Croque Monsieurs are the French ultimate grilled ham and cheese sandwiches. I use nontraditional smoked Black Forest ham, Gruyère cheese that bubbles and melts and oozes, and a simple béchamel sauce spiked with hot Dijon mustard and heady nutmeg. Traditional Croque Monsieurs are best when served open-faced, and eaten with a fork and knife. The killer trick here is to have your baker slice your bread the wrong way–the long way–so you have giant bread slabs on which to pile are your scrumptious toppings. And people think it’s pretty cool.
1 large loaf unsliced white sandwich bread, sliced the wrong (long) way*
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 cups whole milk
3 tablespoons Dijon mustard
10 ounces grated Gruyère cheese, divided
Pinch ground nutmeg
Fine sea salt
Freshly cracked black pepper
½ pound Black Forest ham, sliced**
Preheat the broiler. Place the bread on 2 large baking sheets, 2 slices per sheet, and broil each slice of bread 1 minute on each side, to lightly toast. Set aside, and keep the broiler on.
Make the béchamel sauce by melting the butter in a medium saucepot over medium-low heat. Whisk in the flour, and toast for 1 to 2 minutes, until bubbly and just turning golden. Whisk in the milk in a steady stream, and increase the heat to medium-high. Whisk continuously until the sauce has thickened and coats the back of a spoon, about 3 to 5 minutes. Add the Dijon mustard and 2 ounces of Gruyère. Season with nutmeg, salt, and pepper. Set aside.
Assemble the sandwiches. Keeping the toasted bread on their baking sheets, top each slice of bread with one quarter of the ham. Cover the ham with a healthy layer of béchamel, making sure the sauce reaches to the crust, or it will burn under the broiler. Then top with one quarter of the remaining cheese. Broil 4 to 6 minutes, until cheese is completely melted and bubbling and turning golden. Serve with cornichons, and eat with a fork and knife!
*Buy your bread at a bakery, and have them slice it the wrong way through their slicing machine for you.
**This recipe is less about the recipe, and more about how you like to make a sandwich. Depending on how big your bread is, or how much ham or cheese you like, you may prefer different amounts. Trust your instincts!
I grew up thinking that the Kir Royale was the height of sophistication. Crème de Cassis, a black currant liqueur, topped with champagne. How very elegant! My version is, I like to think, younger and edgier: small scoops of black currant sorbet dropped into a champagne flute, doused in black currant vodka, and crowned with pink champagne. A little bit ironic, maybe, to toast the republic with a cocktail named for royalty, but when the sorbet starts to melt into that pink champagne (and when the vodka makes its way to your head) I doubt you’ll be waxing political.
To know me is to know I love Le 14 Juillet. I am religious in my observation of the occasion, because I simply love, when I’m not in France, wishing or pretending that I was. Two years ago, I ushered it in with Mr. English and Jane, my best friend from Le Cordon Bleu, on one of the ponts that arches its back across the Seine as the pastel (yes, pastel) fireworks erupted from the Eiffel Tower. A few years before that, it was all-drag Can Can on the bar at Florent, the only French diner I’ve ever heard of, before it closed its NYC Meatpacking doors forever. Another year, it was pétanque in the city. This year, I’m thinking merguez on the grill. But any great occasion deserves a little planning, so here’s a taste of all that you’ll be getting on French Rev between now and July 14. Whether you’ll be having just bread and water à la Bastille (how bad can that be if the bread and water are French?) or nothing but cake à la Mlle. Antoinette, you’ll find the party here.
If you’re looking to grill on Bastille Day (that’s next Thursday!), look no further. This recipe, from French in a Flash a few weeks ago, is just about the best grilled steak I’ve ever had. Inexpensive, but super-tender, beef tenderloin tips are encased in a salty crust of garlic, olive oil, and chopped fresh herbes de Provence: rosemary, thyme, savory, and others. Seared on the grill, and then sliced up–it’s tremendous, different, light, delicious. Because frankly, I wait all day for the one day where I can be as French as possible. And I’m definitely going to take advantage. Below, the original column.
And if you want to know how to cook perfect bistro steak, watch the video!
There is nothing like Chinese shrimp—or, at least the shrimp you get in American Chinese restaurants. They have the lightest crispy coating on the outside, and then that thick, flavors-from-all-directions sauce that clings to it like sweet, spicy, savory glue; orange peel, honey, ginger. And a secret to doing it at home, thus saving yourself the tip for takeout, is ginger jam.
In one pot, I quickly fried the cornstarch-coated shrimp. In another pot, off to the side, I bubbled together ginger jam and soy sauce. Toss the two together, top with some cilantro and scallion, and it’s like takeout times ten.
My favorite Secret Ingredients are the ones that multitask, dealing with all life’s troubles for you. Ginger jam is one such example. Add it to the soy sauce, and immediately the sauce takes on the heady heat of the ginger, and the balancing sweetness of the sugar. The thickness gives you that perfect consistency. Leaving you looking like a culinary magician.
