Croque monsieur is (essentially, but perhaps not officially) french for “grilled ham and cheese sandwich.” It’s a very popular sandwich that has been around for just about a century, having first appeared on a restaurant menu around 1910. Gooey cheese, salty ham and buttered, toasted bread makes a great combination. It’s so popular that there are now lots of different variations on “le croque,” changing up the type of bread used, the amount or type of meat and adding extra ingredients to the basic recipe. The basic recipe consists of ham and cheese toasted in between two slices of bread, and the whole thing is usually topped with another layer of cheese that is melted/broiled on. The Croque Madame is a very simple variation on the original and adds either a fried or poached egg to the top of the sandwich, usually replacing some of that final layer of cheese.
These sandwiches are meant to be a lighter meal or snack, not as heavy as a full dinner, and are quite popular as a fast food-type option. While you could pile one of these up with sliced ham to make the sandwich a bit heartier, I prefer to keep it a little on the lighter side and use just a slice or two of ham in the middle. This seems – as far as I can tell – to be a little more in keeping with the “traditional” French way of making the sandwich, since the sandwich is usually sold quite inexpensively and with only a slice or two of ham inside.
Cheese, on the other hand, is never in short supply in french cooking and even though I didn’t use too much on this sandwich, you can feel free to pile it on if you want more. It’s pretty traditional to use a cheese like gruyère, but any easily melted cheese is a good choice for this sandwich. I like havarti and will have it on its own or combine it with gruyère for my sandwiches.
1 large egg
2 slices of sandwich bread
2-oz (2 slices) gruyère cheese
approx 4-oz deli sliced ham
salt and pepper, to taste
In a medium skillet, lightly greased, fry egg to desired doneness. Season with salt and pepper.
While egg is cooking, lightly butter the bread. Make a sandwich with the following layers: bread slice, cheese, ham, cheese, bread slice. Season with salt and pepper if needed.
Toast ham and cheese sandwich in a large skillet, turning once or twice, until both sides are golden brown and cheese is melted. Place on a serving plate and top with fried egg.