A few weeks ago, I happened to notice one of these cheesy Sloppy Joe’s recipes on a blog somewhere and of course, I didn’t save it and I should have. Needless to say, it’s been hanging around in my brain since. So a few days ago, I decided to make some from scratch and see if I could pull them off. Turns out it was pretty easy and the results were way better than I expected. I may have to do these more often, for a quick dinner or lunch.
If you look at the recipe, you’ll notice that there are no tomatoes and only a little ketchup and a bit of beef broth. I tried this with the tomatoes and the cheese really get’s lost, so my advice is to stick with the beef broth, which really makes the cheese stand out. I also used shredded sharp cheddar cheese (which I grated myself) and that was perfect, but I may want to try some other cheeses in the future, just to see what happens.
Had it been invented here in the U.S., the croque monsieuer would be considered “bar food,” but since it was created in one of the many bistros in Paris sometime around the turn of the 20th century, the name is much fancier. This version is slightly modified from the French classic to take advantage of some wonderful ingredients I happened to come across.
The ham came first. The traditional croque monsieur would use boiled ham, much like the ham you can get at just about any deli in any supermarket. Just a short drive from where I live, however, is Virginia ham country, and so I sometimes get my hands on some excellent thin-sliced lightly smoked country ham from Surry Farms. If you really like ham and you want a real treat, you can order it online. You’re not likely to find anything better.
Then the cheese. In Paris, it would be gruyere or ementhaler, or maybe Compte for this sandwich, but I also had on hand some Balsamic Bellavitano from Wisconsin’s Sartori Cheese, so in the interests of making this an all-American version of croque monsieur, I figured I’d give it a shot. Good choice, it turns out. It complimented the ham well and wasn’t overpowered by the rich bechamel.
Finally the bread. The classic version uses slightly sweet bread called pan de mie, which resembles brioche. If you can get your hands on brioche, great. I’ve found that challah works well and is close to the French pan de mie. Some versions of this sandwich call for using what Americans call French toast — bread dipped in whipped eggs and fried crisp. Feel free to do that if you’re making this recipe. Personally, I like the crunch of grilled bread.
If you’re not familiar with French sauces, bechamel is one of the so-called mother sauces. It’s just a white roux of flour and butter, with some milk whisked into it, flavored with a bay leaf and a bt of nutmeg, salt and pepper. For this sandwich, I also add a tablespoon of Dijon mustard. I’ve included a small-batch recipe for the sauce that makes enough for two or three sandwiches.
Croque monsieur is perfect for a nice lunch or even better as part of a more elaborate brunch. It pairs well with a rich chardonnay.
- Thin-sliced smoked Virginia ham (or boiled ham from the deli), enough for 2-4 sandwiches.
- Gruyere, Ementhaler, or Sartori Balsamic Bellavitano, enough slices to cover the ham on the sandwiches plus 1/4 cup grated for each sandwich.
- Two slices soft-crust slightly sweet bread such as brioche or challah per sandwich
- 2 Tbsp. butter
- 3 Tbsp. all-purpose flour
- 1 cup milk at room temperature
- 1/2 tsp. nutmeg
- 1 Tbsp. dijon mustard
- 1 bay leaf
- Prepare the bechamel by melting the butter in a small saucepan, and when it has clarified and just begins to bubble, add the flour all at once. Stir and cook for several minutes, until the roux is nearly dry. Whisk in the milk a little at a time and then continue to cook until the sauce is thick and creamy. Stir in the nutmeg, mustard and bay leaf and cook for 2-3 minutes more. Set aside.
- Butter all sides of the bread slices and assemble the sandwiches with the ham and sliced cheese. Grill on a hot griddle until nicely browned and cheese begins to melt, turning once. Place the sandwiches on a non-stick cookie sheet or broiler pan.
- Top each sandwich with enough bechamel to just reach the edges and sprinkle 1/4 cup grated cheese on each sandwich. Run under a preheated broiler until the sauce on top is bubbling and browned.
- Serve immediately.
Every summer, in just about every town of any size in the stretch of the Ohio River valley from Pittsburgh to, perhaps as far as Cincinnati, you could count on an Italian street festival materializing. In the little town where I grew up, you could count on it coming sometime in August, and it was a signal that summer would soon end and school would be starting soon. The photo below (which I “stole” from a friend still living there) gives you an idea what they’re like. The cornerstone of these festivals was (and apparently still is) the hot sausage sandwich.
The hot sausage sandwich I knew as a kid, and can still find at a festival or Italian restaurant in towns up and down the river (actually throughout western Pennsylvania, eastern Ohio and northern West Virginia) has no counterpart in Italy, as far as I can tell, though there are similar sausages in southern Italy and Sicily. The sausage is seasoned ground pork in natural casings with varying amounts of hot red pepper, fennel and occasionally basil in the mix. The best sausages come from an Italian butcher shop, and while I’ve occasionally had to settle for packaged grocery store varieties, those sausages don’t hold a candle to the real thing. I’ve read that the festival-style sausage sandwich originated in Pittsburgh and spread from there. It isn’t the only sausage sandwich. There are versions from Boston to Chicago, and I suspect in any community which had or has a sizable Italian immigrant population. In fact, it appears that the first American sausage made as it is today was created in 1895, in Pittsburgh, by a gentleman named G. Pasquinelli who founded the now defunct Italian Sausage Company. Can’t say that surprises me.
