Today, as part of our month of egg recipes, we’re featuring a croque-madame — a warm ham and cheese sandwich with a poached egg on top. (Apparently, it’s named that because the egg resembles a lady’s wide-brimmed hat.) The final dish is crispy, cheesy and oozing with deliciousness. Alexandra Stafford of Alexandra’s Kitchen shares how to nail this classic recipe at home…
by Alexandra Stafford of Alexandra’s Kitchen
I fell in love with the croque-monsieur at San Francisco’s famous Tartine Bakery, which to no surprise serves the ultimate version: a thick slice of béchamel sauce-slicked toast topped with ham, tomato and Gruyère — all broiled to blistered and bubbling perfection.
For years, I hesitated to attempt making it at home. But it turns out, a homemade croque-monsier can be the real thing. There’s not much to it — if you can make béchamel (and you can!), you can make a croque-monsieur. And once you learn the method, you can adapt it in countless ways: use any good melting cheese, use bacon or pancetta in place of the ham, use whatever vegetables you have on hand: asparagus, mushrooms, leeks, kale, etc. Top it all with an egg, and it becomes a croque-madame.
A croque-monsieur is a particularly handy recipe to turn to when the fridge is looking bare and getting to the store feels impossible. Serve it with a simple salad — or, as they do at Tartine, with a single carrot — and call brunch (or dinner) done.
1 tbsp butter
1/3 medium onion (about 2 to 4 tbsp finely chopped)
1 tbsp flour
1 cup whole milk
1 bay leaf
Good bread, cut into thick slices
3 to 4 slices good ham (figure 1 to 2 per sandwich)
Grated Gruyère, Comté or Swiss cheese
Fresh thyme leaves
2 eggs (count on 1 egg per sandwich)
Splash of white vinegar
In a medium saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter. Add the onion and a pinch of salt and cook until the onion is soft but has not begun to color, about 5 to 7 minutes. Turn the heat to very low, add the flour and stir to combine it with the onion and butter. Continue to cook over low heat until the flour is absorbed, stirring constantly so that it doesn’t brown, about 2 minutes. Slowly stir in the milk. Drop in the bay leaf.
Over medium to medium-high heat, bring the mixture to a boil. Then reduce the heat to its lowest setting and cook for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally to prevent the sauce from burning on the bottom of the pan. Taste and cook longer if the taste of raw flour is still detectable. The mixture should be thick, but if it’s too thick and becoming difficult to stir, you’ll need to whisk in a little more milk. Remove the bay leaf and discard.
Preheat the broiler. Place the slices of bread on a rack on a sheet pan (or a broiling pan) and broil them about a minute on each side. Remove pan from the oven. Spread about 1 tablespoon of mixture over each slice of bread. Top with 1 to 2 slices of ham. Top with grated cheese to taste. Set aside.
Fill a shallow saucepan with 2 to 3 inches water and bring to a simmer. Crack each egg into a small bowl or ramekin. Sprinkle about a tablespoon of vinegar into the pot of simmering shallow water. Adjust the heat so that the water is barely simmering. (Get the water to a simmer, then turn it down so you don’t see any bubbles.) Use the handle of a wooden spoon to make a whirlpool in the water, then drop one egg into the center of the whirlpool. Repeat with other egg. Adjust the heat to keep the water just below a simmer. Set the timer for 3 minutes.
When the eggs have cooked for 3 minutes, place croque-monsieurs under the broiler and cook until the cheese is bubbling and starting to brown. Remove from the oven. Sprinkle with the fresh thyme.
Meanwhile, using a slotted spoon, lift one egg up from the water and shake it. The yolk should jiggle a little bit, but shouldn’t look too loose. You might have to cook the eggs for a minute longer. Knowing when poached eggs are done is just a matter of practice and preference. Personally, I don’t like the yolk to taste raw, but I still like it runny, which takes 4 to 5 minutes. When the eggs look cooked to your liking, remove them with a slotted spoon and transfer to a paper towel-lined plate.
Top each sandwich with a poached egg. Sprinkle with a pinch of salt and freshly cracked pepper to taste.
Thank you so much, Alexandra!