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France has been creeping (or bursting, in some cases) out of lockdown. As of May 11th, people can come and go without carrying a written permission slip. The outdoor markets, hairdressers, and other types of shops have reopened, under the advisement of the health ministry, who is encouraging people to wear masks and practice social distancing, keeping 1 meter (3-feet) apart from others. Some stores (and people) have been strict about this, while others remain cavalier.

No one quite knows where this is going, with many proclaiming “It’s over!” while I’m remaining prudent. But on June 2nd, restaurants and cafés may be allowed to reopen.

While everyone waits, some restaurants in Paris have started serving food-to-go, either to pick up sur place, or be delivered. We’ve had food delivery services for a number of years, which are popular, but their offerings lean heavily on burgers, poke bowls, and bagel sandwiches, which aren’t very inspiring to me. In response to the virus, better-quality restaurants have gotten on the bandwagon and even my local French bistro is serving la cuisine française for pick-up…although bringing home a Steak-frites and Frisée salad in a box isn’t quite the same as sitting inside with a carafe of vin rouge.

For the record, I would love it if restaurants were allowed to put tables on the sidewalks and squares, distanced apart, which clients from any of the nearby restaurants would be allowed to use. (And while we’re at it, and since it’s my fantasy, let’s make the tables no-smoking, too.) Diners could still interact and remain “together,” as if they were inside, but if restaurants can only operate at half-capacity, most dining rooms are just too small and the profit margins are just too tight to make a go if it if they can only fill half of those seats.

In other news, I know a lot of you out there have been making your own bread. And I can’t think of a better use for it than to make yourself a Croque monsieur.

In recent interviews and Q+As, invariably people ask me what’s the first thing I’m going to eat when restaurants and cafés reopen. Having a Croque monsieur was at the top of that list, until I decided to just take matters into my own hands. I don’t make my own bread, since Ten Belles can do it better than I can, just like I don’t cure my own ham or make my own cheese.

Although I admire and applaud those who do.

Also in my opinion: The best Croque monsieurs start with good bread. I don’t order a Croque monsieur in a café unless it’s on pain au levain (sourdough), which some places mention on the menu. A few may let you know if it’s on pain Poilâne, or if the breads is from another good-quality bakery, while others will make the sandwich with grocery store-style pain de mie; dull squares of white bread, which aren’t my preference.

I sometimes use a dry-cured jambon, similar to prosciutto, so you can use that or another country-style ham, as they are sometimes called. Or you can use regular ol’ boiled ham, known as Jambon de Paris in France. There’s only one real Jambon de Paris left that’s made in Paris, and their Le Prince de Paris ham is particularly excellent. You have to go to a better charcuterie to find it, such as La Grande Épicierie, Caractère de Cochon, Terroirs d’Avenir, or a good butcher or épicerie (specialty shop), since it costs a little more than standard boiled ham, but I like it enough to make a special trip to get it when I can.

On the flip side of that, while the outdoor markets were closed, I had ordered some Emmenthal cheese from the grocery delivery service that I’ve been using. Emmenthal normally melts fine, but this one didn’t. (I prefer Comté or Gruyère.) It even resisted the charms, and flames, of my trusty blowtorch I hauled out when the broiler wasn’t having much impact on the cheese. It didn’t get all gooey and browned, as it usually does, while I watched the minutes ticked by, but it tasted just fine when I cut it in half and dove in. I panicked a little because I know readers like precise baking times, temperatures, etc., and I was going to give it another go, but Romain told me to drop it and just post the recipe.

So I recommend using your favorite cheese for melting (like one you’d use for a grilled cheese sandwich or fondue), and keeping an eye on it when you put it under the broiler in the final step, cooking it until the cheese is runny and melted, and browned to perfection.

