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Croque-monsieurs fuel the Parisian masses

A croque-monsieur (translated as Mr. Crunchy, maybe?) is a toasted or broiled cheese sandwich, sold in restaurants and at many street stands throughout Paris. The cheese in a croque monsieur is typically gruyere or Swiss. The bread, unfortunately, is a standard white bread, and the meat is usually jambon (ham), but I’ve also seen chicken used. A fancier–and fattier and messier–croque might have a cheese sauce on top.

The word croque comes from the verb croquer, “to crunch,” and you certainly do that as you consume a crispy, hot, flavorful croque in a paper wrapper as you walk down the street or with a knife and fork on the plate in front of you at a cafe.

A croque-monsieur sandwich.

My particular favorite variation is the croque-madame which is the basic croque sandwich with a fried egg on top. Paula Dean’s version is shown below.

Croque Madame    

A croque-mademoiselle is a diet or smaller version of la madame. I’ve had croque-monsieurs with chicken, tomatoes, and once a wonderful croque- provencale with lots of herbs. A croque-pizza has tomato sauce, a croque-norvegien is made with smoked salmon, a croque-hawaii has pineapple, and a croque-aubergine features slices of eggplant coated in cracker flower. At my recent lunch at the Cafe de Balzac, I enjoyed a croque-de-Balzac with cheese and peppered tomatoes. I’ve also seen croques named after the main cheese ingredient, such as croque-d’Auvergne, croque-chevre, etc.

You can get fancy with croques. Below is Rachel Ray’s version of a croque-madame with bechamel sauce. Others have used hollandaise sauce, although I’ve never been offered this in Paris. You can also use different kinds of eggs for the croque-madame. One cook uses eggs from guinea hens. I’ve read of a croque-monsie made with brioche bread and gruyere cheese.

I’ve heard of a dessert croque made with carmelized almonds and orange slices. But I think restaurants here could get more creative with this basic sandwich, especially if cooks might like to coax more Americans to try this fast-food staple (shown in a street-food presentation below). Why not a croque-Hemingway made with some kind of large fish? A croque-Fitzgerald with an elegant liqour-flavored cheese sauce. The croque-Monet, made with mixed greens and nasturtium flowers, of which there are many at Monet’s gardens in Giverny. La croque-Pittsburgh would be piled high with French fries.

This isn’t a diet food by any means, since it’s made with butter and fatty cheeses. And, if you aren’t coming to Paris anytime soon, you can purchase a croque-monsieur appliance to duplicate what’s found here.

I like getting street food in Paris. By street food, I mean that you order standing up, pay standing up, and consume your street meal standing up or sitting on a free park bench. A crepe is another good sloppy street food here. But if you’re walking miles a day in Paris, you’re hungry, and the restaurants are busy, la croque-monsier or -madame is a great way to fuel the journey.

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