The Monte Cristo

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Photo Credit: Jocelyn & Cathy at FoodishFetish, 2014.

 

The “Monte Cristo” is thought to be a tribute to the French novel, “The Count of Monte Christo” by Alexander Dumas, and as such, the sandwich’s name suggests its French origins.

Basically, a Monte Cristo is a fried ham and cheese sandwich, which can be considered a variation of the French croque-monsieur. Recipes for the sandwich abound, with regional variations.

In the Southern United States, versions of the Monte Cristo calls for dipping it in egg and then heavy breading, like corn flakes, rice cereal or bread crumbs. The egg battered sandwich is then deep fried, resulting in an all-over very crusty exterior. ANd because everything is not for every body, as my Grand would say, most people prefer the more traditional grilled sandwich, as it is lower in fat than its deep fried versions.

 

Some Monte Cristo sandwiches also vary ingredients, and may include baked chicken, turkey as well as ham and Swiss, or may add several types of cheeses. Some restaurants combine the traditional triple-decker club sandwich of turkey, ham or bacon, and Swiss, dip in it egg and present this as a Monte Cristo. This is not the traditional sandwich, but many argue that it is an improvement. In some areas of the contiguous United States, it is served grilled; in other regions, it served as  an open sandwich with only the bread battered and the assembled sandwich heated slightly under a grill or broiler. A finished Monte Cristo tends to be topped with a small amount of powdered sugar and is most traditionally served with raspberry or strawberry jam. In some cases, maple syrup is served in place of the jam. Though many think the combination unusual, the flavors actually seem to work well together, accounting for its continued popularity for modern diners of today.

 

 

brown derby cookbookIn the 1930s–1960s, American cookbooks had recipes for this sandwich under such names as “French Sandwich”, “Toasted Ham Sandwich”, and “French Toasted Cheese “. The first know written recipe was found in the 1949 cookbook published by the Brown Derby Restaurant in Los Angeles, California. Although it may be speculated that the sandwich had been previously served at several other Los Angeles restaurants, there is no definitive evidence on its precise origins or who really invented the sandwich.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Brown_Derby_on_Wilshire_entrance_1956Opened in 1926, the original restaurant at 3427 Wilshire Boulevard was the first and most famous of these distinctive eateries, shaped like a man’s derby hat, an iconic image that became synonymous with the Golden Age of Hollywood. Whimsical architecture was popular at the time, and the restaurant was designed to catch the eye of passing motorists. The Brown Derby name originated from a Malverne, New York-based restaurant of the same name that had been a popular hang-out for vaudevillians in the 1920s. The Los Angeles based resturant was founded by Wilson Mizner as a small cafe, across the street from the popular Hollywood hot spot the Cocoanut Grove at the Ambassador Hotel. Wilson was the front man; Herbert K. Somborn, who was a former husband of film star Gloria Swanson, owned the property and movie mogul Jack L. Warner put up the money for the initial investment of the restaurant. Wilson Mizner sat in booth 50 almost every day.

The cafe was successful enough to warrant building a second branch later. Soon after its opening, the Brown Derby chain was started by Robert H. Cobb and Herbert K. Somborn. The original, derby-shaped building was moved in 1937 to 3377 Wilshire Boulevard at the northeast corner of Wilshire Boulevard and Alexandria Avenue, about a block from its previous location and directly across the street from the Ambassador Hotel.

 

 

brown derby menuOver the years, the sandwich gained great popularity in the United States in the 1960s, when the Blue Bayou restaurant in Disneyland began serving it on a regular basis. Disneyland’s version deep fried the sandwich, which some people feel results in an overly greasy result.

In September 1980, the original Brown Derby restaurant closed without warning Local preservationists unsuccessfully tried to stop the building from being bulldozed. Unfortunately, the demolition was completed in November and replaced by a parking lot. It should be noted that a Disney-backed Brown Derby national franchising program revived the brand in the 21st century and brought the Monte Cristo sandwich back to the public.

The Monte Cristo has appeared on various menus, including the Cheesecake Factory and Denny’s. I really love this old-time classic version listed here. It is the prefect sandwich for breakfast, brunch, lunch or dinner. Traditionally served with a side of jam or jelly, to make this a savory treat you can add a dab of Dijon mustard, if you like. Although this sandwich can be quartered and deep fried separately, many of the earliest recipes like this one adapted from the Brown Derby Cookbook, calls for frying the sandwich in a skillet, much like French Toast.

