Traditional French Ham & Cheese Grilled Sandwich
A grilled cheese sandwich is satisfying — hot, melting and toasty. Add the sweet umami taste of salty ham to take the sandwich to another sphere of satisfaction. Then, make it in the French traditional ‘croque’ style with a Bechamel sauce as the interior condiment and this is a sandwich that can generate a craving even for people like us who minimize the amount of cured meat we eat.
This is not to say that we don’t love to add other interiors, vegetarian ones, like the Verte Madame, but sometimes this combination is just the smart wool sweater for a snowy winter day.
Add the Madame’s hat – the soft cooked egg – and it is a full meal any winter day or night.
A Bechamel is a simple white sauce that a good cook should keep in the quiver for this – or as a base for other sauces or occasions -the perfect Croque. Apply lightly with a pastry brush, and if your sauce seems too bland you can add a bit of spice if you can keep it subtle. Sometimes the ham, the bread or the day just needs it.
A Bechamel, or white sauce as you may have been taught in junior high home ec class, is equal parts flour and butter, cooked for a few minute to avoid rawness, and then slowly thinned with milk or cream. Then seasoned with salt, pepper and a grating of nutmeg. The consistency of the sauce can vary but this one should be thick enough to spread like mayonaise. Spread on both interior sides of the bread, cut no thicker than 1/2 inch.
Add slices of meltable Swiss or Gruyere cheese, top with folded ham. We used a Gruyere from Marczak’s Fine Food and ham from Natural Grocers obtained from the local farmer Neiman’s Ranch.
Brush softened butter across the top and bottom outside sides of the slices of bread so they don’t stick to the grill. Our waffle iron has reversible plates that are waffled on one side and flat on the other. Use the flat plates, and butter the bread if possible not the plates.
When the interior cheese melts, remove the sandwiches from the grill, add more cheese to the top and place in the oven (at 375 F) to melt, while you cook the eggs.
Any egg cooking method is acceptable, but the yolk should remain soft. When pierced yolk should run over the warm sandwich. We often serve with a poached egg, but this time the egg topping each croque was fried — over easy.
The bread slices were cut from a hearty loaf baked in a small loaf pan just a few days ago. It’s texture allowed it to stand up well while being sliced thin.
Served with a hearty spinach salad, this is a warm dinner for one of our coldest winter nights. A French burgundy was an excellent accompaniment.