morning the aroma of freshly baked breads wafted down the street. It was the perfect place to stop by in order to warm up. There is nothing like fresh coffee and pastries to make you feel cozy and warm in the dead of winter. I’m drooling just thinking about it.
One of my favorite French dishes is a grilled cheese. No, it’s more than a grilled cheese. It’s a Croque Monsieur. Filled with ham and Gruyere cheese, topped with a béchamel sauce and more Gruyere cheese, it’s absolutely decadent.
A béchamel sauce is a classic French sauce that can be used to make macaroni and cheese, vegetable gratins, or even lasagna. Béchamel is also known as a white sauce, made with butter, flour, and milk. It all starts with a roux, which is made with butter and flour of equal weight (ex. 50g butter and 50g flour). If you follow a few simple steps, you will soon be a master of this versatile sauce.
- Melt the butter in a saucepan over medium heat. Do not allow the butter to brown.
- Add all of the flour at once, stirring continuously and vigorously.
- As the flour cooks, it will dry out slightly and start to turn a golden color.
- Add a few tablespoons of the milk before the flour darkens. Stir vigorously with a whisk.
- Add the remainder of the milk and cook until thickened, stirring constantly.
If you substitute the milk for a light stock (like chicken stock), you will be making another “mother sauce” called a velouté sauce. It’s great sauce that is a bit lighter than a béchamel and perfect for both meats and vegetables.
For this recipe, I’ve decided to make a little twist on the classic Croque Monsieur by adding Brie. The Brie melts wonderfully between two slices of thick bread (I used sourdough). Be sure to add a little extra texture by toasting the bread first.
Prep Time: 5 minutes
Cook Time: 20 minutes
Total Time: 25 minutes
Yield: 3 Croque Monsieur Sandwiches
Serving Size: 1 Sandwich
- 6 thick slices bread
- 2 tbsp butter, unsalted
- 3 tbsp all-purpose flour
- 2 cups milk
- Dash nutmeg, freshly grated
- 1 cup Gruyere, grated
- 1/2 cup Parmesan, grated
- 12 oz black forest ham
- 5 oz Brie
- 3 tbsp coarse mustard
- salt and pepper to taste
- Preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.
- In a small saucepan, warm the milk over medium heat. The milk should be hot, but do not allow it to boil. Leave the milk over a low flame while preparing the béchamel sauce.
- In a separate medium saucepan, melt the butter over medium-low heat. Add the flour and stir continuously for 2-3 minutes. The mixture will almost resemble wet scrambled eggs at first, then begin to turn toward a golden color. Just as it starts to turn golden, slowly add the hot milk while stirring constantly.
- Once all of the milk has been added, whisk vigorously. Continue stirring until the béchamel sauce has thickened and coats the back of a spoon. Remove from heat.
- Add 1/2 cup Gruyere, 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, salt, black pepper, and nutmeg to the béchamel. Stir until smooth.
- Place the slices of bread side-by-side on a cookie sheet then bake in the preheated oven for 3-5 minutes, flip, then bake for an additional minute to toast the bread. Once toasted, spread up to a tablespoon of mustard on three of the slices. Place a few slices of ham and Brie on top of the mustard. Top with the plain slice of toast.
- Cover the top piece of bread with a few spoonfulls of the cheese béchamel sauce. Grate the remaining Gruyere over the béchamel sauce.
- Bake in the preheated oven for 5 minutes, then broil for an additional 3 to 5 minutes, until the top is bubbly and light brown. Allow the croque monsieur to cool slightly before enjoying.