When I was little, toasties were my father’s domain. Many of his fillings cruelly haven’t made it on to mainstream toastie menus (tinned chicken curry was my mother’s favourite) – but his corned beef and onion one has stood the test of time in our household, and toasties remain a mainstay in my grown-up home.
The croque monsieur is the more cosmopolitan, French version of the toastie. A croque monsieur is ham and cheese between two slices of toasted bread, often with a bechamel sauce inside and on top, bubbling and golden. There are lots of variations: the most famous is the croque madame, in which a fried (or sometimes poached) egg is placed on top of the croque monsieur. Occasionally you may come across the croque Boum-Boum (with bolognese) or the croque Hawaiian (with a slice of pineapple).
Of course, it’s easy to dismiss a croque monsieur as a cheese toastie with pretensions, and it does take a little more time investment than its simpler cousin. But the combination of nutty, stringy gruyere, thick-cut ham and creamy bechamel has deservedly cemented the croque monsieur as a French classic.
Forget fancy sourdough – the best bread for this kind of sandwich is a soft, white bloomer. Aside from the fact it is traditional, you need to be able to bite through the bread with ease to prevent bechamel tidal waves. Now, I know you’re supposed to cut the crusts off, but I can’t bring myself to do it. It seems such a shame and a waste, especially when it means losing those little crispy bits of ham and crunchy bits of bread (and it makes me feel a bit like a child).