If you’re looking for the best decadent breakfast ever, here it is. Even better than Eggs Benedict. I think. It’s basically Eggs Benedict with cheese.
The first time I made this, I thought I was making something complicated. But as I slowly worked my way through the recipe, I realized that it’s really a fancy ham and cheese sandwich. One slice of bread is slathered with swiss cheese sauce and the other slice with mustard. The sandwich is “grilled” the same way grilled cheese sandwiches are – browned on the stove with butter, and then it’s smeared with more cheese sauce and broiled until the sauce is spottily browned. The sandwich is topped with a fried egg. (Without the egg, it’s a Croque-Monsieur.)
The first time I had this, I got that heavy feeling afterwards that’s clearly a result of a meal full of fatty proteins and refined carbs. The next time, I made some efforts to lighten up the recipe. Mostly I eliminated some of the nice-but-not-necessary butter and reduced the cheese sauce. I have to admit that the most influential adjustment had to be my portion size.
It’s worth the indulgence. While it’s nigh on impossible to pick favorites, the combination of crispy bread, salty ham, spicy mustard, creamy cheese sauce and smooth yolk certainly makes this a contender for the best breakfast out there. Especially if you have plans to get in some activity later to work off some of that guilt…
Croque-madame (adapted from Gourmet March 2007, as found on epicurious)
Makes 4 servings
Bridget note: You can of course use all shredded cheese. I found it easier to only shred what was going into the sauce and to slice the rest. I’ve used both Country Crust Bread and storebought Italian bread for this recipe and enjoyed both.
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1½ cups whole milk
⅛ teaspoon salt
pinch teaspoon black pepper
pinch teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
¼ cup (1 ounce) shredded swiss cheese
4 slices (1.5 ounces) sliced swiss cheese
8 slices firm white sandwich bread
4 teaspoons Dijon mustard
½ pound thinly sliced cooked ham (preferably Black Forest)
4 large eggs
1. Melt 2 tablespoons butter in a 1- to 1½-quart heavy saucepan over moderately low heat, then whisk in flour and cook roux, whisking, for 1 minute. Whisk in milk and bring to a boil over medium-high heat, whisking constantly. Reduce heat to low and simmer, whisking occasionally, for 5 minutes. Whisk in salt, pepper, nutmeg, and shredded cheese until cheese is melted. Remove from heat. Stir occasionally while preparing sandwiches to keep hard surface from forming on top of sauce. (Alternatively, place plastic wrap directly on surface of sauce.)
2. Adjust an oven rack to the top position and heat the broiler. Spray a baking sheet with nonstick spray.
3. Spread 1 tablespoons sauce evenly over each of 4 slices of bread, then cover evenly with remaining cheese. Spread mustard evenly on remaining 4 bread slices and top with ham, dividing it evenly, then invert onto cheese-topped bread to form sandwiches.
4. Melt ½ tablespoon butter in a 12-inch nonstick skillet over medium heat. Once melted, add the sandwiches and cook until golden, 3-4 minutes. Remove sandwiches from pan, add remaining ½ tablespoon butter, and return sandwiches, unbrowned side down, to pan. Cook until golden on second side. Transfer sandwiches to prepared baking pan. Do not wash skillet.
5. Top sandwiches with remaining sauce, spreading evenly. Broil sandwiches until sauce is bubbling and golden in spots, 2 to 4 minutes.
6. While sandwiches are broiling, heat the same nonstick pan over medium heat. Spray the pan with nonstick spray if there’s not butter leftover from browning the sandwiches. Crack eggs into skillet and season with salt and pepper. Fry eggs, covered, until whites are just set and yolks are still runny, about 3 minutes. Top each sandwich with a fried egg and serve immediately.