A croque madame was the New York it-brunch back in the early aughts, when lines would stretch around the corner by 10 a.m. to get into a farm-to-table style brunch joint that served it. A populist breakfast sandwich disguised as haute fare, the croque monsieur is just toast sandwiched with ham and cheese, plus some béchamel broiled on top. The croque madame adds a just-set sunnyside-up egg over the whole thing. Here's how to make an outstanding, kosher croque madame which gets its umami from smoked salmon instead of pork.
This post is part of the Eating New York series.
The croque madame is one of those things that shouldn't be as wonderful as it is. It's nothing special, but everything special. A few ordinary ingredients and it comes together as an umami bomb, with the salty meat (or, in our case, salmon) and the unctuous, barely-set yolk cascading breaking over the whole thing.
For the longest time I thought there would be no good way of replicating this in a kosher kitchen, until I came across a version that uses salmon in place of ham. Not only is salmon a good substitute here, but it also nicely allows us to play with cheese. For a lot of kosher food conversions, you're still stuck with the chalav be-basar problem (mixing milk and meat) if the recipe uses, say, bacon and cheese. You could use turkey or beef bacon, but then you couldn't use cheese, obviously. So fish is always welcome to these kinds of calculations.
Another small tweak in the kosher version of croque madame is layering in a bit of Dijon mustard and dill, which always work nicely with smoked salmon.
How to make a croque madame
The croque madame (and monsieur, without the egg on top) aren't hard to make. The first step is assembling the sandwiches with the salmon and cheese inside, plus the bread buttered on the outside. After that the sandwiches are pan-fried, just like making ordinary grilled cheese. Use an oven-safe skillet, like a cast iron, if you've got it, and you can later move the sandwiches directly until your oven's broiler without much fuss.
Here's where the Frenchiness of the sandwich comes out, because you're going to make a creamy white sauce, béchamel, to spread on top of the sandwiches before broiling them.
Making bechamel to top the sandwiches with.
Béchamel is one of the essential "mother sauces" in French cuisine. It's also maybe the easiest to execute and a wonderful thing to have in your repertoire. Here we're making the classic dairy (of course) version, but just because you should know, you can make great béchamel that's dairy-free and it's perfect for topping all sorts of savory meat dishes too, like a meat lasagna or moussaka.
To make a béchamel , you first melt some butter (or another fat) and then add an equal amount (usually) of flour. The flour will quickly clump into a dry paste and become golden-colored as it cooks. Then you add, a little at a time, milk (or another liquid) to the base and wait for it to get smooth and thickened before adding more.
Broiling the sandwiches
The final step of the croque monsieur is to spread the béchamel on top of the grilled sandwiches and broil it with a little extra shredded cheese for a few minutes right under the broiler. When it's just beginning to brown, take it out.
Finishing the sandwich with an egg
If you're going all the way and turning your monsieur into a madame (and really, you should), you'll want to cook an egg sunny-side-up to place on top. To get the egg to set on top, cover the pan for the last few minutes of cook time. When it's ready, set the egg atop your grilled-and-broiled-and-generally-addled sandwich, and make sure to cut it so the egg runs over everything.
Kosher Croque Madame (dairy)
For the béchamel:
- 1 Tbsp butter
- 1 Tbsp all-purpose flour
- ⅔ cup milk
- salt and pepper
For the sandwiches:
- 8 slices thinly sliced sandwich bread
- 5 Tbsp butter - softened
- 2 Tbsp Dijon mustard
- 5 oz smoked salmon
- ¼ cup chopped dill - or 1 tsp dried
- 2 cups grated hard cheese
- 4 eggs
Make the béchamel:
- In a small pot, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the flour and whisk until the mixture forms a thick, golden paste, about 30 seconds. Whisk in the milk a few tablespoons at a time. When thickened, add more. Season with salt and pepper. Set aside to cool slightly.
- Butter four slices of bread. Set aside.
- Spread the Dijon mustard on the remaining 4 slices of bread. Sprinkle each with dill. Top with smoked salmon, then add ¼ cup cheese to each. Place the buttered slices atop the cheese, buttered side up.
Toast the sandwiches:
- In an oven-proof skillet (such as cast-iron), place the sandwiches buttered side down. Butter the tops of the sandwiches.
- Turn the heat on medium and toast the bread until golden and crunchy on each side, working in batches if needed.
- Preheat broiler.
- Spread 2 tablespoons reserved bechamel sauce on top of each sandwich; top each with ¼ cup remaining cheese. Broil until cheese is bubbling.
- Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Crack eggs into the hot skillet. Cover for 1-2 minutes, then cover and continue cooking until the whites are set but the yolks are still runny, about 1-2 minutes more. Season with salt and pepper.
- Place 1 egg on top of each sandwich, and serve.