Every year my parents host a big party on Christmas day, which always involves my mom cooking enough food to feed a small army. On top of all the normal festivities, this year my grandma and uncle came from Venezuela to spend the holiday with us. So the day after Christmas, we had a full house of people with a long morning of cleaning up and packing ahead of us all, with everyone feeling a bit lazy from the previous day's exertions. With Greg as my sous chef, I took on the task of making family brunch. On the menu, Croque Madame.
This is the perfect dish for an occasion like this when you want to serve something elegant, but you feel too lazy to go to a whole lot of trouble. It is basically just a fancy pants ham and cheese sandwich dressed up with béchamel sauce and a fried egg. All you need is good sliced bread, ham, and some good grated Swiss cheese like Emmentaler or Gruyère, some eggs, and butter, flour, and milk for the béchamel.
Béchamel sounds fancy but it is really very easy. Simply measure out equal parts butter and flour. Make a roux by melting the butter in a saucepan and whisking in the flour. Cook for a minute or two to remove the starchy taste of the flour. Begin to slowly whisk in milk until you reach a consistency you like. Allow the mixture to boil, as this will activate the flour’s thickening power. Adjust the consistency so that it is smooth and creamy. Season with salt. You can also add a little freshly grated nutmeg or cayenne pepper if you like. (For a detailed recipe, click here)
Once the sauce is ready, you can build your sandwiches. Grill or lightly toast the bread, then layer on ham, a little bit of the béchamel, and some of the grated cheese. I also like to add a light spread of good mustard, and tomato slice also works well. Top with another piece of bread, then spread on a little more béchamel and a little more cheese. Put all the sandwiches in and oven at about 350°F to melt the cheese.
While the sandwiches are in the oven, fry one egg per sandwich in a pan. Once the cheese is melted, pull sandwiches from the oven and top with a fried egg and serve. (If you’d rather have it without the egg, then sandwich is then called a Croque Monsieur, but it's so much better with the eg.)
A side of lightly dressed arugula salad goes very nicely with this sandwich.
Altogether, it’s a decadent, easy crowd pleaser.
You can see here, that we were a very fancy family that morning.
Pics courtesy of my Uncle Luis