Wednesday, September 20, 2023

My Date with Mrs. Crispy!

After coming home in a rush and no plans for dinner, I was introduced to the wonderful world of "Croque-Madame," via Thomas Keller's cookbook, Bouchon. Somehow the Gods were smiling on me, because I already had everything I needed in my fridge! Perhaps it was a date with destiny? Croque-Madame ("Mrs. Crispy") is related to the Croque-Monsieur ("Mr. Crispy"), with the addition of a fried egg and a heavenly Mornay sauce. The name is attributed to the egg resembling a woman's hat. Not only is this the best ham and cheese sandwich you'll ever have, it is relatively simple, and any leftover Mornay sauce means you can have another! French fries are the natural accompaniment. Trust me, this takes bistro food to a whole other level!

Bouchon Croque-Madame

Serves 4

8, 1/2" thick slices Brioche, other egg bread, or pan de mie (about 4" square)
8 ounces thinly sliced boiled ham
8 slices (about 1/2 ounces each) Swiss cheese
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
4 large eggs
1 cup Mornay sauce (see below), warmed
Freshly ground black pepper
2 teaspoons chopped Italian parsley

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
    Lay out the bread slices. (I trimmed mine to be exactly 4".) Divide the ham among them, making sure it doesn't extend over the edges of the bread. Place the cheese over the ham. If the cheese is larger than the bread, bend it over to fit.
    Heat two large ovenproof nonstick pans or griddles over medium heat. (If you have only one large pan, made 2 sandwiches and keep them warm in the oven while you make the second batch.) Add 1 tablespoon of the butter to each pan. When it has melted, add half the bread cheese side up to each pan and cook for 1 to 2 minutes, or until the bottoms are golden brown. Transfer the pans to the oven for 2 to 3 minutes to melt the cheese.
    Meanwhile, melt the remaining 1 tablespoon of butter in a large ovenproof skillet and fry the eggs. Cook the eggs until the bottoms are set, then place the skillet in the oven for a minute to set the top of the whites. (We cook the eggs in 4-5" individual skillets.)
    When the cheese is melted, remove the sandwiches from the oven. Place 2 slices together to make each sandwiches from the oven. Place 2 slices together to make each sandwich and put each sandwich on a serving plate. Place an egg on top of each sandwich. Pour about 1/4 cup of the sauce over the white of each egg, leaving the yolk uncovered. Grind black pepper over each egg and garnish the eggs with a diagonal sprinkling of chopped parsley. Serve with frites, if desired.

Mornay Sauce

This luxurious cheese sauce is perfect for gratineed scallops, macaroni and cheese, croque-monsieurs and croque-madames, and crepes.

Makes 2 cups

3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 cup diced (1/4") Spanish onion
Kosher salt
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 cups milk
1 cup heavy cream, or as needed
1 bay leaf
3 black peppercorns
3 whole cloves
Freshly grated nutmeg
Freshly ground white pepper
1/3 cup grated Comte or Emmentaler cheese (Gruyere would work as well.)

Melt the butter in a medium heavy saucepan set on a diffuser over medium heat. (I don't have a diffuser and it worked just as well.) Add the onion and a pinch of salt and cook slowly, stirring occasionally, for 2 to 3 minutes, or until the onion is translucent. Sprinkle in the flour and cook for about 3 minutes, stirring constantly so that the roux doesn't burn or color. (You may have to lower the heat.) Whisking constantly, add the milk and cream and whisk until fully incorporated. Bring to a simmer, whisking, then add the bay leaf, peppercorns, and cloves. Move the pan to one side of the diffuser, away from direct heat to avoid scorching, and bring back to a gentle simmer. (I transferred it to a new burner on low heat.) Adjust the heat to maintain a gentle simmer and cook, whisking occasionally, reaching into the corners of the pan, for about 30 minutes. (If the sauce does begin to scorch, pour it into a clean pan - don't scrape the bottom of the pan - and continue.)
    Remove the sauce from the heat and season to taste with salt, a grating of nutmeg, and a pinch of white pepper. Strain the sauce, add the cheese, and whisk to melt. Use immediately, or place in a storage container, press a piece of plastic wrap against the surface to keep a skin from forming, and refrigerate for up to a week. If the sauce is too thick after refrigeration, it can be thinned with a little heavy cream.

Recipes from Bouchon, by Thomas Keller.


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