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I always shied away from ordering a Croque Monsieur for the simple reason that hey–it was a frickin’ ham and cheese sandwich…a French grilled cheese regardless, so why pay a wack price for such a dopeass simple dish? Some weeks ago at a new, small takeout-type restaurant here in Berkeley called Petit Cochon my wife and I ordered one. It was…good, but it didn’t really wow me.

Ham and cheese, you know?

I have a couple of large dinner events scheduled shortly on Christmas Day and after and my initial plan tonight was for hachis parmentier, a French version of the English Shepherd’s Pie, which got shifted to Millet, Porcini and Smoked Duck which, upon quick reflection, was more than I wanted to tackle on my one day off this week. So I decided…Croque Monsieur.

There are #%&@ing piles of these recipes online and in my cookbooks, and not surprisingly, beyond the simple basic of gruyere and ham, with white bread, it came across as simply as a panini or a grilled cheese. But I quickly realized that for it to truly be French, it required a Bechamel sauce either in its innards or slathered over it in a messy fashion. I went French.

At Berkeley Bowl West I got some Niman Ranch no-nitrite (or is it nitrate?…damn vowels!) Ham as well as a solid chunk of gruyere. I got a couple of cheap mini-baguettes and trimmed off the crusts, layered my ham and cheese, rubbed the tops and bottoms with melted butter, and proceeded with the white Bechamel sauce. Bechamel. Flour and butter in equal parts to create a roux, add milk and seasonings and voila you have a thickened sauce.

I grilled the sandwiches in the skillet for a couple of minutes on each side which crisped and browned them nicely, and spread the Bechamel evenly across the tops of both sandwiches, sprinkled additional gruyere over that, and broiled them for about two minutes,

Here they are in the skillet.

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Gots to say, the blend of melty cheese on the crisp bread with the oozy interior of ham and cheese…well, quite awesome. Absolutely delicioso. This is not a dish I would plan to make on a regular basis– it is a freakin’ calorie bomb with all the butter and sauce, but still…woo.

Rounded things out with the greens and d’anjou pear with candied pecans salad. Wife is still not a fan of peppery arugula leaves and was raving about both the salad and the sandwich…even if she was picking out the arugula leaves from her salad. She is a woman with preferences. Ok, a lot of preferences.

Salad with hazelnut oil, lemon juice, salt, and male syrup.

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