 

 

Serves 2

Ingredients:
2 eggs
1/4 cup whole milk
Salt, to taste
freshly ground black pepper, taste
5 tablespoons butter, softened
6 pieces thinly sliced white bread
4 thin slices cooked turkey
4 thin slices cooked ham
4 thin slices Swiss cheese or Gruyere Cheese
Confectioners’ sugar, for dusting
Strawberry Jam, Raspberry Jam or Red currant jelly, for dipping

 

Directions:
To make the egg batter, lightly beat eggs and milk in a shallow bowl. Season with salt and pepper and set aside.

For each sandwich, lightly butter 3 slices of bread on both sides. Place 2 slices of turkey and 2 of ham between 2 slices of bread. Top with 2 slices of cheese and add last slice of bread.

Trim crusts, secure with toothpicks, and cut in half on the diagonal.
Melt 2 tablespoons of the butter in a large cast iron skillet over medium heat.

Dip sandwich halves, top and bottom, in the egf batter. When butter foams, place sandwiches in skillet and fry until golden brown, about 2 minutes.

Add remaining 2 tablespoons butter to skillet, turn sandwiches, and fry for 2 minutes more.

Transfer to plates, sprinkle with confectioners’ sugar, and serve with jam or jelly.


Kale Pesto Grilled Cheese

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These ooey, gooey grilled cheese sandwiches use four (count ’em, four) types of cheese: shredded mozzarella, shredded provolone, fresh mozzarella, and Parmesan. They’re sandwiched between toasted brioche with a vibrant basil-kale pesto. Embrace your inner kid and dunk the sandwiches in the warm marinara sauce (that’s exactly what we did).

Adapted from Plated.com
2019

Serves 2

Ingredients:
olive oil
2 ounces curly kale
1/4 ounce basil
1 lemon
4 ounces fresh mozzarella
1 clove garlic
2 tablespoons pine nuts
1 ounce grated Parmesan cheese
3/4 teaspoon dried oregano
One 8-ounce jar marinara sauce
4 slices brioche
1 ounce shredded mozzarella
1 ounce shredded provolone cheese blend

Directions:
Preheat oven to 425ºF.

Rinse all produce. Roughly chop or tear kale leaves, discarding long stems. Pick basil leaves, discarding stems. Halve lemon. Thinly slice mozzarella. Mince garlic.

To make kale pesto, add to a blender or food processor, combine pine nuts, kale, basil, half of garlic, 1 tablespoon water, and 2 tablespoons olive oil; pulse until smooth. Stir in half of Parmesan, 1 squeeze lemon juice, ½ teaspoon salt, and pepper as desired. Set kale pesto aside.

Heat 2 teaspoons olive oil in a medium high-sided pan over medium heat. When oil is shimmering, add oregano and remaining garlic and sauté until fragrant, about 1 minute. Increase heat to medium high and add marinara sauce. Simmer, stirring, until warmed through and flavors have melded, 6-8 minutes more. Season with ½ teaspoon salt and pepper as desired. Remove pan from heat; cover and set aside until ready to use.

While marinara simmers, drizzle olive oil over 1 side of bread slices. Arrange oil-side up on a baking sheet and bake until beginning to crisp, 2 minutes, then flip. Spread kale pesto over plain sides of bread slices and top with shredded mozzarella and provolone, then remaining Parmesan, then mozzarella slices. Return to oven and bake until cheeses are melted and bread is golden, 3-4 minutes more.

Close sandwiches, pressing to adhere. Return to oven and bake until tops of sandwiches are golden, 1-2 minutes.

To serve, cut kale pesto grilled cheese in half on a diagonal. Divide marinara sauce between small bowls and serve with sandwiches for dipping.


Grilled Ham and Cheese with Strawberry-Red-Wine Jam

 

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The secret to Chris Kronner’s delectable sandwiches is the jam spiked with Pinot Noir. Kronner got the idea when he was helping Elisabeth Prueitt test jam recipes while they drank wine.

 

Adapted from Chris Kronner
Food & Wine
April 2010

Serves 4

Ingredients:
Eight 1/4-inch-thick slices of brioche
1/2 cup strawberry jam mixed with 2 tablespoons of Pinot Noir
8 thin slices of baked ham
8 thin slices of Gruyère cheese
Softened unsalted butter

Directions:
Heat a large griddle. Spread 4 of the brioche slices with the jam. Top each slice of bread with 2 slices of the ham and 2 slices of the Gruyère and close the sandwiches. Lightly butter the outside of the sandwiches and fry the sandwiches over moderate heat until toasted and the cheese is melted, 2 minutes per side. Cut in half and serve right away.