Snacking is not synonymous with French eating habits, but when time is short, the usual lunch-time plat du jour needs to be replaced by a quick, warm alternative.
And so, in typical French style, a hot, ham and cheese toasted sandwich was invented. And to make sure it was recognised as not just any old sandwich, it was given a name – Le Croque-Monsieur.
Le Croque, as the French lovingly call it, appeared for the first time in 1910 on the menu of a Parisien cafe on the Boulevard des Capucines. The origin of its name is not entirely known, but many have put forward theories. The most popular one is linked to the cafe owner who jokingly suggested that the meat in his sandwich was human flesh! Croquer – means to crunch – so croque-monsieur – crunching on man! Only the French could come up with such an idea…
.Marcel Proust mentions the croque in A l’ombre des jeunes filles en fleurs, in 1919. « Or, en sortant du concert, comme, en reprenant le chemin qui va vers l’hôtel, nous nous étions arrêtés un instant sur la digue, ma grand’mère et moi, pour échanger quelques mots avec madame de Villeparisis qui nous annonçait qu’elle avait commandé pour nous à l’hôtel des croque-monsieur et des œufs à la crème… »
A croque-monsieur is made with pain de mie (sliced white bread), cheese (usually emmental or gruyere), cooked ham, bechamel sauce (white sauce made with butter, milk and flour).
As with all dishes, if the very best ingredients are used, then the resulting sandwich will be exquisite. I personally believe a croque-monsieur made with English white sliced bread is far superior to one made with French pain de mie.
The French are superb bakers of baguette, pain de campagne, flute, but they have not mastered the art of sandwich bread. Of course, this is no surprise, not being a nation of snack food and sandwiches.
However, in typical gastronomic style, they have developed the croque-monsieur with a number of amusing variations:
A croque-monsieur served with a fried or poached egg on top is known as a croque-madame (or in parts of Normandy a croque-à-cheval).
- croque provençal (with tomato)
- croque auvergnat (with bleu d’auvergne cheese)
- croque gagnet (with Gouda cheese and andouille sausage)
- croque norvégien (with smoked salmon instead of ham)
- croque tartiflette (with sliced potatoes and Reblochon cheese)
- croque bolognese / croque Boum-Boum (with Bolognese sauce)
- croque señor (with tomato salsa)
- croque Hawaiian (with a slice of pineapple)