There are rules for the genuine festival sandwich, of course. Authentic hot Italian sausage links are the start. They must be grilled over charcoal (with no wood smoke). There must be green bell peppers and onions, also grilled (not fried, and certainly not sautéed — we’re talking Ohio Valley here, people. Nothing fancy if you want them to sell). And sometimes, if you were lucky, there would be sweet-hot red peppers. Serve that baby on a sausage-size roll made like a small Italian bread. The cardinal rule was/is, no tomato sauce, ever. Sometimes, you could get fresh tomatoes cut, salted and peppered on the side, but that was, essentially a salad. This sandwich is street food, meant for eating while you stroll through the festival in nice clothes (well nicer than everyday, anyway). You can’t have soggy rolls and dripping red sauce and expect parents to cough up a couple of bucks just to create a laundry disaster, right?
That’s it. Simple, delicious and traditional.
The origin of the Silver Queen crab cakes recipe is a household mystery here at Discovery Cooking. My lovely wife Carol began making them in the 1990s, I think, though it might have been even earlier.Since then, we’ve refined the recipe a great deal. My best guess is that we came across the original somewhere on Maryland’s eastern shore, which you could rightly call the intersection of Silver Queen corn and blue crabs. If you’re not familiar with Silver Queen, it’s a white corn that’s among the sweetest varieties I’ve ever tasted, in part because we live close enough to the main areas of cultivation that getting ears of Silver Queen the same day they’re picked is not very difficult.
Silver Queen crab cakes are found all over the eastern shore. There are dozens of recipes online, but this one is a bit different from most of the ones I’ve tried. The crab cakes are creamy with just a thin crust and the flavors are perfectly balanced. It’s a cliché, but they really do melt in your mouth. They’re great by themselves or make a really good sandwich.by
Anyone I know who has spent anytime at all in France — myself included — has a favorite tartine and a story to go with it. Mine involves stopping in a charcuterie/brasserie in Dijon near the hotel La Cloche and driving out into the country on a beautiful fall day with a couple of incredible tartines and a lightly chilled bottle of Puligny-Montrachet. Some days you just don’t forget.
The thing about tartines is that they’re anything you want them to be, so long as they’re open-faced on a slab of toasted rustic bread, often, but not always, sourdough. The one pictured above replicates the one I had that day in Burgundy, which had a bed of arugula, thickly sliced smoked ham, thinly sliced apples and melted Brie, with, of course, a slather of Dijon mustard.
No recipe accompanies this post for good reason. There simply is no single way to make a tartine. They can be meaty or vegetarian. Sweet, savory or both. I’ve seen breakfast tartines with eggs and tomatoes and fresh herbs. I even had one once that was effectively a caesar salad on toasted bread. Tuna and chicken salads make wonderful versions, and I’m told that sardines are great too. I haven’t tried that.
The one characteristic of all tartines, however, is that they appeal to the eyes as much as to the tastebuds. I’ve had tartines in France and at some very nice restaurants here in the US, and they have always been as beautiful as they are tasty, so when you embark on the creation of your own special version, exercise both your culinary and visual creativity. A tartine should be a work of art.
And whatever you do, don’t forget the wine.by
For some reason, I was craving a sandwich the other day while researching some egg recipe ideas that were bouncing around in the back of my head. That’s when I stumbled on a French-themed brunch sandwich dubbed croque mademoiselle. A quick tour around the net turned up a croque monsieur, and a croque madame, too. These sandwiches all had a couple of things in common: grilled bread, ham, some kind of cheese and an egg on top. So for fun, I decided to make my own version, which has been dubbed croque Frere, in honor of my little brother, who has a birthday coming up shortly.
The idea was to use what I happened to have in the fridge, which consisted of some leftover honey-glazed ham, a little compte cheese, and a partial container of crème fraîche. Rather than use bread, I opted for breakfast biscuits I’d made that morning, just because they were handy.
The sandwiches were fantastic and will likely be a goto for late breakfasts and lunches around the house. The cheese sauce, which was inspired by the croque mademoiselle featured in my favorite egg cookbook, Eggs on Top, was the star. The comte cheese, which subbed for the Gruyère in the original, gave the sauce some nutty flavor that worked very well with the tang of Dijon and shallots. And those did well with the sweetness of the ham.
Give this one a shot. It’s worth the little bit of effort.
- For each sandwich, a large biscuit (about 3 inches across), sliced
- Sliced, baked ham (honey glazed is best)
- 3 Tbsp. creme fraiche (or sour cream)
- 1 tsp. Dijon mustard
- 1 Tbsp. minced shallots
- 1/2 to 1 cup grated Compte cheese (Gruyere or even Parmesan will work, too)
- Softened butter
- Salt and pepper to taste
- A fried egg (over easy)
- Preheat oven to 350F.
- Generously butter the biscuits and grill them on a griddle until the surface is browned and crunchy. Set aside.
- In a small bowl, stir together the creme fraiche, mustard, shallots and grated cheese. If it's too thick, thin with a little milk.
- On a baking sheet, place the ham on the bottom biscuit slice, top with the cheese sauce and the biscuit top. Bake for 2-3 minutes, or until the cheese sauce is hot and bubbly.
- Place the sandwich on a warm plate, top with the fried egg and serve immediately.
It’s been awhile since I’ve had guests for lunch, so when one of my neighbors offered to come by to help with a few chores, I thought it might be nice to offer up a sandwich in partial compensation. The neighbor hails from Texas originally, so I decided to whip up a burger that evoked a little of the southwest. This chicken burger fit the bill nicely.
Making burgers isn’t rocket science, of course. What makes one special is attention to detail. A plain old chicken burger really doesn’t have much flavor, but incorporate a few ingredients and some herbs and spices, serve it on a nicely grilled bun and top with cheese, bacon and vegetables and you’ve not only got a ton of flavor, but a pretty balanced meal in the bargain.by