Croque monsieur

Adapted from My Paris Kitchen (Ten Speed Press) I usually just add two slices of cheese to my sandwiches but since I was feeling lavish this time around, I used four. But generally, two is enough : )
Servings 2 sandwiches

For the béchamel

  • 1 tablespoon butter,, salted or unsalted
  • 1 tablespoon flour
  • 3/4 cup (180ml) whole milk
  • pinch salt
  • pinch cayenne pepper

For the sandwich

  • 4 slices sturdy sourdough or levain bread, (although you can use sturdy white bread, like pain de mie)
  • 4 slices dry-cured ham (such as prosciutto) or 2 slices boiled ham
  • 2 (or 4) thin slices of melting cheese,, such as Comté, Gruyère or Cheddar, plus 3/4 cup (60g) grated
  • 4 tablespoons (55g) melted butter,, salted or unsalted

To make the béchamel

  • 1. In a small saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat then stir in the flour. When the mixture starts to bubble, cook, stirring constantly, for 1 minute. Whisk in a third of the milk, breaking up any lumps, then add the rest of the milk. When the milk comes to a boil, reduce the heat so it's still simmering, and cook (whisking constantly) until it the texture resembles runny mayonnaise, about 1 minute. Remove from heat, add salt and cayenne, and set aside.

To make the sandwiches

  • 2. Lay the four slices of bread on a counter or cutting board. Spread the béchamel over all four slices of bread. Lay the ham and cheese slices on two of the slices of bread. Put the other slices of bread on top, with the béchamel facing down toward the ham and cheese, so it's inside. Brush the outsides (and both sides) of the sandwiches lavishly with the melted butter.
  • 3. Turn on the broiler, place the oven rack in the upper third of the oven, and heat a skillet that will hold both sandwiches over medium-high heat on the stovetop. (Be sure to use a pan with a heatproof handle, since you'll be putting it under the broiler.) Place the sandwiches in the skillet and drape foil over the top. Rest a heavy object with the flat bottom of top, such as another pot or pan, and cook until the bottoms of the sandwiches are well-browned. Flip the sandwiches, and the cook them on the other side the same way, until they're also browned.
  • 4. Remove the pot or pan and foil and sprinkle the grated cheese over the top of the sandwiches. Broil the sandwiches until the cheese melts and is browned.

Notes

Do-ahead: You can make the béchamel sauce a few days ahead and store it in the refrigerator.
Serving: It's traditional to serve the Croque monsieur with a green salad.

 


48 comments

    • DrRandy

    What do you think of the croque madame? Gilding the lily?

      • David
      David Lebovitz

      I like those too!

        • stuart itter

        How is “gilding the lily” made.

      • stuart itter

      Croque Monsieur/Madams are an obsession for me. I use your version of this from your blog or web site. There are two other versions around. In the last year, the NYT published a version from a French cafe: bread, béchamel, cheese, ham, cheese, béchamel-not topping. BUT The main version around is bread, béchamel, ham, cheese, bread with be chamel and cheese outside on top of the second bread. It is baked at 400. This is the version in the Buvette cookbook and probably in her Paris places. I love all three versions and get excited about this one or that for no particular reason. I have one or two of the sandwiches weekly for (not the French lunch way) breakfast topped by a fried egg-the Madam thing. Really would make a decent enough dinner with a salad. Thanks to this article, I will have one tomorrow for breakfast.

    • Jimmy

    Hi David –

    A year or two ago, I was at a public library with a few of my kids. I was browsing the cookbook aisle, and I came across L’Appart. I checked out the book and enjoyed it so much (I love your sense of humor and the style in which you write) that I ordered a copy for my sister and also bought My Paris Kitchen, another brilliant book.

    Sense then, I follow your blog, make your recipes – my family loves your vinaigrette salad dressing – etc.

    Thanks for this Croque monsieur recipe and latest post. I make a béchamel sauce for lasagna, but haven’t thought to use it on a sandwich, and your recipe sounds great.

    Thanks for your work. I appreciate it!

    Quick question: Do you recommend a favorite cutting board, like the one in the picture above?