I’ve been feeling restless. In that soul-churning kind of way, where you don’t even want to stand on one foot for too long. Sitting down for a prolonged plate of pasta is out of the question. I want to eat something noncommittal, something I can pick at, something with enough magnetism to make me stop for a minute, and take a bite.
It’s summer, which means it’s mozzarella and tomato season. But this is better. Slices of milky burrata, nestled next to wedges of sweet, sharp white peaches. Over the top of both, a drizzle of sweet balsamic reduction, extra virgin olive oil, flaked sea salt, and cracked black pepper. I love that unusual savoriness on the peaches, and they are so much sharper than tomatoes that the burrata’s mildness is even more remarkable. I served it on a wooden board, surrounded with hunks of crusty bread, to dip in the oil, and the milk that runs off the cheese.
It’s just new enough, and interesting enough, to get me to stand–or even sit–still for a minute. And not weigh me down.
Burrata with White Peaches
¼ cup balsamic vinegar
1 200-gram (7-ounce) ball of burrata, or buffalo mozzarella, sliced
2 large white peaches, pitted and cut into wedges
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
Freshly cracked black pepper
Maldon or other sea salt
Crusty bread for serving
Pour the vinegar into a small pan over medium heat, and simmer until the vinegar has thickened and reduced to 1½ tablespoons. Set aside to cool.
Arrange the sliced mozzarella and peaches on a round board or plate. Drizzle with olive oil, and season with salt and pepper. Once the balsamic reduction has cooled, it will be even thicker. Drizzle all over the peaches and cheese. Slice up some crusty bread, and tuck it around the edges of the platter. Eat up.
I was happy to be featured on MyRecipes.com this week, where I wrote about my favorite vacation meal, which, aside from every meal I’ve ever eaten in France, was the grilled bass I ate every single night I was in the Greek Islands with Mr. English last fall. Click here to see the piece, and get my recipe for homemade tzatziki. You will make it every day this summer, and what could be healthier: nonfat Greek yogurt, cucumber, and mint? And try this grilled whole fish with herbs and olive oil. It’s a show stopper!
Greek Grilled Fish with Herbs, Olive Oil, Lemons, and Olives
Greek Grilled Whole Fish
4 ¾-pound whole sea bream, sea bass, branzini, yellowtail snapper, or other whole mild, white-fleshed fish (have your fishmonger remove any scales, gills, guts, and fins, leaving the head and tail intact)
¾ cup extra virgin olive oil, divided
4 teaspoons very coarse sea salt (recommended: Maldon), (if using Kosher salt, halve the amount)
6 very thin slices of lemon, cut in half into 12 half-moons
1 ounce fresh thyme
Freshly cracked black pepper (about 8 turns of the peppermill)
2 whole lemons, quartered
1 cup pit-in green and black olives, like Kalamata and Sicilian
Fire up your grill! A wood-burning grill is ideal for this recipe, but I also recommend a simple gas grill, preheated to medium-high.
Make sure each fish is trimmed, rinse it, and dry it thoroughly inside and out with paper towel. Season each fish with 2 tablespoons olive oil: pour roughly 2 teaspoons of oil inside the cavity, and rub it into the flesh. Then pour the remainder of the 2 tablespoons on the outside of the fish, and rub it into the skin, making sure every inch of the fish, from head to tail, is oiled (this prevents the fish from sticking to the grill). You’ll want to oil the fish on a wide platter, to catch any oil that will run off, which can still be used to marinate the fish. Repeat for the remaining 3 fish. You should have ¼ cup olive oil leftover for later.
Season the fish with salt. For each fish, you will use 1 teaspoon of Maldon salt, which is a flaky sea salt that creates a great crust on the outside of the fish. Sprinkle about a third of the teaspoon into the cavity of the fish, and use the remainder of the teaspoon to season the skin. Repeat with the remaining fish.
Divide the bunch of thyme into 4 little bouquets. Stuff the cavity of each fish with 3 thin half-moons of lemon, and one little thyme bouquet. Don’t be afraid to stuff it in there—it should pretty much disappear into the fish.
Season the outside of the fish with pepper, about 1 grind on the peppermill on each side of each fish. The fish should not be on a platter, stuffed and seasoned, with olive oil pooling on the platter beneath. That’s perfect! Place the lemon quarters on the platter as well.
Make sure the grill is nice and hot. Get the fish nicely coated on both sides in the olive oil on the platter. Place the fish on the hot grill, and don’t try to move them. Also place the lemon quarters, cut-side-down, on the grill. Cook the fish 7 to 8 minutes on each side, until the skin is nicely charred and releases easily from the grill with the help of a pair of tongs and a fish spatula. The flesh of the fish will be opaque white, and flaky. Remove the lemons whenever they are charred—it takes about 7 to 8 minutes.
Place the fish and charred lemons on a rustic serving platter, and pour the remaining ¼ cup of fresh extra virgin olive oil right on top of the fish. Scatter the olives around the platter, and top the fish with a few decorative sprigs of fresh thyme. Serve them up.