Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Recipes From the Road - The Swine Sandwich

My French language skills aren't the best (though I know "colorful" words of various languages to use as necessary). I once had the back of a transport plane filled up and a few of the passengers were French Canadian.  So I thought I'd show off my "I took a whole year of college French" skills, making the pre takeoff announcement in both English and French. "We're no. 1 for takeoff, please check your seatbelts are fastened." As soon as I was done, laughter erupted. Never a good sign.

After the flight I spotted one of them and asked "OK, WHAT did I say?". Apparently it was "We're becoming unglued, guard your nose for a quick abruptness!" (Well, actually given the airstrip, that was probably close).

But even if my French skills bite, I can make a number of tasty bites from various French menus that would be a hit with the menfolk, as we Yanks say.  One of my favorites, a simple but hearty sandwich, the croque-monsieur. Basically, it's a grilled hot ham and cheese (typically Emmental or Gruyère, noted for their melting properties). Yet it's so much more than that, like most French cooking, rich in flavor, even when simple in construction. Golden Brown, crisp toast with almost lip blistering creamy melted cheese that lurks in the background of the slightly salty ham.

C'est Magnifique as Mr. Cole Porter would say.

It originated in France as a quick meal served in cafés and bars. Versions exist with béchamel sauce broiled on top or ones topped with a fried egg (which are called Croque Madame, supposedly due to the egg resembling a 1900's ladies hat). Seasoning is normally just salt and pepper, and only ham is used.

It's so popular that it's even on certain French McDonalds Menus as the "Croque McDo", though I would seriously recommend that you Croque McDon't.

The HOTR version has an additional kick of cayenne and nutmeg and two cheeses in the béchamel. The sauce is drizzled on the addition of  Applewood smoked bacon inside, rather than broiled on top. That keeps the bread, pan grilled in Clarified Butter rather than oven toasted, buttery and crunchy outside, the perfect pair to the fried egg placed on top.

It's a knife and fork sandwich and not one for either the meek or the dieting. But it's worth a try and makes a great brunch meal. (click on photo to enlarge).

Béchamel sauce: (makes enough for about 4 sandwiches, leftovers good in egg dishes, or you can cut recipe in half)

2 Tbsp butter (don't even think of using margarine)
2 Tbsp flour
1 1/2 cups whole milk
A pinch each of salt, white pepper, black pepper and a generous pinch of cayenne and nutmeg
3 Tablespoons grated fresh Parmesan cheese
1/4 cup grated Gruyère

For Each Sandwich:

2 thick slices of Italian, Brioche or bakery quality white bread
1/2 cup grated or one thick slice Gruyère or Emmental cheese
1 nice thick slice or 2-3 thinner slices ham (3-4 ounces per sandwich)
2-3 slices applewood smoked thick cut bacon, cooked until done but not toocrunchy.
1 to 3 teaspoons mayo
1 to 2 teaspoons Dijon

Make the béchamel sauce:

Melt butter (on medium heat) until it starts bubbling. Then, add the flour. Stir. Let the mixture cook, stirring constantly, for about a minute, (or until it smells nutty and looks to be a light blond color). Whisk the milk in, then bring it to a bubble, whisking constantly. Lower the heat (to low). Add the Parmesan and 1/3 cup Gruyère, salt, and peppers, nutmeg and cayenne (still whisking). Cook the sauce until it is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon. Don't be tempted to speed up the process by turning up the heat, you'll just burn it. Remove from heat, stirring occasionally.
Sandwich Assembly:

Assemble sandwich, each sandwich having one slice of bread spread with Dijon, the other with Mayo (amount to taste but remember you're adding some sauce to the sandwich). Top bottom piece of bread with ham, cheese, and bacon and then drizzle with 2 generous Tablespoons of the béchamel sauce, just enough to lightly drizzle the contents, and place the other slice of bread on top.

For 1-2 sandwiches, put 1 Tablespoon of clarified butter per sandwich in a medium or large sized heavy bottom, oven proof pan over med/high heat. Heat JUST until the butter is very hot but NOT browning, swirling so it covers the pan. Lower heat to medium and lay the sandwich(s) carefully in the pan, pressing down (or using a bacon press, just lay it on the top). The sandwich(s) will brown fairly slowly on the bottom so let it heat about two minutes. Add another Tablespoon of the clarified butter per sandwich to the pan and carefully flip the sandwich(s) to brown the other side, also pressing down a couple of times or using the bacon press until light golden brown on both sides.

Here's a photo of the one Partner got me for Christmas, but any small heavy pan will work.

Place the pan in an oven preheated to 300 F, and bake for about 5-7 minutes, until the cheese is fully melted. While that is in the oven fry one egg per sandwich with just a tiny dab of butter.

Serve with fries, or if you are feeling particular guilty, salad. (Note: this makes an excellent breakfast when you don't have to dépasser un puma later.)