    • Claudine

    I understand that this blog is meant to be a chirpy and rosy representation of life in *Paris*, but let’s be realistic: food delivery is non-existant if you live anywhere but in a large city.
    In my area of rural France (northern Lot), bread dough is prepared in a commercial “bakery” before being delivered to the local shops for baking. To get sourdough bread, I must either make myself or drive 60km (round trip) to a decent bakery. Any pâtisserie other than croissant or pain au chocolat/chocolatine has to be ordered well in advance or bought from the nearest supermarket (for me, it’s a 50-km round trip to Leclerc).
    On the other hand, I take a walk on country roads from my doorstep without seeing or hearing any traffic, the air is clean and the stars are bright at night!

      • David
      David Lebovitz

      Jimmy; I don’t have a favorite cutting board. I have some older ones (like the one shown) that I pick up at flea markets, but use smaller plastic ones when cutting meat, so I can run them through the dishwasher.

      Claudine: That’s the first time anyone has used the words “chirpy” and “rosy” to describe the way I represent Paris. People have been irked that I don’t always show the perfect sides of the city. (And I wasn’t boasting/complaining about food delivery services. They’ve just become a fact of life here.) So not sure the point of your comment is.

      Sharon: Well, something like that…
      ;)

      • Patricia

      Hello David – thank you for the recipe. I’ve been looking for a good one from a source I can trust. I got all excited one day when we found a French style restaurant Just west of Toronto. My friends crepes looked great but my monsieur was a huge let down. Under the blanket of bechamel was a raw white bread sandwich. There were no grill marks no heat applied to this sandwich. I complained. I said I think someone forgot a step but they insisted that has been their version and it has been a great success. Poop. I’m happy to stay home and make it myself!

      • S

      Use whatever bread you have Claudine

      • Sylvaine Lang

      Claudine, we’re in the Lot as well (near Gourdon!) We still have a few real boulangers around so bread is not a problem. Croissants and chocolatines are hit and miss. I hate to admit that the “best” ones come from Lidl…

        • Chris

        I love reading David’s take on just about anything: food, the quarantine, Paris life. I have read his books and am uplifted by what I find to be a refreshing, humorous, unpretentious style. So Claudine, if you are still following these comments, could you address within yourself what makes you want to sour something that begins as quite lovely? The world has enough of that.

          • Rob

          Hear, hear : it’s interesting because it is different from our own lives!

          • gg_mediterranee

          Well said Chris…honestly, some people…

      • Paul Huckett

      I make my own bread in Australia for the same reason. We have some wonderful bakers but they are far away from me . We had a huge scandal some years ago when it was revealed our largest supermarket chain with onsite bakeries , was actually importing frozen pre-made dough from factories in Eastern Europe and Ireland. They were being passed off as handmade,locally baked artisanal bread at a premium price , with no mention of their original source .Globalism is a scourge . This is another of my ‘Lebovitz Horde ‘ recipes , lovingly kept printed out in a folder in the pantry so the books stay clean in the bookcase .

      • Catherine Mundy

      Claudine we stay in a village in the part of the Lot near Cahors. To our great joy a local family has started making their own sourdough loaves and also some patisserie and selling along with their own honey (and pain dépice) from a tiny shop in the village. We were last there in November. (we live in Australia) And plan to be there again early next year. Apart from the travel restrictions we are worried about the survival of such local businesses in the villages.

      • Sarah

      One reason it’s so essential to have delivery services in large cities is that the infection rate is so much higher — take it from someone in the epicenter (NYC). The grocery deliverers here and everywhere are performing a heroic, essential service for which they deserve our eternal gratitude. Whatever bread they’ve brought me, I’ve appreciated (and mine has been fantastic sourdough made by the great people at Bread Alone, in the middle of the very rural Hudson Valley).

