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Croque-Madame with Mornay Sauce

Mmmmmm … samiches. SoupAddict loves da samiches. They’re the perfect accompaniment to soup, you see. And any friend of soup’s is a friend of SoupAddict’s.

Leave it to the French to take something as simple as a ham and cheese sandwich and jazz it up to decadent heights. Croque-Madam (“croke mah-dahm”), although unusually un-French sounding, tops the familiar ham ‘n cheese with more cheese and a fried egg. Serve it with soup. Serve it for brunch. But serve it you must.

First, we start with the mornay sauce. Simply a cheese sauce with some inventive ingredients, this delicious concoction is often served with potatoes au gratin.

Don’t be discouraged by the directions below: a chef wrote these (although SoupAddict has edited them). And chef’s are fussy. And they do things that us mere mortals would never do. If you look at the original Food Network recipe, you’ll see it calls for the use of a diffuser, which SoupAddict not only does not have, but wouldn’t know where to get one. Just approach this like you would any other cheese sauce and you’ll be fine. You’re going to love mornay sauce, SoupAddict is sure of that.

Use your favorite bread. Here, SoupAddict bought a loaf of farmer’s milk bread from the local bakery. Delicious.

Black Forest ham and cheese. SoupAddict likes to mix it up when it comes to cheeses, and used a combo of gruyere and havarti.

Once the mornay sauce is complete, the sandwich goes together quickly. SoupAddict spoons some mornay inside the sandwich as well as outside. She has a thing about cheese. Too much is never enough, is SoupAddict’s philosophy.

Mmmmm…. goodness gracious, me oh my. SoupAddict was skeptical about panini grills, but, she really digs hers. A lot. Makes any sandwich warm and toasty in just minutes. And this winter, SoupAddict suspects, is going to be the kind where toasty things are most welcome.

SoupAddict loves the egg rings for cooking perfect eggs. This one came from Williams-Sonoma. SoupAddict loves the Croque-Madame for many reasons, but mostly for the inclusion of the fried egg, which is a sort of an homage to her favorite mom ‘n pop sandwich restaurant ever, Figaro’s, which unfortunately closed many years ago. She still misses their ham and cheese and egg sandwich on toasted bread. [sniff!]

Croque-Madame with Mornay Sauce
Adapted from Food Network
Mornay Sauce
  3 tablespoons unsalted butter
  1/2 cup Spanish onion, diced
  Kosher salt
  3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  2 cups milk
  1 cup heavy cream
  1 bay leaf
  3 black peppercorns
  3 whole cloves
  Freshly grated nutmeg
  Freshly ground white pepper
  1/3 cup Comte or Emmentaler cheese, grated
Sandwiches (makes 4)
  8 slices Brioche, pain de mie or other hearty bread, about 1/2″ thick
  8 ounces thinly sliced ham, preferably Black Forest
  6 ounces Swiss cheese, grated (gruyere also tastes great)
  3 tablespoons unsalted butter
  4 large eggs
  1 cup Mornay sauce
  Freshly ground pepper, for garnish
  parsley, chopped, for garnish (optional)

Mornay Sauce: Melt the butter in a medium heavy saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion and a pinch of salt and cook slowly, stirring occasionally, for 2 to 3 minutes, or until the onion is translucent. Sprinkle in the flour and cook for about 3 minutes, stirring constantly so that the roux doesn’t burn or color.

Whisking constantly, add the milk and cream and whisk until fully incorporated. Bring to a simmer, whisking, then add the bay leaf, peppercorns, and cloves. Reduce heat to maintain a gentle simmer and cook, whisking occasionally, reaching into the corners of the pan, for about 30 minutes. (If the sauce does begin to scorch, pour it into a clean pan—don’t scrape the bottom of the pan—and continue.)

Remove the sauce from the heat and season to taste with salt, a grating of nutmeg, and a pinch of white pepper. Strain the sauce, add the cheese, and whisk to melt. Use immediately, or place in a storage container, press a piece of plastic wrap against the surface to keep a skin from forming, and refrigerate for up to a week. If the sauce is too thick after refrigeration, it can be thinned with a little heavy cream.

Assemble the sandwiches: Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F

Lay out all the bread slices. Divide the ham among them. Pile the cheese on the ham. Press cheese down so bits don’t tumble off the sandwich.

Heat 2 large ovenproof nonstick pans, a griddle or panini grill over medium heat (375 degrees). (If you have only 1 large pan, make 2 sandwiches and keep them warm in the oven while you make the second batch.) Pan preparation: Add 1 tablespoon of the butter to each pan. When it has melted, add half the bread, cheese-side up, to each pan and cook for 1 to 2 minutes, or until the bottoms are golden brown. Transfer the pans to the oven for 2 to 3 minutes to melt the cheese. Panini preparation: spoon 1/4 cup each of the mornay sauce over 4 of the sandwich halves, then pair each with the unsauced halves to form a sandwich. Place in the panini grill and close the lid, grilling for the recommended time in the manufacturer’s directions (usually 3-5 minutes — it goes fast!).

Meanwhile, melt the remaining 1 tablespoon of butter in a large ovenproof skillet and fry the eggs. Cook the eggs until the bottoms are set, then place the skillet in the oven for a minute to set the top of the whites.

Continuing pan preparation: When the cheese is melted, remove the sandwiches from the oven. Spoon 1/4 cup each of the mornay sauce 4 of the sandwich halves. Place 2 slices together to make each sandwich and put each sandwich on a serving plate.

Place an egg on top of each sandwich. Grind black pepper over each egg and garnish the eggs with a diagonal sprinkling of chopped parsley.

Alternative use for the mornay sauce: the Frenchier way to use the sauce is to pour it over the assembled sandwich, circling the yolk so that it remains exposed. Then add parsley. Be warned: while lovely, this presentation calls for a fork and knife! SoupAddict does not have an ounce of French blood in her veins, but any recipe calling for more cheese sauce than the bread can hold is right up SoupAddict’s alley.

Nick Decker

Thursday 11th of February 2010

Who buys panini grills on impulse? I do, of course!

Actually, ordering the panini grill had the added benefit of pushing me into cleaning out one of my cupboards to make room for it. My small condo kitchen just doesn't have enough storage for my kitchen gadget habit, and I was able to toss quite a few items that were bought on impulse and used maybe once or twice.

I have to laugh at your "rationalization" strategies, mainly because I see myself!



Wednesday 10th of February 2010

Nick, you're going to love it! I bought a Breville on impulse (I know - who buys panini grills on impulse?) at Williams-Sonoma - fortunately, it was on sale for the same price as Amazon, as I found out later. I just love that it cooks both sides of stuff at once - literally cuts cooking time in half. And the adjustable lid on this model doesn't smash sandwiches flat, so gooey cheese doesn't seep out.

Nick Decker

Wednesday 10th of February 2010

OK, you pushed me over the edge. I'd been on the fence about getting a Pinini Grill for quite a while. Just ordered one from Amazon.

BTW, what brand is yours? I went with a Cuisinart, based largely on Amazon reviews and the fact that it has removable grill plates.