The Croque Madame is a decadent, luxurious sandwich which I learned about in Thomas Keller’s cookbook Bouchon. This is indeed the preparation from that book. This sandwich is a grilled ham and cheese, with a fried egg on top, and smothered in Mornay sauce. Mornay is a basic traditional white sauce from French cuisine called a Béchamel with shredded cheese added to it—-essentially it’s a boojey alfredo sauce. Croque Madames are an addiction for me, and every time the urge strikes me to make them I simply go into auto-pilot and let the madness take over. I was inspired to make them this time during the course of our first visit to the Portland Farmer’s Market, where I came across a vender selling farm fresh eggs with his son, promoted as being no more than 4 days old. Now, I’m no egg expert, but that’s a fresh egg! I have read that eggs in the supermarket can be up to a month old before they are even put on the shelf, and those are mainly the eggs I use, because, well, they’re cheap! So I know about supermarket eggs: pale yellow yolks, and watery whites. These eggs from the farmer’s market were a different story with vibrant, deep orange yolks, and wholesome, substantial whites. The difference was palpable in every way, and it has to do with many more factors than shelf-life, but this is meant to be a post about a sandwich, so moving on. . . .
The Mornay Sauce
click on picture for weights and measurements
To make the Mornay Sauce you will need the following ingrediants: milk, heavy cream, onion, flour, whole cloves, peppercorns, nutmeg, white pepper, a bayleaf, salt, and Comte cheese or a similar variety.
To begin, melt the butter over medium heat in a large, heavy bottomed saucepan set on a diffuser. This is to prevent scorching. I don’t have a diffuser, so I set the saucepan over a second, larger pan.
Once the butter has melted, add the diced onion and cook until almost translucent, about 2 to 3 minutes, being careful not to fry them.
Next, slowly sprinkle in the flour, stirring continuously to avoid burning, cook for about 3 minutes longer on low heat. This is called a ‘Roux’.
Up the heat and slowly add the milk and heavy cream, whisking constantly, and bring to a simmer. Once the sauce begins to simmer lower the heat, throw in the bay leaf, peppercorns, and cloves and allow to cook for 30 to 40 minutes, or until it reduces to a rich, creamy consistency. Move the saucepan around on the diffuser occasionally to prevent any scorching. If it does begin to scorch, transfer the sauce to a different saucepan, and continue to simmer.
Once the sauce has reduced to the desired consistency, remove from the heat and add a few gratings of nutmeg, a pinch of white pepper, and salt to taste.
Stir it up, and then strain it into a separate container large enough to hold at least 4 cups.
Finally, throw the cheese in and stir it up again, really well this time, so the cheese melts and distributes evenly.
And there you have it: Mornay Sauce!!
Putting It All Together: The Grilled Ham and Cheese and the Fried Egg
The cookbook calls for Brioche bread, boiled ham, and swiss cheese to make the sandwich, but realistically you could use any combination of similar items, and it would still be good. I’m pretty sure most every one knows how to prepare a grilled cheese sandwich, and fry an egg, but I’m going to do the rundown on how they do it at Bouchon, because that’s how I do it every time at home.
Here goes: Preheat oven to 375º. Heat a large skillet and a small non-stick frying an on the stovetop. Butter 2 slices of Brioche, place butter side down in the skillet, and layer as much or as little ham on the slices as you desire, then top with cheese. Once the bread has evenly browned to a golden crisp, place the whole pan in the oven and bake until the ham is thoroughly warmed and the cheese is melted. Next butter the fry pan and crack the egg. Cook until the white has set, and the egg can slide around freely, then place the pan in the oven to finish cooking off the top of the white. The two should finish in the oven at about the same time. And that’s how they do it at Bouchon. I don’t know anyone else who’s doing it this way. I do it because they charge 17 dollars for this sandwich, and I want the full effect!
All that remains is assembly. Plate one half of the sandwich, and then flip the other half on top of that, top it with the fried egg, and cover it with the Mornay sauce, leaving the yolk exposed (obviously!) Finish it off with some fresh ground pepper and some parsley, and you’re good to go. I think Owen Lightly over at Butter on the Endive said it best when he called this a “fork and knife” sandwich. It is indeed. Dig in!!