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I was dropping off some library books a few days ago (you know, just your standard kid literature of Henry and Mudge and Frog and Toad, etc) and I had to make a pit stop at the cookbook section. They had the most humongous Thomas Keller cookbook, Bouchon. I mean, like, larger than my torso with these amazingly breathtaking photographs of perfectly prepared roast chicken and lentil salad and other French beauties. I was liking it. But when I landed on one page in particular I knew this brick of a cookbook had to come home with me. Bread. Cheese. Ham. Cheesy sauce. Runny egg. Add to the mix a little green salad and some red wine, and I’ll take the croque madame at any meal time, any day of the week. It’s so damn good.

Croque-Madame

from Bouchon by Thomas Keller

serves 4

8  1/2-inch thick slices Brioche, other egg bread, or pain de mie

8 ounces thinly sliced ham

8 slices (about 1/2 ounce each) Swiss cheese

3 tablespoons unsalted butter

4 large eggs

2 teaspoons chopped Italian parsley

Freshly ground black pepper

1 cup Mornay Sauce, warmed

3 tablespoons unsalted butter

1/2 cup diced Spanish onion (Vidalia)

Kosher salt

3 tablespoons all-purpose flour

2 cups milk

1 cup heavy cream

1 bay leaf

3 black peppercorns

3 whole cloves

Freshly grated nutmeg

Freshly ground white pepper

1/3 cup Comté or Emmentaler Cheese

to make the Mornay sauce (2 cups):

Melt the butter in a medium heavy saucepan set on a diffuser over medium heat. Add the onion and a pinch of salt and cook slowly, stirring occasionally, for 2 to 3 minutes, or until the onion is translucent. Sprinkle in the flour and cook for about 3 minutes, stirring constantly so that the roux doesn’t burn or color. Whisking constantly, add the milk and cream and whisk until fully incorporated. Bring to a simmer, whisking, then add the bay leaf, peppercorns, and cloves. Move the pan to one side of the diffuser, away from direct heat to avoid scorching, and bring back to a gentle simmer. Adjust the heat to maintain a gentle simmer and cook, whisking occasionally, reaching into the corners of the pan, for about 30 minutes. (If the sauce does begin to scorch, pour it into a clean pan – don’t scrape the bottom of the pan – and continue.)

Remove the sauce from the heat and season to taste with salt, a grating of nutmeg, and a pinch of white pepper. Strain the sauce, add the cheese, and whisk to melt. Use immediately, or place in a storage container, press a piece of plastic wrap against the surface to keep a skin from forming, and refrigerate for up to a week. If the sauce is too thick after refrigeration, it can be thinned with a little heavy cream.

to make the croque-madame:

Preheat the oven to 375°F.

Lay out the bread slices. Divide the ham among them, making sure it does not extend over the edges of the bread. Place the cheese over the ham. If the cheese is larger than the bread, bend it over to fit.

Heat two large ovenproof nonstick pans or griddles over medium heat. (If you only have one large pan, make 2 sandwiches and keep them warm in the oven while you make the second batch.) Add 1 tablespoon of butter to each pan. When it has melted, add half the bread cheese side up to each pan and cook for 1 to 2 minutes, or until the bottoms are golden brown. Transfer the pans to the oven for 2 to 3 minutes to melt the cheese.

Meanwhile, melt the remaining 1 tablespoon of butter in a large ovenproof skillet and fry the eggs. Cook the eggs until the bottoms are set, then place the skillet in the oven for a minute to set the top of the whites.

When the cheese is melted, remove the sandwiches from the oven. Place 2 slices together to make each sandwich and put each sandwich on a serving plate. Place an egg on top of each sandwich. Pour about 1/4 cups of the Mornay sauce over the white of each egg, leaving the yolk uncovered. Grind black pepper over each egg and garnish the eggs with a diagonal sprinkling of chopped parsley.

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