“What is Croque-Monsieur?,” my ten-year-old friend asked.
“In its most basic form,” I replied, “it is a ham and cheese sandwich topped with Mornay sauce.”
I went on to tell her that the name is based on the French verb croquer (to munch or to eat) and the noun monsieur (mister) and that this sandwich is traditionally made with slices of ham and melted cheese.
“My vegetarian version substitutes Lightlife Smart Deli Ham,” I said. “But calling it a ham sandwich does not do it justice. It is that and more. Think of it as a tasty, toasted ham sandwich topped with Mornay sauce.”
“Okay,” she said, “but why top it with Mornay sauce and what is Mornay anyway?”
“Well,” I said, “instead of putting all of the cheese inside the sandwich, this time some of it is served on top in a cheese-flavored Béchamel sauce which we call Mornay.”
“Now I’m really confused,” she said. “What is Béchamel?”
Not being the most patient person in the world I handed her my smart phone so she could look it up while I prepared lunch for her and her parents.
If you have more patience than me and you are feeling adventurous, try my vegetarian version of Croque-Monsieur. Serve it with a lightly fried egg on top and call it croque-madame. Either way, this is a tasty and a most satisfying lunchtime sandwich.
1½ tablespoons butter
1½ tablespoons flour
1½ cups whole milk
1 bay leaf
½ cup Kerrygold Dubliner cheese
½ teaspoon Tabasco Sauce
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Melt butter in a saucepan over medium heat. Add flour and stir with a whisk until mixture is a pale golden color – about 2 minutes. Whisk in milk then add bay leaf. Increase heat to medium-high and continue to whisk until mixture barely begins to boil. Reduce heat to medium and continue to whisk until sauce coats the back of a spoon – about minutes. Remove from heat and whisk in cheese and hot sauce. Season with salt and black pepper to taste. Cover and set aside.
8 slices of country-style bread (sliced ¾-inch thick)
4 tablespoons butter
16 slice Lightlife Smart Deli Ham
4 deli slices Gruyère cheese
4 teaspoons mustard
Preheat oven broiler.
Spread a tablespoon of butter over 1 side of each bread slice. Place bread, buttered side up, on a baking sheet and broil in oven until golden. Watch carefully to make sure bread does not burn. You might also need to rotate the baking sheet after about 1 minute to make sure all slices broil evenly. Remove from oven and allow to cool.
Preheat oven to 450 degrees.
Spread 1 teaspoon of mustard on each slice of toasted bread – un-toasted side up. Place 4 folded slices of ham on top of that. Place one slice of cheese on top of the ham. Top with remaining 4 slices of bread – toasted side up. Press down on each sandwich to slightly compress and place back on baking sheet.
Spread 2 tablespoons of sauce on top of each sandwich. Bake sandwiches until cheese inside begins to melt and cheese on top begins to turn golden – about 8 minutes. Remove sandwiches from oven and plate them.
Serve with a pint of Irish red ale or a nice glass of chilled Riesling. Oh…and a knife and fork. You’ll want to serve this with a knife and fork!