Have you ever read The Guardian’s ‘How to Cook the Perfect…’ series? Because it is seriously fab, especially if, like me, you love discussions of the techniques, ingredients, and history of various recipes. The author, Felicity Cloake, takes a dish and breaks it down to the key ingredients, citing the opinions of well-known chefs about the dish. At the end she compiles this knowledge into one ‘perfect’ recipe. While I can’t say I always agree with her conclusions, I appreciate her approach of picking and choosing the parts of recipes that she likes best and using them to create a dish that suits her taste. It’s pretty much how I cook, anyway!
Last weekend, my boyfriend and I were looking through our usual end-of-the-week, can’t-be-bothered-to-go-to-the-store-again odds and ends in the fridge hoping to make brunch, when he came up with the idea of having croque monsieurs. Delicious, though, typically, we were missing several ingredients, notably all the French ones. Not being one to let anything stand between me and brunch, I used Felicity Cloake’s recipe from her 2012 ‘How to Cook the Perfect Croque Monsieur’ as a guideline and invented a new take on the classic bistro dish: the British Croque Monsieur (or ‘Sir Crock’, if you will). I swapped British bacon for ham, mature cheddar for gruyère, and while we did have dijon mustard, I don’t see why you couldn’t use a bit of British mustard (perhaps mixed with a little mayo) in its place. Croque monsieurs are traditionally a lunch dish, served with a green salad and a side of second hand smoke as you chow down at one of the outdoor tables of a Parisian sidewalk cafe, but they work equally well as a brunch dish at home with coffee. Especially my British version.
And it was seriously delicious. It might even be better than the French recipe (but don’t tell anyone I said so!). Salty, tangy, crunchy, and unctuous. Miam miam!
British Croque Monsieur – serves 2
4 large slices of white bread (I used a rustic loaf made by the boyfriend, but really you can use anything you like, including sandwich bread)
2 rashers of thick, smoked back bacon (4 if you are using American bacon)
3 tablespoons (about 50 g) butter
1 tablespoon of flour (or more as needed)
6 tablespoons (about 100 ml) of milk (or more as needed)
1/2 cup of grated mature (sharp) cheddar
Mustard (preferably dijon, to taste/optional)
Preheat your grill/broiler to medium-high. Fry the bacon in a good-sized sturdy skillet until crispy. Remove to paper towels (kitchen roll) to drain. Add the butter to the pan, gently scraping to get up the yummy brown bacony bits from the bottom of the pan. When the butter is melted and just starting to bubble, add the flour and whisk to form a thick paste. If it does not come together, or looks very wet, continue to add flour a teaspoon at a time, whisking in between, until a thick paste forms. Let it cook for a minute, then turn off the heat and add the milk gradually, whisking out the lumps. You are looking for a thick, creamy, smooth bechamel sauce. Add half the cheese and season with salt and pepper.
Toast the bread. Spread mustard on one side of two of the slices, place them on a baking tray, then top with the bacon and the rest of the cheese. Place the tray under the grill/broiler for a couple of minutes until the cheese is melted and bubbly. Place the other two slices of bread on top of the first two, spoon/spread the bechamel on top and put the whole thing back in the oven until they are bubbling and beginning to brown (about 5 minutes).