        • David
        David Lebovitz

        Sarah: Yes, that’s definitely true. Living in a crowded city has some advantages and disadvantages. (Many Parisians left the city to go to the countryside, and weren’t so well-received by the locals.) I was trying to stay indoors as much as I could since I’m in a higher risk group and a friend recommended the grocery service I linked to, which was very good. They had bread from one of my favorite bakeries, raw milk butter and cheeses, fresh herbs, free-range chicken, wine, etc and the prices weren’t any higher than the grocery store. Unlike the food delivery bike riders, the delivery people were (as you mentioned) heroic, practiced good hygiene, and were very nice when they dropped the food off.

    • Sharon

    In my mind, I imagined that Romain actually said, “Drop it and just post the damn recipe!”

      • Claire

      So happy to see this!! I can’t tell you how many recipes I’ve seen for this sandwich that have you pouring the bechamel over the top of the sandwich and then adding the cheese on top of the sauce. I will have to try Ten Belles on my next trip (hopefully soon). Utopie is usually my choice since it is literally around the corner from the apartment I always rent on Blvd Richard Lenoir. Thanks and stay safe!

    • Bob Knudson

    I’m really surprised that the social distancing standard in France is only one meter (3 feet). In the USA it is 6 feet, which seems more reasonable to me, especially since there is now some evidence that the virus can be passed just through the breath of an infected individual.

      • David
      David Lebovitz

      So was I! I kept wondering why people kept moving toward me, as I slowly backed up. (And they didn’t seem to get the hint.) Then I realized the government mandated 1 meter/3 feet which is actually quite close. Not sure why but thankfully infections rates have been dropping slightly.

        • Tasha

        It is also 1m here in Singapore, freaks me out but then again, we are densely populated and just don’t have space, I guess. I just walk on roads when I see people, there’s almost no cars around in my area. Stay prudent and safe.
        Your blog and Instagram has helped me stay sane for a long time

          • David
          David Lebovitz

          Yes, a French newspaper posted a graphic saying something like on 40% of the sidewalks in Paris, people would be unable to keep 1 meter apart from each other. At the beginning people were being very respectful and some (including myself) would often walk in the street, which was great when there were hardly any cars. But now most people just brush past each other on the sidewalks and auto traffic is back to normal.

    • Joy McBride

    I live in Kingston, Ontario, Canada. Our local council has just announced that it will be reducing traffic on our main downtown streets to one lane for the whole summer so restaurants and stores can use the other lane to create patio seating or outdoor sales tables. On Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays after 4 pm Princess Street (our main drag) will be completely closed to traffic to create one big pedestrian mall.

    I work at a local bakery/café — we’re all excited about the opportunity this will give us to serve customers en plein air!

      • Dr. CaSo

      Joy, if you read this message, could you please email me? My address is (without the spaces) drcaso @ shaw . ca. Thanks :)

    • Julie

    David, where in Paris do you go for a good croque monsieur? I’ve tried about 4 places there and 2 in the riviera. My favorite is still at Can Can in Richmond, VA.

      • David
      David Lebovitz

      I like to go to Le Nemrod. There are probably better ones around town (and there are some that are worse) but I like the place and it’s just sort of traditional when I’m over in that part of time to drop in and have one.

    • soosie

    I’m guessing the pot on foil in the frying pan (in the photo) is for the bechamel?

      • Stacy

      I think it’s used to weigh the sandwich down so it browns evenly. The foil just keeps the bottom of top pot clean. At least that’s how I do it

        • David
        David Lebovitz

        Yes, that’s right :)

    • Gregg

    As a French language teacher here in America, making a croque monsieur for my students on our cultural day is such a pleasure. I always find it funny that they are both bemused and scandalized that the addition of an egg changes a croque monsieur to a croque madame.

      • Moonshadow

      @Gregg – Wow! I’m 67 years old and never once got the connection between the Madame and the egg until now! Geesh…
      Thanks for that…I think.

