Restaurant Recreations: Le Croque Madame

“And so, the first pedal has been turned in ANGER!”

It’s July. For some people that means summer hours, vacations, weekends at the beach or in the country (at least, for those of us in the northern hemisphere). Around here, July means one thing: le Tour de France.

I’m not really sure when or why we started watching the tour; maybe 5 or 6 years ago? You might think it would be mind-numbing to spend 21 straight days watching men ride bicycles for 4 and 5 hours at a stretch, often in a straight line all bunched together like 5-year-olds playing soccer, but you would be OH SO WRONG. It is complicated and exciting and riveting and we are COMPLETELY HELPLESS ADDICTS. I have a fantasy cycling team. I am not kidding.

“The pirate is about to board the ship.”

I’d estimate that a full 50% of the draw is Phil Liggett. Phil Liggett is a veteran British cycling commentator who’s called the tour every year since the late ’70s. He himself was never more than an amateur cyclist, but he loves the sport with an all-consuming and somewhat frightening love not entirely unlike Lenny’s love of the rabbit. Any minor happening in the race is a cause for tremendous excitement and boisterous but cryptic pronouncements that he pulls from the ether; many times, he’s so excited that he’s unable to be factually correct (“And they’re bearing down on the line!! No, the line is still 500 meters away!!”). Sometimes he’s yelling at us, sometimes at the riders and sometimes just yelling for the pure joy of it, but it’s always interesting.

All of today’s captions are actual phrases that have been exclaimed by Phil in a non-ironic manner while commentating a bike race.

It is for Phil and in honor of Le Tour that I made Croque Madames, as done by excellent local bistro Madame Claude’s, for dinner tonight. While I’m pretty sure I could subsist on Madame Claude’s cafe au lait and croissants with homemade jam for the rest of my life, I’m also a sucker for the Croque Madame: a toasty ham and cheese sandwich with an egg on top, and a big pile of salad on the side.

“The Tour chooses its champions where the mountains bear the snows of winter.”

The Croque Madame is a (better) variation on the Croque Monsiuer, a melted ham and gruyere sandwich sans egg. Every cafe that makes croques has its own way; sometimes a croque is topped with bechamel and broiled, sometimes with a veloute (a bechamel with cheese), sometimes the cheese is on top, sometimes on the inside. However its assembled, though, the foundations are always the same: thick slices of good toasted bread, warm ham, oozey melted cheese.

Madame Claude makes a simple version – no sauce, just good bread stuffed with ham and gruyere, topped with more cheese and then quickly broiled. I added a smidge of dijon mustard to help boost the flavor of PathMark ham. I’ve never cooked in a French bistro, but I’m pretty sure that PathMark brand ham and cheese are not their ingredients of choice.

“Don’t look back. You know what’s going on back there because you just left.”

It’s so true, you know? If only Phil had been around to provide color commentary for the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah.

Luckily, I wasn’t restricted to PathMark’s offerings for the bread, arguably the most important component of any good sandwich. A restaurant on my walk home from the subway buys extra Balthazar baguettes every day and sells them off in the afternoon, so I can always swing by and grab some wonderful bread without having to go out of my way.

I sliced it on the diagonal to maximize the surface area for sandwich fixins’ and made a bunch of wee little ham and swiss sammiches. (PathMark not tending to carry gruyere. Plus, the smell of gruyere makes me wretch ever since an 8th-grade French class field trip to see Les Miserables where we ate at a truly wretched theater district fondue restaurant.) They spent a few minutes in a hot pan with some butter to brown and crisp before I heaped a generous additional amount of cheese on top and slid them under the broiler.

“The weather is something of a damp squid.”

I just watched the end of today’s Tour stage, and I’m on the edge of my fucking seat. GODDAMN.

I briefly considered and then rejected poached eggs; too fancy. While I kept an eye on the broiler and fried up some eggs, Brian threw together a quick vinaigrette – mustard to emulsify, red wine vinegar, olive oil – for a vibrant head of red-leaf lettuce left from our last CSA box that needed to be consumed post-haste to make room for the additional produce that came today.

It’s my first year with a CSA. I love it, but I also predict a lot of vegetable-related guilt this summer.

“He’s really having to dig deeply into the suitcase of courage.”*

I piled my plate with salad, added 2 little sandwiches and slid an egg on top.

