Today, let’s discover the croque-monsieur, the undisputed sandwich king of Parisian bistros, which is now very common in the majority of bistros across France.
What is a croque-monsieur?
A croque-monsieur is a typical French sandwich prepared with bread, ham and cheese, usually Emmental and/or Gruyère. Its most elaborate version usually includes Béchamel sauce.
What are the variants of croque-monsieur?
The most famous variant is the croque-madame, is topped by a fried egg. Some food dictionaries attribute the name to the similarity of the fried egg with a woman’s hat. Famous French chef Jacques Pépin created a version of the croque-madame using chicken instead of ham.
There is also the croque-mademoiselle, which is the vegetarian version of the croque monsieur.
In Spain, a version of this sandwich replaces ham with sobrasada (sobrassada in Catalan), a soft sausage typical of the Balearic Islands. In Catalonia, it is known by the curious name of bikini.
A number of variants based on the croque monsieur exist, with the addition or the suppression of certain ingredients, namely:
– The bread, sometimes au gratin, can be dipped in beaten eggs before being grilled.
– A variation is served with a Mornay sauce.
– The croque provençal (provençal croque) includes tomatoes.
– The croque auvergnat (croque from Auvergne), with blue cheese from Auvergne.
– The croque normand (Norman croque), with apples and camembert.
– The croque gallois (Welsh croque), which is none other than Welsh rarebit from Wales, made from cheddar cheese.
– The croque norvégien (Norwegian croque), with salmon.
– The croque tartiflette, with potatoes and Reblochon cheese.
– The croque Tourangeau, consisting of a garnish made from rillons or rillettes from Tours.
– The Monte Cristo sandwich, with fried ham and cheese.
– The croque monsieur bourguignon (Burgundy croque-monsieur), with Dijon mustard.
– The croque-gagnet, with gouda cheese and andouilles.
– The croque-Bolognese or croque boum-boum, with Bolognese sauce.
– The croque-señor, with ham, cheddar, all topped with a Mexican flavored salsa.
– The sweet croque for which the filling is replaced by banana and cocoa powder.
– The caramelized croque, topped with powdered sugar.
– The croque hawaïen (Hawaiian croque), that includes a slice of pineapple.
What is the origin of croque-monsieur?
This word would have appeared for the first time in 1901 in a Parisian café called Le Bel Âge located on boulevard des Capucines. The bistrot owner, Michel Lunarca, was given a reputation of cannibal probably spread by his competitors in the 2nd arrondissement (district) who did not appreciate the arrival of this new café that was very popular with the high society.
One day, as he was short on the traditional French baguette, he made a sandwich with sandwich bread, which he offered to his customers. One of them exclaimed “Michel, what meat is there in it?” Lucarna replied with a joke: “Human meat! Gentleman’s meat, of course!”, which made everyone laugh, so much so that everyone hurried to order the “man’s meat sandwich”. The next day, the bistrot owner added “croque-monsieur” (man-sandwich) to the menu.
It is Marcel Proust, in 1919, who made the croque-monsieur more popular, in his famous book À l’ombre des jeunes filles en fleurs where he mentioned the famous sandwich.
But let’s go back even further in time. The croque-monsieur would seem to have aboriginal origins.
Even if the croque-monsieur remains a typical dish of French fast food, it appears to have Australian roots. The nomadic aborigines of this country cooked their hunted meat by pressing it between two slices of dough over a wood fire, using a large pair of pliers. This “toasted” preparation then appeared in Indonesia and the Pacific a few centuries later.
What is the origin of sandwich?
The croque monsieur is really nothing but a hot sandwich. But where does the sandwich come from?
The sandwich can probably be attributed to a popular Chinese dish called rou jia mo, already known in the seventh century AD, with some ingredients used even in the third century BC.
We are so used to using the word sandwich. But where does this term come from, associated worldwide with two slices of bread with a garnish in the middle? The name actually comes from an English count who lived in the eighteenth century in the city of Sandwich, located in the Kent region, south of England.
In 1762, John Montagu, the fourth of the Earls of Sandwich dynasty, was a very busy man. Among the various commitments that characterized his life as a politician, there was also sport. Legend has it that the Earl of Sandwich was in fact a big fan of games of chance.
The official version says that John Montagu was having lunch at his desk. In order not to waste time, as he was busy between maps and shipping routes, the nobleman asked his butler for a quick meal so he could eat without moving.
His butler served him, at his request, two slices of bread with meat in the middle, so he could savor a filling dish without wasting too much time. The idea, apparently born in the 1760s, was immediately appreciated by Sandwich’s friends, so much so that many began to order “the same dish that Sandwich eats” and thus associated the noble’s name with that of a sandwich.
The unofficial version says that in fact, Montagu invented this meal not to leave a gambling table and continue to play without having to stop, even a short moment.
This episode would have taken place at the Cocoa-tree, a London pub known only to men, where Montagu played a very important game. That night, when this game lasted for more than 24 hours, unable to chase his hunger pains and refusing to get up from the game table, Montagu had this brilliant idea that would make him famous around the world:
“Bring two slices of bread with finely sliced beef”. From that moment, all the other customers started to order the same thing, and that’s how the story of the sandwich was born!
It is often said that the simplest dishes are the most delicious, so what are you waiting to make a croque-monsieur?
- 12 slices sandwich bread
- 3 slices lean ham
- 6 thin slices emmental
- 3 oz. grated Gruyère cheese
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 1 cup semi-skimmed milk
- 2 tablespoons flour
- ¼ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
- Place the butter in a non-stick pan and melt on low heat.
- Add the flour and mix with a spatula.
- Cook on low heat for a few minutes, without coloring.
- Gradually add the cold milk and nutmeg and whisk.
- Simmer for 5 minutes while stirring. Season with salt and pepper. Set aside.
- Preheat the oven to 350 F.
- On 6 slices of bread, spread a thin layer of Béchamel sauce then add half a slice of ham and a slice of emmental cheese.
- Place the other slices of bread on top.
- Top with the rest of the béchamel and sprinkle with grated cheese.
- Place the croque-monsieur on a plate.
- Bake for 10 minutes. They must be golden brown.
To obtain an even creamier béchamel, add 1 tablespoon of heavy cream and a little grated cheese at the end of cooking.