Saturday, July 11, 2015

Croque Monsieur of American Black Forest Ham, Mushrooms and St Agur Bleu

     A Gourmet Croque Monsieur Variation!
     I learned how to make Croque Monsieur Sandwiches during my first French cooking apprenticeship at a Michelin rated French restaurant back in the early 1980's.  That restaurant offered a fancy triple decker version that was made with Polish Ham, mushrooms, Gruyere, Sauce Mornay and French Brick Bread.
     French Brick Bread is a perfect rectangular brick shape and every slice is perfectly square.  Brick Bread is baked in a way that creates a light brown crust, then this bread is allowed to thoroughly dry, till the texture is crunchy all the way into the center of the loaf.  Brick Bread is like slicing a large brick shaped dried crouton.  Because it has a crunchy texture, Brick Bread was the top choice for making the original Croque Monsieur Sandwiches back in the old days.  
     The French word "Croque" translates to "Crunch."  The bread on a Classic Croque Monsieur Sandwich has to be baked till it dries out and it becomes extra crunchy.  Brick Bread is crunchy from the start, so it is the best choice, but just about any kind of sandwich bread can be used.  If the bread texture is soft, then the Croque Monsieur Sandwich has to be grilled and baked till the bread is stiff and crunchy.  Crunchy is the goal!

     There are two basic difference between a classic Croque Madame and a Croque Monsieur.  For a Croque Madame, Béchamel Sauce is spread over the top of the sandwich and it is topped with a light sprinkle of Gruyere Cheese before baking.  The Béchamel and cheese is baked till it is a brown crust.  Finally, a Croque Madame is garnished with a fried egg on top.
     A classic Croque Monsieur only has Gruyere Cheese sprinkled over the top.  The classic version of both of these sandwiches require only ham and cheese.

     The quality of the ham makes a difference when making a Croque Monsieur.  Authentic German Black Forest Ham is world renowned and the flavor is delicious.  American Black Forest Ham is not the same as an authentic German Black Forest Ham, but the American version still tastes better than plain old deli style ham.
     The American version of Black Forest Ham is seasoned with German winter spices, but it is not allowed to dry cure and age till the full flavor develops and the meat texture becomes dense.  Basically, American Black Forest Ham is a winter spice flavored sweet cured fresh baked ham.

     Authentic Black Forest Ham only comes from the German Black Forest!  German Black Forest Ham is made only with the rump and thigh of a boar.
     Authentic German Black Forest Ham is seasoned and salt cured for 2 weeks.  The salt is removed and the ham is then dry cured for another 2 weeks.  After dry curing, the ham is cold smoked.  The smoking mixture is smoldering sawdust from a local Black Forest wood mill that is mixed with dried Fir Brush that was recently cleared off of the land.  The cold smoking process goes on for several weeks and the result is an extra rich tasting spiced smoked ham flavor.

     When writing a menu, if American Black Forest Ham is used, then it has to be mentioned in the menu item title or menu item description, in order to avoid accusations of deceptive marketing practice.  This is because American Black Forest Ham is nothing like the real Black Forest Ham that is made in Germany.  German Black Forest Ham also commands a much higher price.

     Fromage St Agur is made in the village of Beauzac in central France.  St Agur is a pasteurized cow's milk bleu cheese that contains %60 percent butterfat.  St Agur is a very mild tasting double cream bleu cheese that has a soft spreadable texture.  St Agur is slightly tangy and the salt content is very low.
     St Agur cheese takes the place of Gruyere Cheese in this croque monsieur variation.  This mild bleu cheese is soft enough to be used like a sandwich spread!
     Since a double cream bleu will separate and taste very noxious when it is browned, some kind of a melting cheese with a mild flavor has to be use to top off the Croque Monsieur when it is baked.

     Croque Monsieur of American Black Forest Ham, Mushrooms and St Agur Bleu: 
     This recipe yields 1 sandwich.    
     Step 1:  Spread a thin layer of St Agur Cheese on two slices of French Brick Bread or firm textured White Pullman Bread.
     Set the bread aside.
     Step 2:  Heat a sauté pan over medium/medium low heat.
     Add 1/2 tablespoon of unsalted butter.
     Add 2 to 3 small button cave mushrooms that are thin sliced.
     Add 1 pinch of sea salt and white pepper.
     Sauté the mushrooms, till they are tender.
     Place the sauteed mushrooms on the cheese on one slice of bread.
     Step 3:  Heat a griddle or sauté pan over medium/medium low heat.
     Add 1/2 tablespoon of unsalted butter.
     Add 4 ounces of thin sliced Black Forest Ham.
     Grill the ham slices, till they are hot and very lightly browned.
     Place the ham slices on top of the mushrooms on the sandwich half.
     Step 4:  Place the two sandwich halves together.
     Heat a griddle or saute pan over medium/medium low heat.
     Brush the bread with a generous amount of melted unsalted butter.
     Grill the sandwich on both sides, till it is toasted to a light golden brown color.
     Step 5:  Place the sandwich on a baking pan.
     Sprinkle 2 tablespoons of grated Gruyere, grated Swiss Cheese or grated Mozzarella on top of the sandwich.
     Bake the sandwich in a 350ºF, till the bread is toasted brown and crunchy.  Allow the cheese to brown.
     Step 6:  Cut the sandwich in half and place it on a plate.
     Serve with potato salad, grilled tomato or French Fries.
     *The Croque Monsieur in the photos was served with Shoestring Fries.

     Viola!  A rich tasting gourmet Croque Monsieur sandwich!  

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