Mais Oui, Ham and Eggs are More Than Breakfast
Oozing with melted Gruyere cheese-spiked béchamel sauce layered with thin-cut Parisian ham, the croque monsieur sandwich has been the menu star at French cafes for over 100 years. When a sunny-side egg is added atop the warm treat, it’s dubbed “croque madame,” the gender-change name fueled by the egg garnish. Seemingly it resembles a lady’s hat.
The egg-topped version is an impressive bunch entrée, hangover remedy or any-time snack, especially the oh-so-generous version at Moulin Bistro in Newport Beach.
WATCH-IT VIDEO: French-born executive chef Jeoffrey Offer joined me in my home kitchen to share secrets of his luxurious rendition, a generously-sized delicacy accompanied with a side salad of mixed greens napped with balsamic vinaigrette.
Offer started by preparing béchamel sauce, the basic French white sauce made by heating milk with a butter-flour roux. Set aside to cool, he cut thick slices of pain de mie, soft but not spongy white bread. It had a texture similar to the kind French bakers make in special covered molds. He recommended that home cooks substitute Pullman bread or dense-not-squishy sandwich bread.
After toasting one side of the two slices of bread, two hearty sandwiches were layered with cold béchamel, grated Gruyere and ham (jambon de Paris). In the oven the tops would brown beautifully, offering texture contrast as well as visual appeal. Meanwhile, eggs were masterfully and patiently cooked so that the whites were set and uniformly opaque without any brown edges. The yolks were delightfully runny.
Chef Offer says that his goal is for Moulin’s guests to leave feeling that they had a great meal as well as a truly memorable experience.
Look It Up: His favorite cookbook is Auguste Escoffier’s “Le Guide Culinaire,” but recently Alain Ducasse’s latest book has caught his attention. “My Best: Alain Ducasse” (Ducasse, $19.95) features recipes that defined the acclaimed chef’s career.
Best Veg: Artichokes are a favorite due to their taste and versatility. Enjoy them raw or cooked. Puree them in soups or add them to salad.
Ooh-Lah-Lah Info: Asked about something that most people don’t know, he referenced the color of his underwear. Blue.
Moulin Bistro’s Croque Madame
Yield: 2 servings
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 cups whole milk
Salt and freshly ground white pepper
Pinch of ground nutmeg, or to taste
4 thick Pullman bread slices (or pain de mie or dense sandwich bread)
Clarified butter or olive oil, see cook’s notes
2 cups cold béchamel sauce
6 ounces Emmental, or Gruyère or Swiss cheese, grated (3 ounces per sandwich)
6 ounces jambon de Paris (or another type of thin-sliced ham that is not smoked or flavored with honey)
2 large eggs
2 teaspoons fresh herbs (chives, or a combination of chives and parsley)
2 tablespoons of either clarified butter (preferred) or olive oil or butter to coat pan
Cook’s notes: To clarify butter, heat 1 stick unsalted butter in saucepan over very low heat; simmer gently until foam rises to top. Off heat, skim off the foam with a spoon. Line mesh strainer with cheesecloth or gauze and set over heatproof bowl; pour butter in strainer.
1. Adjust oven rack to middle position. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Prepare béchamel sauce: Melt butter in a heavy saucepan, blend in the flour with a wooden spoon, and cook over medium heat, stirring, until butter and flour foam together for about two minutes (do not brown). Add remaining béchamel ingredients and whisk until boiling. Reduce heat to low, simmer gently stirring occasionally until sauce thickens. Cool and chill.
2. Toast two slices of bread in a skillet on one side with enough clarified butter to barely cover surface. These will become the bottom slices of the croque madame – with the toasted side facing up. Spread a generous layer of béchamel sauce on the toasted side; top with ham and 1 ounce of the cheese on each (the remaining cheese is for the top of the sandwich). For the top slice of bread, spread a thin layer of béchamel and place béchamel side down on the sandwich. Top the sandwich with another generous layer of béchamel and sprinkle top of each sandwich with the remaining cheese. Place on rimmed baking sheet.
3. Place in a preheated oven for about 10 minutes, or until nicely browned and piping hot.
4. Meanwhile, heat clarified butter or oil in a pan over medium heat and cook the eggs sunny side up. Remove from heat when the egg white is just opaque and the yolk is still runny. Using a spatula, place one egg on top of each sandwich. Chop herbs and sprinkle on top of the sandwich.
Source: Jeoffrey Offer, executive chef Moulin Bistro, Newport Beach
Here’s a quick tip from Melissa’s!
Asparagus in one of the most nutrient dense vegetables that grows on the planet.
I love it in this tasty stir-fry along with chicken tenders or chunks of chicken breasts or chunks of chicken thighs! Often instead of rice, I serve it atop farro (delicious heirloom wheat – chewy and delicious).
Chicken Tenders and Asparagus Stir-Fry
Yield: 4 servings
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
2 teaspoons sesame oil, divided use
1 1/2 pounds asparagus, ends trimmed, cut into 1-inch diagonal pieces
1 pound chicken tenders, cut into bite-sized pieces, patted dry
3 green onions, trimmed, cut into 1-inch diagonal pieces
2 tablespoons minced ginger
1 tablespoon oyster sauce
1 teaspoon chili garlic sauce
1/4 cup coarsely chopped toasted almonds
1. Heat vegetable oil and 1 teaspoon sesame oil in wok on high heat. Add asparagus and cook, stirring, for 1 to 2 minutes, depending on thickness of asparagus. Add chicken; cook, stirring, for 4 minutes. Add all remaining ingredients except nuts. Cook 1 to 2 minutes. Stir in nuts. Serve with cooked rice, farro or serve solo, as is.