It doesn’t get much better than this croque monsieur recipe: layers of good, toasty bread, creamy béchamel, smoky ham and nutty Gruyère cheese topped with a perfectly poached egg — it’s what brunch (and dinner!) dreams are made of. Note: When topped with a poached egg, croque monsieur becomes croque madame. Heaven.
I know it’s January 7th, and I should be eating kale and tofu and sipping on homemade kombucha, and I definitely should not be interrupting your New Years’-resolution-dining regimen with visions of béchamel-slicked toast layered with black forest ham, Gruyère cheese, and oozing poached eggs, but, um: Sorry?
Hear me out: while this open-faced sandwich looks/sounds a bit decadent, it’s not so bad. This is one of those things where a little of everything — a tablespoon of béchamel, a slice of ham, a handful of cheese — goes a long way. A sprinkling of fresh thyme right out of the oven is essential, and if you’re avoiding meat, this of course could be made vegetarian with sautéed greens or braised leeks or roasted endive.
Elements of Croque Monsieur and Madame
- good bread
- ham or vegetable of choice
- Gruyère cheese
- perfectly poached egg
Best Bread for Croque Monsieur and Madame
Any good bread will work here. Be sure to slice it on the thick side, at least 1/2-inch thick, to ensure it can withstand the many layers it will eventually support. Here are some ideas:
- My Mother’s Peasant Bread: The Best, Easiest Bread You will Ever Bake
- Quinoa-Flax Toasting Bread
- Everything Bagel Peasant Bread
- Seedy Sandwich Bread
How to Make Béchamel Sauce
Béchamel is simply milk thickened with a roux (a mixture of fat + flour). In this croque monsieur/madame, the roux includes the addition of sautéd onion and a bay leaf, both of which add flavor, though each certainly could be omitted. In short, to make béchamel:
- Sauté onion in butter (or other fat).
- Add flour, and cook for 2 minutes.
- Add milk, bring to a simmer, and cook gently for about 15 minutes, stirring often until the mixture coats the back of a spoon.
How to Perfectly Poach an Egg
You can find more details on this post, Perfect Poached Eggs, but in short:
- Be organized. Before you start poaching, gather your equipment: slotted spoon, wooden spoon, ramekins, paper-towel lined plate, etc.
- Gentle Gentle Simmer. The water should be barely moving when you lower the eggs into it. Bring the water to a simmer; then lower the heat so that the water is just below a simmer.
- Practice. The timing of a poached egg will vary depending on what size pot you use and how much water you put in it. Knowing how long to poach an egg will take some trial and error. After you make one or two, you’ll learn the visual cues: when you jiggle the egg after 3 or 4 minutes, and the whites are set to your liking, and the yolk, when pressed gently, feels soft but not too soft. The timing, moreover, is based on personal preference and how soft you like your yolks.
What to Serve with Croque Monsieur or Madame?
A salad of course! Here’s an idea: a mix of wintry greens, shaved fennel, and lots of fresh dill tossed in a clementine dressing
- Clementine Salad Dressing: Place 2 to 3 tablespoons of finely minced shallots in a small bowl. Season with a pinch of kosher salt. Juice three clementines over the shallots and let macerate for 15 minutes. Slowly whisk in at least 1/3 cup of extra-virgin olive oil. Taste, adding more olive oil if necessary and a tablespoon or so of white balsamic vinegar if you need a little more bite.
- Simple winter salad: Greens, shaved fennel, sliced endive, and lots of chopped fresh herbs: dill, mint, chives — whatever you like best.
Bechamel recipe adapted from Nancy Silverton’s Sandwich Book
- good bread, cut into thick slices
- béchamel (recipe below)
- 3 to 4 slices good ham (figure 1 to 2 per sandwich)
- grated Gruyère, Comté or Swiss cheese
- fresh thyme leaves
For the béchamel:
- 1 tablespoons butter
- 1/4 to 1/2 medium onion (about 2 to 4 T. finely chopped)
- kosher salt
- 1 tablespoons flour
- 1 cup whole milk
- 1 bayleaf
For the poached eggs:
- 2 eggs (count on 1 egg per sandwich)
- splash of white vinegar
- Prepare pot for eggs: Fill a shallow saucepan with two to three inches water and bring to a simmer.
- Prepare the béchamel: In a medium saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter. Add the onion and a pinch of salt and cook about 5 to 7 minutes or until the onion is soft but has not begun to color. 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 or so. 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 about 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.
- Meanwhile, 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 béchamel over each slice of bread. Top with 1 to 2 slices of ham. Top with grated cheese to taste. Set aside.
- 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 the toasts 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. Note: 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, and for this consistency, I usually have to cook the eggs for about 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.
- Category: Breakfast
- Method: Stovetop, Oven
- Cuisine: French, American
Keywords: Croque Monsieur, Croque Madame, Poached Eggs, breakfast, brunch, bechamel