When you think of French cuisine, what recipes come first to mind? Maybe French onion soup, duck confit, or gratin. Or was it filet mignon and beef bourguignon? Whichever recipes you thought of first, I bet you they didn’t have much to do with classic French sandwiches. The ones they serve in those century-old Parisian cafés and bars with a cozy atmosphere with quiet music, wooden interior, and dim lighting.
That’s right. If you live outside of France, you don’t really hear and see much about French café and bar food. Time to fix this. Because some of the most delicious sandwiches you could possibly eat in your entire lifetime come from this lesser-known branch of classic French cuisine.
Two of them are the Croque Monsieur and Monte Cristo sandwiches. In this post, I’m going to show you what each of these sandwiches is — plus how they’re similar and in what ways they’re different.
Hope you’re excited about this as I am! Let’s go.
Croque Monsieur vs. Monte Cristo
First things first. As regular readers of my blog know, I always like to get the basics right before digging into the sweet little details.
What are the Croque Monsieur and Monte Cristo sandwiches in the first place?
Both Croque Monsieur and Monte Cristo are French sandwiches traditionally served in cafés and patisseries. Croque Monsieur has ham, Gruyère cheese, and béchamel sauce. Essentially, Monte Cristo is a Croque Monsieur that’s dipped in egg batter, then deep fried and dusted with powdered sugar immediately before serving.
|Sandwich||Croque Monsieur||Monte Cristo|
|Ingredients||✓ Sandwich bread|
✓ French ham
✓ Gruyere cheese
✓ Unsalted butter
✓ Béchamel sauce
|✓ Sandwich bread|
✓ French ham
✓ Gruyere cheese
✓ Dijon mustard
✓ Powdered sugar
|Cooking Method||Grilling or baking||Deep- or pan-frying|
|Cooking Time||15-20 minutes||25-30 minutes|
|Taste||Salty and creamy||Savory and sweet|
|Calories||550 calories||750 calories|
These two quintessentially ooh-la-la sandwiches are the result of the café and bar culture in France. You don’t just go to a café in France. You go there to contemplate life as you practice people-watching and drink creamy and milky café au lait. Or to talk about life, love, and the paradoxes of being human over a glass or three of Bordeaux wine with a close friend.
And somewhere in the midst of that conversation, you get hungry. You want a quick snack. But, being French, you don’t want any snack. You want a tasty sandwich made from the best ham and cheese you could possibly find and toasted to perfection till the ham caramelizes on the outside and the cheese liquifies on the inside.
Yes, my friend, you want a Croque Monsieur. Or, if you have a sweet tooth, you want to go wild and order a Monte Cristo.
How to Make Croque Monsieur
The Croque Monsieur sandwich is a staple French café and bar sandwich. It’s made with sliced bread, béchamel sauce, French ham, and Gruyere cheese. It’s then brushed with melted butter on the outside and grilled till golden brown.
Here’s how to make a Croque Monsieur sandwich in 5 steps:
Step 1. Make béchamel sauce. Many home cooks get intimidated by béchamel sauce. Yes, it’s easy to get wrong. With the right timing and technique, you won’t.
Here’s how to make béchamel in three simple steps:
- Preheat 1 1/2 cups of whole milk in a pot. Keep the heat low to medium. At this stage, you don’t want to bring the milk to the boiling point.
- Melt 2 tablespoons of unsalted butter in a saucepan. Stir in 2 tablespoons of all-purpose flour, stirring energetically and constantly. Cook for up to 2 minutes and don’t let the flour brown.
- Add in the heated milk, stirring thoroughly and continuously. Bring the béchamel sauce to a boil and lower the heat. Add salt and black pepper to taste. Cook until the sauce gets smooth and thick.
Remove the béchamel sauce from the heat and let it rest at room temperature while you make the Croque Monsieur sandwich.
Step 2. Preheat your oven to 300°F (150°C) or use the grill mode in the microwave.
Step 3. Get two thick slices of sturdy sandwich bread. Spread the béchamel sauce generously on the inner sides. Layer slices of French ham and grated Gruyere cheese (the more, the merrier) to build the sandwich.
Step 4. Melt 2-3 tablespoons of unsalted butter in a skillet and brush both sides of the sandwich before putting it in the oven. Add one last layer of grated or sliced Gruyere cheese to the top of the sandwich.
Step 5. Grill or bake the sandwich till golden brown. Serve and eat while hot.
If you’re in a hurry and want to make yourself a good Croque Monsieur sandwich, but don’t have the time or energy to make béchamel sauce, that’s okay. Smear butter or Dijon mustard on the inner sides of the sliced bread instead.
Buy Gruyère cheese in a block and grate it or slice it thinly yourself. Sliced cheese comes in thick slices that don’t always melt as evenly as you like them to.
Make a Monte Cristo Sandwich
The Monte Cristo sandwich is a variation of the classic Croque Monsieur sandwich. It’s made with sliced bread, slices of French ham, and grated Gruyère cheese. It’s then dipped in egg dip and deep-fried or pan-fried till golden brown. Before serving, the Monte Cristo sandwich is dusted with powdered sugar.
Here’s how to make a Monte Cristo sandwich in 7 steps:
Step 1. Make egg dip by whisking together 3-4 eggs, salt, and black pepper in a large bowl. Set it aside as you follow the remaining steps in this recipe.
Step 2. Heat 5 inches of oil in a deep fryer to 365 degrees F (180 degrees C). If you don’t have a deep fryer, pour a generous amount of oil in a skillet and preheat it to the same temperature on the stove top.
Step 3. Smear unsalted butter or Dijon mustard generously on the inner sides of two slices of sandwich bread. The thicker and sturdier the sandwich bread, the better. You want as much surface as you can get to soak up the egg dip.
Step 4. Build the Monte Cristo by layering slices of French ham and grated Gruyère cheese between the two slices. The more, the merrier.
Step 5. The secret to making a Monte Cristo sandwich is to seal it and make it more compact by pressing it down before frying. This will help it stay together during frying. I use my cast iron skillet to press the sandwich down, putting my weight into it.
Step 6. Fry the Monte Cristo sandwich until golden brown. Take it out and let it rest for 2-3 minutes.
Step 7. Before serving, dust the sandwich lightly with powdered sugar. Serve and eat while hot.
Both Croque Monsieur and Monte Cristo sandwiches are classic French sandwiches served as a quick snack in bars and cafés (and enjoyed by home cooks and French cooking enthusiasts all over the world).
Make Croque Monsieur with béchamel sauce, French ham, and Gruyere cheese. Top the sandwich with one last layer of cheese before you put it in the oven. Then let the ham caramelize on the outside and the cheese melt on the inside, cooking the Croque Monsieur sandwich until golden brown.
Monte Cristo is a variation of Croque Monsieur. It’s also made with French ham and Gruyere cheese, but it’s dipped in egg, deep-fried or pan-fried, and dusted with a little powdered sugar before serving to balance out the saltiness.
Now that you know these quintessential French sandwich recipes and the difference between them, try them out for yourself!
Let me know how it went in the comments below.