Le Croque Madame
I’m prone to hangovers, especially when there is wine involved. Therefore, I spent a large portion of my Parisian tenure (April 2010-November 2011) with a headache and mild nausea. You’ll be pleased to know that I’ve already outlined the section of my memoirs entitled “Hungover in Paris: That Shit Cray.” It’s probably going to be my finest work. Consider this post a teaser.
Being hungover in Paris is tricky, especially on Sundays. First of all, the French are not familiar with the concept of “delivery.” As someone accustomed to getting everything from booze to toilet paper couriered to my door in New York City, the fact that the Parisians refused to bring me food on my Sunday deathbed was quite devastating.
In the spirit of full disclosure, my friend Liberty and I did go through an unfortunate phase of ordering Pizza Hut on Sundays, as it was the only delivery establishment in Paris. We eventually had to shut that practice down because it was too demoralizing. It was also inconvenient, since they only accepted orders between 11am and 1pm on Sundays. Setting an alarm to order Pizza Hut was just wrong on so many levels.
I suppose not having delivery options wouldn’t have been quite as catastrophic if I had been able to stumble down the street and buy mass quantities of food at the grocery store. But I couldn’t. Because all grocery stores in Paris are closed on Sundays. C’etait un vrai cauchemar. (Translation: It was a total nightmare. This blog is so educational.) You’d think that I would start to grocery shop in advance to avoid this Sunday trap, but as Logan likes to point out, I’m “a terrible planner.” Harsh, but true.
Without delivery or groceries, I was forced to either leave my apartment on Sundays or slowly starve to death. Getting dressed and going outside was tough, but I had a very supportive roommate (wassup, Baysie?) who did an impressive job of hauling me to various cafés on Sunday afternoons. My requirements for a hungover brunch are simple. It must involve bread, eggs, and some sort of melted cheese. Bacon and French fries are also appreciated, but not required. While the French couldn’t give me an American bacon, egg, and cheese sandwich, they totally made up for it with the “croque madame.”
I’m sure most of you have heard of a croque monsieur, which is essentially a grilled ham and cheese with béchamel sauce. A croque madame is just a croque monsieur with an egg on top. So, it’s basically the classiest breakfast sandwich ever created. I sampled many a croque madame in gay Paris, and while some were better than others, these sassy sandwiches never failed to hit the spot on any given Sunday.
Yesterday was a Tuesday, and I was not hungover, but when a big hunk of Gruyere caught my eye at the grocery market, I found myself overwhelmed by the urge to make a Croque Madame. So I did. I spread thick sandwich bread with Dijon mustard and added several pieces of ham and grated Gruyere before drowning the entire thing in an inappropriate amount of creamy béchamel sauce. I also put béchamel inside the sandwich to make everything extra creamy and cheesy. Go big or go home.
If you don’t know what béchamel is, it’s a simple cream sauce made from flour, butter and milk, and in this case, a generous amount of Gruyere. (Technically a béchamel sauce with cheese is called a Mornay sauce, but let’s not split hairs.) It will rock your world. It also gets browned and bubbly under the broiler and comes out looking like this….
While a croque monsieur is awesome on its own, adding a fried egg is the real moneymaker. When you cut into the sandwich and everything gets sort of bathed in egg-y goodness, you’ll see what I mean. It’s rich, indulgent, and incredibly comforting.
If you feel like having a communal hungover brunch in the near future, croque madames are an excellent choice since they can be easily prepared en masse. Paired with a simple arugula salad and your favorite rosé, these sandwiches make a surprisingly classy and satisfying meal.
Just to be clear, the consumption of croque madames need not be limited to brunch or hangovers. Whip them up for an easy weeknight dinner. Or ditch the egg, and slice them into small squares or matchsticks to serve as fancy finger food at your next cocktail party or casual get together.
While I’m partial to the croque madame in its traditional (and awesome) state, these sandwiches can be easily customized to fit your tastes. Try one with some fresh pineapple for a Hawaiian spin, or top it with avocado. If you smother the whole thing in salsa, it’s called a “Croque Senor,” which sounds pretty festive. Depending on the scale of your hangover/scope of your No-Calorie Sunday, I recommend throwing some bacon into the mix and getting heavy-handed with the béchamel. Vegetarian? No problem. Replace the ham with thick-sliced tomatoes. The sky’s the limit, people. Get creative.
Croque Madame: (Serves 2)
Preparing your Croque Madame:
-Start by making your béchamel sauce. Melt 2 tablespoons butter in small saucepan. When melted and bubbling slightly, whisk in 2 tablespoons flour. Add the milk a ¼ cup at a time, whisking constantly. Once all of the milk has been added continue whisking until thickened. Don’t panic if your sauce doesn’t thicken right away, people. It can take 6-8 minutes, okay? When your béchamel is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon, remove it from the heat and mix in the grated Gruyere, nutmeg, salt, and white pepper. Set aside.
-Now it’s time to assemble your Croque Madames. You will need two slices of bread for each sandwich. (Duh.) To assemble each sandwich, spread one of the slices of bread with 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard.
-Lay the ham on top of the mustard.
-Spread 1½ tablespoons of your béchamel sauce on top of the ham. Booyah.
-Add ¼ cup grated Gruyere in an even layer on top of the béchamel. Place the second piece of bread on top to close the sandwich.
-Melt 2 tablespoons of butter in a large pan or cast iron skillet. When Melted and bubbling slightly, add your sandwiches. Cook for about 3 minutes on each side until the cheese is melted and the bread is golden brown. Carefully remove your sandwiches from the pan and place them on a baking sheet lined with parchment (or tinfoil).
-Pour the remaining béchamel sauce over the top of the sandwiches. Don’t worry about it running over the sides…that’s a good thing.
-Heat broiler to high. Broil your sandwiches until the béchamel sauce is bubbling and lightly browned, about 2-3 minutes.
-Heat 1 tablespoon butter in a non-stick pan. When melted, add the eggs.and cook until whites are just set and the yolks are still runny, about 3 minutes. (If you don’t like runny yolks, you can obviously cook them longer.)
-Place an egg on top of each sandwich and serve your Croque Madames hot. Fancy French cooking in a flash! Preparez-vous pour les compliments. (Translation: Prepare yourself for compliments.)
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