Today I decided to seek out my first croque-monsieur in Paris.
I have certainly seen them around. Every simple stand or bistro-front seems to have them. They are iconic for Paris. Every time I walk by Notre Dame I can see a number of variations on croque-monsieur.
The basic recipe is a slice of bread, spread with béchamel sauce, then a layer of ham, then a layer of gruyère cheese, then another slice of bread, then some more gruyère, and finally some more béchamel. The whole thing is then broiled to melt all of the cheese and get the béchamel bubbly and slightly browned.
What I have seen in the tourist areas is a croque-monsieur made with a square dense white bread. It is pre-made and pre-broiled. I don’t think it is warmed up again, but I may be wrong. It may even be good, but it was not what I was after.
I went to Le Petit Cler in the 6th as I had found Internet recommendations for its croque-monsieur. I probably got there at 13h00 (1:00 PM) and, to my slight surprise, it was crowded enough I had to wait 10 minutes to get a seat. I was outside, under their awning, which was big enough for three rows of tables and had some heaters. The morning had been chilly and somewhat rainy.
I ordered the croque-monsieur and an espresso. The espresso came first so I had something to sip while waiting. Their croque-monsieur was slightly different than the basic recipe above. Specifically, it was only a single slice of bread, but the bread was a slice from a nice whole wheat boule – that is, round loaf. Then that had the ham, gruyère, béchamel. It was freshly broiled and hot, bubbly, crusty. Don’t know if it is the best croque-monsieur in Paris, but it was quite good. I finished off the meal with a crème brûlée.
Next door was a grocery store featuring organic fruit. You can still see Le Petit Cler off on the right. The sun had finally come out and walking around was good again.