Warning: Consuming raw or undercooked meats, poultry, seafood, shellfish, or eggs may increase your risk of foodborne illness, especially if you have certain medical conditions.
When asked to define Croque Madame, the snarky foody always replies “It’s just a Croque Monsieur with an egg on top.” I like this definition. It captures the deceivingly simple nature of the sandwich. Ham, cheese, toast, egg, and a bit of sauce. You might think this is the same as any run of the mill breakfast sandwich, but it’s the sauce and choice of Gruyere cheese that make this something to write home about.
Anyone can make this decadent brunch staple from common, easy to find, ingredients. And because the name is French, it’ll impress your friends and family with its continental fanciness. …unless your friends and family are French speakers. Croque Madame/Monsieur translates as Mrs./Mr. Crunchy Bite. In terms of naming conventions, we’re very much in “Mr. Potato Head” territory.
Name aside, it’s a delicious crowd pleaser that can (and should) be enjoyed at any time of day or night.
At its heart, it’s a ham, cheese, and egg sandwich. But we’re going to kick it up ten or twelve notches with some Béchamel sauce (one of the O.G. five mother sauces a la Auguste Escoffier). We’re also going to pop the egg on top of the bread instead of inside the sandwich. I’m not sure why the egg goes on top instead of inside. I assume it’s for easy identification as a Croque Madame instead of a Croque Monsieur. Regardless, we’ll be plopping it on top. For tradition.
- Blond roux
- 3 oz butter
- 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
- ½ cup milk
- 4 slices preferred sandwich bread
- 6 slices of good ham
- 6 ounces of gruyere cheese freshly grated
- 2 fresh eggs
We’ll start by making the Béchamel sauce. It’s simply made with a blond roux and milk, seasoned with a little salt and pepper. Start by melting 1 ounce (about two tablespoons) of butter in a small pan over medium heat. Once melted, whisk in the flour, and keep stirring with the whisk until the fragrance of cooked flour and butter fills your soul. You want to cook it long enough for the butter and flour to fully meld together, and for the flour to stop tasting raw. But don’t cook it long enough to brown the roux (This is for tradition and appearance. But if you brown your roux, no one will put you in jail.) Remove from heat and keep stirring if it’s getting too hot.
Now poor in the milk whisking quickly and continue cooking until the mixture comes to a boil. As soon as this happens, remove from the heat and season to taste with salt and pepper. It should resemble a fairly thick cream sauce or gravy. If it’s thicker than you’d like (which might happen if your stove is hotter than mine, or your pan wider), you can stir in a little more milk. If it’s too thin, you can knead together equal parts cold butter and flour and stir that in to thicken it. It’s your sauce. You be in charge.
** You’ve got to take charge of the sauce, adjusting the seasoning and consistency as you see fit. This gives you lots of opportunities to taste it, add a pinch of pepper, taste again, then nod confidently to yourself. This will look extra impressive to anyone watching you cook, and it is an essential part of developing your street cred as an awesome brunch cook. **
Preheat your broiler and get a cast iron skillet preheating over medium. (Preheating two things at once automatically feels like pro-level cooking)
While all of that is preheating, assemble the sandwiches. Divide the ham between the two sandwiches. Mix half the gruyere into the Béchamel sauce, and slather it on top of the ham in each sandwich before closing. (You’ll be tempted to snack on the remaining gruyere, but we need it later. Pro tip: Buy extra cheese for snacking, so you can give in to the urge.)
You’ll notice we have some left over butter. We’re going to use it to toast the sandwiches until golden brown. If your skillet is large enough to toast two sandwiches at once without overcrowding the pan, you can do both at the same time. Flipping once, toast both sides until golden and crispy (remember how this sandwich is called Mrs. Crunchy? Well, this is the time to earn that name.) Remove the sandwiches and wipe most of the butter and crumbs out of the skillet.
Spread the remaining cheese on top of the sandwiches evenly and pop them under the broiler until golden and crispy. What’s that? How long? How hot is your broiler? Seriously I could try to guess and just throw out a number, but in my experience every stove is different. You want to melt the cheese and make it golden without burning your already toasted bread. I recommend you watch this happening in the broiler so you can pull it at will. This will make you look very chef like and get you lots of brunch points or street cred, or whatever thing I made up earlier to motivate you.
If your brave, you can cook the eggs in the still hot skillet while you’re melting the cheese in the broiler. I recommend this because it means the food will be done sooner and be piping hot. Split your attention and live dangerously! I’m not going to tell you how to cook your eggs, except to say that I think runny yolks are a must (refer to earlier warning). The mixture of decadent runny egg yolk and the cheesy Béchamel is to die for! As far as I know fried or poached eggs are traditional, but I prefer mine steam basted, it’s sort of a halfway point between poaching and frying.
Speaking of that Béchamel sauce: now that it’s mixed with melted gruyere it has actually been transformed into Sauce Mornay! You get two sauces for the price of one in this recipe.