PathMark ham aside, this was a satisfying dinner. You can’t go wrong with a crispy, buttery, melty ham and cheese sandwich. The yolks were still nice and runny, with some creamy whites. The red-leaf lettuce had a slight bite that, with the vinaigrette, was a nice wake-up call between bites of cheesy sandwich.

If you’ve never had a croque I implore you to make one, and make it soon. If you’ve never watched the tour, I implore you to just watch the last 5 minutes of a stage; aside from often being the most exciting part of the race, its also the part where Phil becomes the most apoplectic. And then my fantasy cycling team will TOTALLY kick your fantasy cycling team’s ass.

*A bonus quote from Phil’s commentary partner Paul Sherwin, an ex-cyclist who now runs a Ugandan gold mine and who has been known to issue forth some bon mots of his own.

0 thoughts on “Restaurant Recreations: Le Croque Madame

  1. What a beautiful egg!

    And I totally agree about Mr. Liggett. Hubby cycles, and got me into the Tour. I think the only thing I miss about not having a television is Phil’s voice in the summertime!

    BTW, Bob Roll is kind of creepy.

  2. Your suitcase runneth over. Beautiful! I never understood my parents and brothers’ fascination with the tour, but I might switch it on and broil up some of these babies — I have gruyere in the fridge, and I don’t remember why.

  3. Everything looks great. The baguette looks wonderfully crispy and must really complement the dressing well. I’ve never watched a bunch of men cycling either, but I know there is quite a science behind it. Kudos to them for using 12th grade physics and drag to show it’s about not only muscle, but brains as well.

  4. I feel about tennis (this big tournaments) they way you do about the TDF. I am hopelessly addicted.
    As for croques, only have had the monsieur variety, and love them. What’s not to love about bread and meat and cheese for the love? You madame looks really delicious, and served with a little salad sounds just perfect.

  5. vicki, bob roll is kind creepy. but also kind of hilarious. this year there’s no al trauwig to temper him, so he’s running rampant.

    claudia, especially when deep-fried. holy delicious heart attach, batman.

    anon, i’m not the only phil liggett fan; he has many a fan page that collect his greatest hits. although some of them i’ve memorized, because i like to say them in everyday life. (my personal favorites are the “suitcase of pain” and “turning the pedal in anger.”)

  6. I generally don’t enjoy watching sports of any kind (even watching equestrian sports bores me after a while), but I can see the appeal of a mass of guys in tight pants. Cyclists have great legs.

    I remember making a croque monsieur in 8th grade Home Ec class when we did the French chapter. I was suitably impressed. Then for my 8th grade graduation Mom and Grandma took me to lunch at a French restaurant (the best place in town at the time) and I ate a “croque italienne” made with prosciutto and…well probably provolone. I confess to never having done the egg on top version though.

    I am soooo envious of everyone in a CSA. There are no CSAs that deliver close to me. My mother joined one last year and often shared her box with me, but halfway through the season the farm stopped participating in the farmer’s market where she had been picking it up. She got her money back, but I stopped getting free fresh produce and eggs from her. Phooey!

  7. Looks incredible, Michelle! And yeah, we watch The Tour every year. It’s fun to watch, and you just can’t beat the scenery. And that’s not code for anything, I’m really referring to the countryside, hehe. It’s gorgeous!

  8. kate and laura, aren’t they? check out for more. i don’t know if they’ll all be as funny to non-cycling fans, but they KILL me.

    rachel and elle, yeah, they have great legs, but people in padded cycling shorts look (and feel, I can tell you) like they’re wearing adult diapers. not cute.

  9. love the tour de france!

    i haven’t had a croque madame/monsieur in a long time, that looks really good. the last one i had was in paris, and it sucked. not all in france suck obviously – just the place i had mine at.

  10. I used to watch the Tour like a woman possessed. Until they put it on a non-terrestrial channel. At the time, I only had terrestrial TV. Can you imagine? Now I can finally watch it again, but I have to say all the drugs scandals have taken the edge of it a bit for me.

    Years ago, I arranged for Phil Liggett to have dinner with my then just-as-Tour-mad partner (for a significant birthday). Phil was ace. Didn’t want a fee, just happy to have dinner paid for, and was brilliant, entertaining, and very generous company.

  11. Ha, I love the quotes! While I can’t commit to falling in love with the Tour De France, I will commit to loving the Croque Madame. Yours look delicious.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s