Saturday, March 14, 2009
One night last week I found myself cooking for my band of teenagers. KG was working late and it’s never tempting to cook imaginative food for that fussy (but always starving) bunch. Sometimes you just have to cook for the crowd you have. After a quick inventory of the fridge and pantry (lots of bread, eggs, milk, ham and cheese) I decided to make Monte Cristo sandwiches.
I have no idea where the idea came from. I have never made them at home and the only time I’ve ever ordered one in a restaurant was at the Homeport Restaurant in Orleans when I first moved to Cape Cod more than twenty years ago.
But somehow I knew that the combination of a ham and cheese sandwich, grilled French toast style would appeal to my crowd. It did. In fact they loved them. I topped them with a fried egg because that’s the way we roll. Drizzled with a bit of pure maple syrup, it was a surprisingly satisfying meal that I will definitely make again.
I did a little research about Monte Cristo sandwiches and learned that the history of them is up for debate. They are believed to be a variation of a French dish called Croque Monsieur, served in a Parisian café in 1910. Those sandwiches were made with Gruyere cheese and thinly sliced ham – and get this (!), there is even a variation called Croque Madame that came with a baked egg on top. Pretty cool, huh?
On this side of the pond, variations of Monte Cristo sandwiches appear in cookbooks from the 1920’s through the 1960’s, but the name Monte Cristo appears to have originated in California, notably the Coronado Hotel in San Diego (date unknown) and Gordon’s on Wilshire Boulevard in Los Angeles on their 1941 menu.
It took Mickey Mouse to make them truly famous. They appeared on the menu at the Blue Bayou Restaurant in New Orleans Square at Disneyland in 1966 and became a very popular standard that they still serve today.
I learned all of the above information at www.foodtimeline.org, a dream website for food geeks like me. Created by Lynne Olver, a reference librarian at the Morris County Library in Whippany, New Jersey, the website is an extensive compilation of foodie facts with cross links to other sites and reference notes for true food historians.
Monte Cristo Sandwiches
8 slices of your favorite bread
8 slices of deli ham
8 slices of mild cheddar cheese
1/2 cup milk
1/2 teaspoon salt
Dash of fresh ground pepper
2 tablespoons butter
4 tablespoons real maple syrup
Make four ham and cheese sandwiches. Beat 2 eggs, add milk, salt and pepper and mix well. Heat griddle to medium. Put butter on non-stick griddle and spread it with a spatula to cover surface. Dip each sandwich in egg and milk mixture, flipping then over once to saturate both sides and place them on the griddle.
Cook until golden, about 4 - 5 minutes, then flip and cook for another 4 - 5 minutes. Bread should be golden brown and firm to the touch on both sides. Transfer to plates and cook four eggs over easy or to taste. Top each sandwich with a fried egg and drizzle each with 1 tablespoon of real maple syrup.
For a printable recipe click here