A criteria for any hangover brunch date, the croque madame is a classic French comfort food with a major twist. We enlisted the help of Chef Gerald Kenny of Le Politique in Austin, Texas to learn what makes the madame, well, a madame, and how to get that perfectly crispy, baked breakfast sandwich texture that’s satisfying AF.
What Is a Traditional Croque Madame?
“A croque madame is a baked sandwich which can be used as an hors d’oeuvre or a small entrée. It consists of soft bread, boiled ham, cheese, béchamel, and a fried egg,” says Chef Gerard Kenny. What makes it different than a croque monsieur—another menu item you’ve probably seen—you may ask? Well, that’s all in the addition of the egg on top. “The egg is said to resemble an older style of hat worn by women in France,” adds Kenny. Result: More cute and much more tasty, especially in this miniature format.
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What Are the Most Important Tips for Home Cooks Looking to Make a Croque Madame?
It’s all about getting a good crust on the bread, our expert tells us. A perfect croque should ideally be crisp, but tender. Slicing the ham and cheese thin to ensure they can cook and melt simultaneously is key, Kenny tells us, as is keeping a runny yolk within the egg. “When you cut your croque the egg should ooze and disperse over the bread.” Yummers.
“Cut the bread evenly to ensure even cooking. When assembling, the amount of ham and cheese should not exceed the thickness of the bread,” he adds. “I like to first get color on the bread in a sauté pan with melted butter at a low/medium heat. Once both sides have some color and the inside cheese is melted, I top with my mornay—béchamel with gruyere—and bake in the oven until the sauce has been absorbed by the bread and has a golden-brown color.” Last, Kenny tells us to top it all off with a sunny side up egg. Et voila, it’s time to indulge.
Is There a Specific Type of Bread You Should Use for the Sandwich?
Traditionally, pan de mie, more commonly known as a Pullman loaf, will do the trick. Kenny suggests an enriched dough like brioche, which has added butter to give more flavor and a better crust when it’s cooked.
What About Ham or Cheese?
“An unsmoked, cured, lean ham will best suit this preparation. For cheese, I like Comté in the sandwich and gruyere with the béchamel on top. The Comté gives an earthy flavor and the gruyere balances the sandwich with a sweet cream flavor,” Kenny says.
Any Tips for Perfecting the Egg on Top of That Croque Madame?
How low can you go? “Low heat and a well-seasoned pan will get you there,” Kenny advises. “Your best bet is to use a non-stick pan and allow your egg to get to room temperature before cooking, as it will keep your pan from reducing dramatically in surface temperature.” It’s also clutch if you’ve never tried that trick when making the perfect omelette.
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Header image courtesy of Wynn Myers.