    • Dr. CaSo

    I got some gruyère from my fromager last week, and it was very crumbly, which gruyère usually isn’t. I asked my fromager about it, and he said that because of the pandemic, truck drivers are having a hard time keeping their regular schedules, and sometimes the “chaine du froid” is not kept very well, and/or their trips take more time. He said a few cheeses suffer from that these days (like my gruyère and maybe your emmenthal, too) and their texture/behaviour might be different, but they are still good :)

      • David
      David Lebovitz

      That’s interesting and probably true!

    • penelope pikaart

    In 2016 my daughter and I had our first meal in Paris in a cornerside bistro on Rue de Bac. Sorry I don’t remember the name. We were right off the plane from the States on our first visit to Paris and waiting for our hotel room to be ready. We each had a croque monsieur after having read about them in our pre-trip reading. Such a wonderful meal and instroduction to Paris. Thank you, David, for reminding us of that sweet memory.

    • Barb

    In Burlington Vt Leunig’s Bistro is Paris stuck in the middle of Church St. Delicious Croque Monsieur but you can achieve it at home – but not with the pananche!

    • Jennifer

    I can’t wait to sit in our local café and order one of their super cheesy Croque Madames (I like the egg!). I think I’ll have to give this a try.

    • Cindy S

    LOL… I actually thought that was french fries on top of your sandwich! From the picture it looks like it to me. I do love a good cheesy Croque Monsieur, haven’t had one in quite a while now you’ve made me hungry for one. Off to the kitchen I go!

    • Margaret

    I’ll never forget the first time I had croque monsieur in Paris at a sidewalk cafe along with Badoit sparkling water in a small red bottle. SO good and I brought the pretty red bottle home with me. It makes a great bud vase, and every time I look at it I think of Paris :)

      • hilary appleby

      I have only ever had one. I still dream about it. I need to try this the way you layered the bechamel inside and with sourdough bread. It sounds delicious. I only wish I could be in France while eating it and not in Southern California. Wonderful!!

    • Betsy

    Hi David, As a consistent grilled cheese sandwich burner, can you give a rough guide of the cook time per side since it won’t be possible to see what’s going on? Thx.

      • David
      David Lebovitz

      Probably 3 or so minutes per side. Depends on the cookware (iron vs copper vs something else) but I’d check after 2 minutes and see how it’s going.

    • Meanonsunday

    I like the idea of more outside seating. In the town where I live the mayor has closed some of the downtown streets to traffic to allow the restaurants to put more tables on the sidewalk/ street. Realistically operating at 50% capacity with inside spaces isn’t financially viable and I suspect a lot of customers wouldn’t be comfortable even with that.

    • E Thai

    We live in small city Chattanooga, TN, and ate out for the first time in months. Very glad the restaurants are abiding with the social distancing guidelines taking our temperatures and having tables further apart. Even the waitstaff is wearing mask and gloves!

    • pippin

    Well this recipe showed up at the perfect time: i had sour dough bread, we had a new package of proscuitto, and i know how to make bechamel. in an instant – it seems – i had an open-faced croque monsier. sooo good. i’ve been eating them all week…
    mine is: buttered bread, gravy, meat, swiss, cheddar. starts on the stove, then under the broiler until the cheese browns, then onto my plate (where it doesn’t last long!)

    • KBP

    Made this as soon as you posted the recipe. Perfection! We added French fries on the side (for additional comfort), a green salad & washed it down with some cidre. We can’t be in Paris right now but this was a pretty good approximation. Merci!

    • Dennis

    David, Many people have difficulty making a sourdough starter. I tried and gave up after several attempts and just bought some from King Arthur Flour. I’ve kept it going for over 10 years. If someone can’t find a source they can ask a friend for a small amount. I gave up on bread from supermarkets years ago and, without a decent bakery where I live in the U.S, I make my own sourdough breads. I appreciate your posts and recipes.

    • Anthony

    Beautiful sandwich. I’m a fan of the sourdough instead of the brioche as well, though both are delicious.

    However I do like to throw an egg on mine and make it a madam

A

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