I’m not too fond of white creamy sauces (my thighs expand at the mere sight of them), nor was I looking forward to having to top this cheesy sandwich with a runny egg. But E was so excited about making a croque madame, he offered to help cook.
First, the béchamel sauce. “One of the five mother sauces,” he taught me. “Hollandaise, velouté, tomato, espagnole, and béchamel.” I grabbed a saucepan for him from the cabinet. He whisked up the ingredients while I grated the fresh gruyere cheese and toasted the bread. He also gave me a cooking lesson as we went.
“The milk should be hot.” he says. “And next time, use a non nonstick pan. When you’re whisking a lot, you don’t want to use something where the teflon is going to get scratched up. And use white pepper for this, not black pepper. White sauce calls for white pepper. Oh, and we need nutmeg.”
Now, as is often, I felt insecure in the kitchen next to E. His cooking skills are good enough where he could work in any professional kitchen in New York. My strength lies more in food presentation and assembly, less in the actual cooking. This is why sandwiches are a great meal for me to prepare.
After the sauce was done, I nervously put together the sandwiches with the sliced ham and shredded gruyere, and I spooned creamy béchamel on top of each sandwich. While they toasted in the oven, E quickly browned some asparagus and made an aioli to go with it as a side dish.
Once done, E fried up the egg to put on top, “Those look amazing, honey,” he said. My presentation was indeed on point. He placed a tender fried egg on top of each sandwich, and I finished each off with more gruyere and fresh pepper. Those DID look really good, with that bubbly melted cheese and toasty bread. My confidence had creeped back when E chirped, “Voilà! Bon appetit.”
We sat down in front of the tv, watching a Military Channel special on the making of the jet pack (guess who’s choice that was, along with the dinner menu?). The sandwich was creamy and delicious–oh, that cheese!–but it was so filling that I could only eat half of it, meaning I never had to break the runny egg (thank goodness).
I worried this sandwich may not even count towards my sandwich count because E put together a fair share of the meal. But he was happy to have helped out. “I love when we cook together,” he said, kissing me on the cheek. “And you’re only 274 sandwiches from your goal.”
4 pieces of bread
2 tbps butter
2 tbsp flour
1 1/2 cup milk, hot
1 1/2 cup shredded gruyere cheese
1/4 cup parmesan cheese (we used pecorino romano and it work out great)
pinch of salt, nutmeg, and white pepper
1/4 pound sliced ham
2 tbsp dijon mustard
1 tbsp butter
For the béchamel sauce: Heat the milk and keep hot throughout the entire process. Melt butter in a saucepan on low heat, then add flour while whisking constantly to form the roux. Then add the milk slowly, whisking continuously until it thickens up. Add 1/4 cup of grated gruyere cheese, and stir constantly. Finally, add the parmesan cheese, and finish with salt, nutmeg and white pepper to taste. Take off heat and set aside. (to keep that weird skin from forming, you could keep on super low heat and stir intermittently).
Heat oven to about 400 degrees. Butter both sides of bread slices and pop in oven to toast, about two minutes. Remove and top each bread slice with ham and the rest of the shredded gruyere cheese inside (leave about a 1/4 cup little left over to top the sandwiches as a garnish). Top with other piece of bread, and pour béchamel sauce on top. Sprinkle on what’s left of the gruyere, and place back in oven for about 5 minutes. Turn once from back to front and toast for another 3 minutes or so, until the cheese on top is bubbly. Remove from oven. Fry two eggs sunny side up, then place one egg on top of each sandwich. Add salt and pepper to taste. Makes two sandwiches.