Ina Garten's Cheesy Secret To The Ultimate Croque Monsieur

Ina Garten smiling in pearl earrings
Ina Garten smiling in pearl earrings - Amanda Edwards/Getty Images

The next time you're looking to upgrade a ham and cheese sandwich, a croque monsieur is a fantastic way to go. The indulgent French bistro sandwich, which translates to "crunch sir" or "mister crunch," is typically composed of toasted country bread, thinly sliced ham, Dijon mustard, creamy béchamel sauce, and shredded Gruyère cheese, which forms a rich — and, per its name, crunchy — topping.

Given her affection for a particular French cheese shop, it's no surprise that Ina Garten is a fan of the cheesy brunch-appropriate dish. While making her version on a nostalgia-inducing episode of "The Barefoot Contessa," she divulges a cheesy secret: adding parmesan to the béchamel sauce makes the sandwich even better. While a croque monsieur doesn't traditionally call for the Italian cheese, Garten says combining it with Gruyère in the sauce lends "a depth of flavor." Meanwhile, more grated Gruyère gets sprinkled inside and on top of the sandwich before it's baked and broiled.

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Don't Call It Béchemel

Croque Monsieur with herbs
Croque Monsieur with herbs - Marcus Lacey/Getty Images

Ina Garten's croque monsieur is unique not only for its combination of parmesan and Gruyère, but also for the fact that it uses cheese in its sauce in the first place. Béchamel, the foundational French "mother sauce" typically used for the sandwich, only includes butter, milk, flour, and nutmeg. By adding cheese, Garten spins it into a version of Mornay, another classic French sauce used in comforting dishes like mac and cheese.

In addition to enhancing the flavor of the sauce, parmesan does wonders for its texture. While some Mornay applications call for a thinner consistency, a croque monsieur can handle a thicker, creamier, cheesier sauce. As Garten's version proves, adding parmesan is the key to making that happen. (Extra parm is the secret to thickening a watery Alfredo sauce.) If you want to sprinkle some extra parmesan on top of your croque, we're sure Ina would approve!

A Note On Ham In Your Croque Monsieur

Thinly sliced black forest ham
Thinly sliced black forest ham - Lauripatterson/Getty Images

As much as Ina Garten loves authentic French cuisine (she has several cookbooks to prove it), she's also known for the forgiving maxim "store-bought is fine." To that end, while we have no doubt that she has a French ham connection in the Hamptons, she doesn't seem particularly precise about what kind of ham goes into a croque monsieur. She says it should be "thinly sliced" and "really good," but mentions nothing about the superiority of Jambon de Paris over Virginia or Black Forest ham. If her cheese secret is any indication, she cares more about taste than sticking to the rules.

While the variety of ham you use is up to you, thin slices are super important. If the ham is too thick, it runs the risk of sliding out of your sandwich when you go to take a bite. Plus, you won't get those sumptuous, almost candy-like pieces hanging off the edge. For extra indulgence, put a fried egg on top and call it a croque madame.

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