The Croque Madame is the queen of grilled cheese sandwiches. This decadent sandwich is overflowing with gooey cheesy Mornay sauce and filled to the brim with savoury ham and Gruyère cheese. It's topped with a fried egg and will definitely make your mouth water.
Croque Monsieur or Croque Madame?
This French sandwich is a staple dish in many French bistros. The French took the regular grilled cheese sandwich to a whole other level. What exactly is the difference between the ‘monsieur’ and the ‘madame’ variety? It is very simple. The Croque Monsieur is the basic grilled cheese sandwich, already upgraded from our regular grilled cheese with extra Gruyère cheese, ham and a Mornay sauce (which is the upgraded version of Béchamel sauce). To turn this mister into a sister all you have to do is put a fried egg on top. This is not a light lunch, but once in a while, you should allow yourself such an indulgence.
Mornay sauce is the starting point of this adventure. This is basically a Béchamel sauce with cheese added to turn it into a gooey cheesy sauce. Use my Béchamel Sauce recipe as a starter for your sandwich! You can make this sauce ahead of time and store it in the refrigerator.
An artisanal bread will elevate your dish. Many grilled cheese sandwiches are made with regular white bread. Personally, I think this bread type has no flavour and will be overpowered by all the other flavours in this sandwich. I prefer to use a rustic country bread like sourdough. This type of bread has a thicker crust and more bite, it also adds extra flavour to the finished dish. Make sure you toast the bread before assembly, this ensures a crunchy sandwich instead of a soggy mess. To make multiple sandwiches at the same time I like to toast my bread slices in the oven. Keep a close eye on them! They are quick to burn.
Gruyère cheese is most often used for a Croque Madame (or Monsieur). Feel free to experiment with your favourite cheeses to personalize the sandwich. Freshly grated cheese makes assembly easy. Don’t buy pre-grated cheese, the added anti-clumping agents will prevent the cheese from melting properly. This dish is absolutely packed with cheese; it is melted into the Mornay sauce, added in layers into the sandwich and also sprinkled on top to complete this perfectly golden cheesy sandwich.
Thinly sliced ham is the standard choice for this sandwich. Choose any type of sliced ham you like, a salty, hearty, savoury flavour is what you are looking for. Thinly sliced varieties work best, that way you can layer them easily inside the sandwich. In this case, I used smoked chicken breast instead of ham. The smoked chicken has the salty, smokey flavour of ham, but is slightly less fatty. This is also a great option for everyone who doesn’t eat pork.
Dijon mustard adds a peppery bite to the sandwich. This French mustard originates from the city of Dijon in France, making it the obvious choice for a French style grilled cheese. You only need about 1/2 teaspoon per sandwich. Despite the sharp flavour of Dijon mustard, you don’t really taste the mustard in the end result, it will melt and mingle in with the other flavours.
A fried egg
A fried egg on top of the sandwich turns it into a proper Croque Madame. I like to fry my eggs in a greased pastry ring to make them perfectly round. A regular fried egg will work just fine. If you want round fried eggs your frying pan has to be heated up properly, add some olive oil to the pan and brush some olive oil on the pastry ring. Make sure the ring is properly coated to prevent the egg from sticking. Put the greased pastry ring in the pan, and add your egg. Be careful not to break the yolk! You want the whites to bake, but the yolk to still be a bit runny. Carefully remove the pastry ring once the egg is fried, use a sharp knife if the egg is stuck. Make the fried eggs while your sandwiches are in the oven.
Tips & Alternatives
- Use thinly sliced smoked chicken breast instead of ham. The smokey flavour will make it taste very similar to ham. This is a great alternative for everyone who doesn’t eat pork.
- Experiment with different types of cheese. Different cheeses will add different flavours to this sandwich, you could even use a combination of several types of cheese!
- Make the Mornay Sauce ahead of time. You can keep it in the fridge for several days, make sure to put a layer of cling film directly to the top to prevent a skin from forming. You don’t have to reheat the sauce before assembly.
- Use any bread of your choice. Traditionally it is made with simple white bread. I prefer hearty whole grain or sourdough. I feel this stands up better to the strong flavours of the other ingredients. Experiment and find your own perfect combination!
- An oven is great for making several grilled cheese sandwiches at the same time. You use the oven to toast the bread and also to melt and broil the assembled sandwiches. At the same time, your stovetop is free to make the fried eggs.