If you’ve ever been in a Parisian café, you’ve seen Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle at work. In this environment, waiters move about like errant electrons, brushing past you with little care for their momentum, their movements, or their duties. To a stationary observer, it is impossible to know both the location of a server and the speed at which he is ignoring you.
The croque-monsieur made its debut in 1910, in a café on the Boulevard des Capucines. The origins of the name are unknown, but I suspect the etymology is quintessentially French. An exasperated Frenchman spots his waiter, moving quickly in his direction. As the waiter glides past his table, he simply holds up his finger, and makes a concise request: “Sir, the crunch [sandwich].”
That is, croque monsieur literally translates as “crunch, sir.” The sandwich is traditionally made with French ham, Gruyere cheese, and a mornay sauce. Add a fried egg on top, and you have a croque-madame (because it resembles a woman’s hat). Add a tomato, and you have a croque provençal. Substitute blue cheese (from Auvergne) for the Gruyere, and you have a croque auvergnat. Finally, substitute (Norwegian) smoked salmon for the ham, and you have a croque norvégien – or as we might call it:
Croque Monsieur with Smoked Salmon
Recipe adapted from Ina Garten’s Barefoot in Paris.
PREP TIME: 15 minutes
COOK TIME: 15 minutes
YIELD: 3 to 4 Sandwiches
WHAT TO GRAB:
2 tablespoon butter
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
3/4 to 1 cup low-fat milk
1 teaspoon Kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 cup Gruyere cheese, freshly grated
6 ounces Gruyere cheese, thinly sliced
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, freshly grated
6 to 8 slices of brioche or any white bread
6 to 8 slices of smoked salmon
1 tomato, sliced thin
HOW YOU DO IT:
1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
2. Make a mornay sauce. In a medium saucepan, melt the butter over medium-low heat until it begins to bubble and foam. Once bubbling, whisk in the flour, stirring until the two are well-combined, and the flour is off-white with a nutty smell – about 2 to 3 minutes. Slowly pour in 3/4 cup of milk, whisking constantly, until thickened. If it’s too thick, you can always add more milk. Off the heat, add the salt, pepper, nutmeg, 1/2 cup grated Gruyere, and 1/2 cup grated Parmesan.
3. Toast the bread. You can use a toaster for a few slices. Otherwise, bake the slices on a baking sheet for 5 minutes on one side, and 2 minutes on the other.
4. Lightly brush half of bread with a thin layer of the Gruyere sauce. Top the sauce with two slices of smoked salmon. Top the salmon with the thinly sliced Gruyere. Lightly brush the remaining halves with mustard, and top with a sliced tomato. Combine each half of the sandwich. Spread the tops with a thin layer of the Gruyere sauce.
4.5 If desired, you can sprinkle additional grated Gruyere over the sauce. You can also slip a thin slice of butter between the baking pan and the bottom layer of bread.
5. Bake the sandwiches for 5 to 6 minutes, then broil on high for 3 to 5 minutes, or just until the topping is bubbly and lightly browned.
6. Serve warm with yam and sweet potato fries!