Do you remember that one time in college when you decided to add a slice of ham to your grilled cheese sandwich and thought you had changed the world forever? We certainly don’t doubt that yours had been changed for the better, but actually, a grilled ham-and-cheese sandwich has been on menus for about about 100 years.
Legend has it that it was old steel workers in France who accidentally discovered this type of sandwich. Putting ham and cheese between two pieces of bread wasn’t anything new in the sandwich-making game, but when the clock struck lunchtime and the steelworkers opened up their lunch boxes, they noticed that the cheese on their sandwiches had melted, the bread had become crispy and golden, and the ham was hot and juicy.
After all, the metal lunchboxes had been baking in the blazing-hot sun since morning. So to the steelworkers’ surprise, they were treated to an ”oven-baked” entree, and the grilled ham-and-cheese sandwich was born into the world.
Since its fabled beginning, the now-named Croque Monsieur (crispy gentleman) is seen in French delis everywhere as an eat-it-on-the-run type of food. But instead of leaving ham-and-cheese sandwiches out in the noonday sun as their cooking style, French chefs took the simple sandwich and have perfected their methods of making it.
Slightly sugared brioche is sprinkled with grated cheese on the outside and seasoned with a bit of salt and pepper. Between the two crispy pieces of cheese toast, ham and even more cheese is sandwiched together. The entire sandwich is dipped in an egg batter and then pan fried, making the crispy sandwich even more crispy.
It’s quite the process, but it’s so worth it!
During the first part of the 20th century, restaurants started serving their own version of the Croque Monsieur and called it the Monte Cristo — most likely because “Monte Cristo” is a French name that is much easier to pronounce than “Croque Monsieur”!
The Monte Cristo has found itself on the menu of many different French restaurants, as well as on the menu at our own restaurant.
At Cheddar’s Scratch Kitchen, we’ve mastered our own style of the Monte Cristo. We start off by putting together a sandwich made of smoked ham, smoked turkey and two types of cheeses and then dipping it into a whipped mixture of eggs, milk, sugar, vanilla, baking powder, flour and salt. Once the sandwich is completely covered in the batter, we deep fry it until it gets a golden-colored crust.
And just like the Monte Cristo’s cousin, French toast, we serve it with a side of fruit preserves and sprinkle the top with a bit of powdered sugar.
Whether it was serendipity that created this lunchtime delicacy or it came at the hand of a seasoned chef, there’s one thing we definitely know about our Monte Cristo: you’ll be able to taste la bonté in every bite.
Hop in the car and head on over to your local Cheddar’s Scratch Kitchen.
Here are some French-inspired recipes you can try out yourself!