I love summer. I love summer dining too, as long as it’s simple. Both in concept and execution. Four hour braises are not my idea of a poolside activity. Unless those braises come squished between two slices of crunchy bread (and are prepared by somebody besides me). As I said I’m too busy with poolside activities to give cooking my full attention. This isn’t to say I won’t cook during the summer. I just prefer it be simple and go with whatever I happen to be drinking. Which makes Croque Monsieur an example of simple summer dining.
Are your eyebrows raised? A gooey, cheesy Croque Monsieur is certainly wintertime, fireside food– right?
Well yes… and no. It just depends on what you’re drinking.
When I was younger I used to drink vodka mixed with something sweet and fruity enough to mask the fact that I was drinking. Vodka is what non-drinkers drink. But let’s face it, fruity vodka highballs may look pretty and pink in a frosted glass, but you can’t actually drink them with food (at least food you want to taste). So when it comes to simple mixed-drinks I switched to bourbon decades ago (yes, I’ve been known to exaggerate). However, as friendly as bourbon is with food, it takes a lot of talent to turn it into a warm weather quaff.
White wine is weather friendly and seems a natural this time of year. But too many hosts rely on crowd pleasing varietals lacking in enough character to stand next to food. While it’s true mass market Pinot Grigio goes down like water (only happier) it will never be a fine food wine. As I said, when the thermometer rises, I prefer to eat whatever goes with what I’m drinking.
2011 Charly Thevénet Régnié Grain & Granit, Beaujolais
Pairs well with duck confit, cassoulet, croque monsieur, cheese fondue
Lemonade and boiled peanuts. Rosé wine and grilled vegetables. Beer and just about anything salty and crunchy. Something like a Croque Monsieur.
I see I haven’t convinced you. Maybe that’s because you’ve never had a proper Croque Monsieur. Which I understand. Many (most) of them are just pale excuses for dispatching stale bread without sacrificing too much ham or cheese. The combination is only made worse when it’s fried up in a skillet that tastes like old eggs. Besides, most of them weigh at least a half a pound and take two hands to eat. These type of monstrosities are sure to dribble greasy cheese onto your poolside kaftan. That’s unacceptable summer behavior.
There is another way to go when it comes to summertime Croque Monsieur however.
A good Croque has a crunch that comes from the crackling edges and corners. The cheese is important, but it’s also important to remember that a Croque Monsieur is not a cheese sandwich. So don’t over stuff it. The cheese won’t melt properly and the edges will get soggy. Instead allow the béchamel layered with ham stand out. Ideally, the sandwich should also be toasted quick and hot under a salamander. But a super hot oven, and a bit more time, seems to be the best way for a home cook to achieve success (even better than the broiler which usually lacks enough ambient heat to get the job done). Also, and this may sound like sacrilege, I prefer Jarlsberg in my Croque Monsieur. I know Gruèyre is traditional (and delicious), but Jarlsberg is less greasy when it melts.
As I said, Croque Monsieur is perfect with ice cold beer. However, if you really want to impress your summertime guests serve these little sandwiches with a glass of lightly chilled Charly Thevénet Régnié Grain & Granit, Beaujolais– if that’s what your drinking poolside this summer. GREG