Why This Recipe Works
- The cheese makes everything stick together for a neat and compact sandwich.
- It is fried in a mixture of butter and oil to allow the sandwich to cook completely before getting overly brown.
- Use sturdy or stale bread slices to avoid a soggy sandwich.
The scene: a restaurant in Cambridge, MA, several years ago where the brunch offerings include a Monte Cristo sandwich. My mind is set; I am the first one who closes the menu.
I can never make up my mind between savory and sweet, particularly before noon. Pancakes? Eggs? Waffles? Bagel and lox? I just don't know. Usually I wind up going with savory and subtly persuade a fellow diner to order something sweet: "Waiter, I'll have the red flannel hash and he'll have the tall stack. Thank you." Once in a while I strike gold and find a Monte Cristo and all my troubles and uncertainties are resolved: filled with ham or turkey and cheese, fried à la French toast, served with red currant jelly (though I like to drown mine in maple syrup if it's handy, too). The best of both of flavor worlds.
Back to Cambridge. I place my order, then immediately reach for the waiter's elbow and pull him towards me; my spider sense tells me this is not the Monte Cristo I know and love.
"Excuse me, is this battered and fried?" "No, it's a ham sandwich with cheese on top, and it gets broiled. And it has an egg on top." "That sounds more like a croque madame." "No, it's a Monte Cristo."
"No, it's a croque, but whatever, I'll have it anyway. But let's be clear, it's not a Monte Cristo."
Semantics? Mutton dressed as lamb? I don't know exactly what, but I was right and they were wrong, and so my sandwich is not cheese-topped and broiled with an egg on top. Variations and regional accents exist within the Monte Cristo family, for instance, it is sometimes served open-faced or accompanied by sour cream, however, a croque it never is.
This particular Monte Cristo calls for my preferred combination of ham and cheese for the filling. Please note that whenever there is cheese in a hot sandwich I like to use it as glue. In this instance, the build is as follows: bread, cheese, ham, cheese, bread. Do you see? The cheese makes everything stick together for a neat and compact sandwich.
Butter makes everything better, but it also burns at high heat. This Monte Cristo is dipped in a mixture of eggs and milk and fried, just like French toast. However, the sandwich takes longer to cook, so I fry in vegetable oil. To add flavor, I spread the bread with butter, which, by the way, should be sturdy or stale—no fluffy white slices here, unless you like a soggy sandwich.
As for the accompaniments, I go with warm red currant jelly (some of it is spread inside the sandwich, along with Dijon mustard for a tart-sweet touch) and a dusting of confectioners' sugar.
And the croque? We'll make that some other time and call it what it is.
Monte Cristo Sandwich (Fried Ham and Swiss with Red Currant Jelly) Recipe
Like French toast, it's dipped in a mixture of eggs and milk, fried, and finished with a dusting of powdered sugar.
1 cup red currant jelly
10 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
8 slices brioche loaf, sliced 1-inch thick (see note)
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard (optional)
12 slices ham
8 slices Swiss cheese, at room temperature
1/2 cup vegetable oil
4 large eggs, at room temperature
2/3 cup milk
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup confectioner's sugar for dusting
In small bowl, combine 1/4 cup jelly and 2 tablespoons butter. Spread 4 slices bread with mixture. Spread remaining 4 slices with (optional) mustard. Top each buttered slice in this order: 1 slice cheese, 3 slices ham, and 1 slice cheese. Top with bread (mustard side-down, if using) and press down lightly. Butter both sides of sandwiches with additional 4 tablespoons butter and set aside.
In small saucepan or bowl in microwave, heat remaining 3/4 cup currant jelly. Stir to smooth, cover, and keep warm.
In large bowl, whisk together eggs, milk, and salt. Carefully dip one sandwich in egg mixture and allow to soak for 10 to 15 seconds. Turn and soak for another 10 to 15 seconds. Transfer sandwich to cooling rack set inside rimmed baking sheet. Repeat with remaining sandwiches.
Heat 1/4 cup oil and 2 tablespoons butter in large skillet over medium-high heat until foaming subsides but butter is not brown. Fry 2 sandwiches at a time, until golden, 2 to 3 minutes per side. Transfer to cutting board. If skillet is dry, add remaining 1/4 cup oil and remaining 2 tablespoons butter and repeat with remaining 2 sandwiches.
Cool sandwiches 2 minutes, then cut in half, dust with confectioners’ sugar and serve with warm currant jelly.
Small saucepan or microwave, cooling rack, rimmed baking sheet, large skillet, cutting board
Day-old bread is best for this recipe. If you can't find brioche loaf substitute with challah.
|Nutrition Facts (per serving)|
|Amount per serving|
|% Daily Value*|
|Total Fat 103g||132%|
|Saturated Fat 42g||211%|
|Total Carbohydrate 53g||19%|
|Dietary Fiber 2g||9%|
|Total Sugars 22g|
|Vitamin C 12mg||58%|
|*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.|