I love (love, love, love) croque madames. The french sandwich is composed of four of my six favorite foods: cheese, ham, bread, and egg (the missing two are chocolate and wine, but I think it's good that they were left out in this case). I had one for about every 3rd meal when I was in Paris earlier this year.
I have always considered the croque madame something to be ordered at a cafe. I'd never really thought of making one myself. Now that I have, I kind of want to whack myself on the head and say, "what were you thinking?" I've been seriously missing out.
Strangely, it was Swiss food that was the impetus for my try-to-make-a-croque-madame-at-home idea. My brother is visiting me in Zurich and yesterday for lunch we had a very traditional Swiss meal: raclette. Like fondue, raclette is one of those active meals where you do a little work at the table to enjoy the food. Ours came as giant plates of grilling materials: his with mini sausages, mine with farmer's ham, and both with mushrooms, tomatoes, pickles, mini-corn, and cocktail onions. And of course a generous number of cheese slices, to be melted one at a time in the cutest little square pans that heat under a small grilltop (on which you can grill the various bite sized treasures). All to be enjoyed atop the little baked pommes de terre (potatoes) that were kept warm in a small burlap sack.
You may wonder how this got me thinking about a croque madame. Honestly, it was the combination of cheese and ham. On top of a potato, it made me think of breakfast (raclette would be a great hangover meal). And somehow from there, my mind went to the croque madame. So when we were at the grocery store later, I made sure to pick up some ham in addition to the Gruyere that is consistently on my shopping list (I've been eating a lot of cheese here in Switzerland!).
This morning, when looking up a few recipes, the croque madame seemed a bit involved. But it actually comes together pretty easily. And it was amazingly tasty. I kind of want to make one again right now just thinking about it. I've also been fantasizing about raclette-inspired additions, like grilled mushrooms, caramelized onions, and tomatoes... But for now, here's the standard version, which I implore you to try:
2 Tbsp. butter
1 Tbsp. flour
1 cup milk
4 oz. gruyere - 1/4 c. grated and the rest thinly sliced
salt & pepper
4 slices rustic white bread
2 Tbsp. dijon mustard
2-3 slices of ham
First, the bechamel:
Heat 1 Tbsp. butter in a small saucepan over medium heat. Add flour, stirring to combine. Whisk in milk. Increase heat to medium-high until milk begins to boil. Add grated Gruyere and nutmeg. Season with salt and pepper. Reduce heat and allow sauce to simmer until thickened, 6-8 minutes.
Next, the sandwich:
Meanwhile, heat oven broiler on high. Place 2 slices of bread in baking dish. Spread 1 Tbsp. of mustard on each. Top with ham and sliced Gruyere. Place under broiler until cheese begins to melt.
Remove from oven (leave broiler on). Top with remaining 2 slices of bread. Spoon a generous amount of bechamel sauce over each. Return to oven and heat under broiler until they're bubbly and brown, about 3 minutes. Remove from oven.
Finally, the egg on top:
While your sandwiches are browning, melt remaining 1 Tbsp. butter in a skillet over medium heat. When hot, add eggs, being careful not to break the yolks. Cook until the whites are fully cooked but yolks are still runny.
Carefully top each sandwich with an egg. Take a bite and close your eyes...you feel like you're in a Parisian cafe, no?