It’s never too cold to grill. These smoky grilled croque madame sandwiches featuring applewood smoked ham are reason enough pull your charcoal grill out and get busy. Yes, summer has been heralded as “Grilling Season”, but I love to pour a chimney full of blazing hot coals into my Weber any day of the year. There’s something about the way burning chunks of smoky wood billows in the air, clashing beautifully with the cold air that makes fall and winter grilling really dope.
Grilling and/or smoking a croque madame isn’t typical, but that doesn’t mean it’s not delicious. You’re going to do most of the cooking over indirect heat, but grill the bread quickly over direct heat so it get’s nice and toasty. Do you have to do this on the grill? Absolutely not, but it’s a great project if you’ve got time. I used applewood wood chunks and it infused the whole sandwich with a very palatable smoked flavor. The sliced ham getting a pre-grill treatment made it even tastier.
What is a Croque Madame?
It’s a fancy french version of our super regular and boring ham and cheese sandwich. They typically use gruyere or comte cheese, and pour a creamy béchamel sauce (technically a mornay once cheese is added) over the entire sandwich, and top it with a fried egg. The egg’less version is called a croque monsieur, and it’s just as delicious. Any swiss cheese will work. Honestly, any cheese will work. Some people make theirs with turkey or chicken instead of ham. I’m keeping it semi-traditional by using grilled slices of applewood smoked ham.
This is not a pick-up-and-eat sandwich. You fork and knife the croque madame. It’s rich, creamy, smoky, dreamy, cheesy, buttery — all things that are just so bad they’re good. Add in a jammy yolk fried egg and you’ve got pure sandwich bliss.
Light a large chimney starter filled three-quarters with charcoal and burn until coals are covered with layer of fine gray ash, about 20 minutes or so. Bank coals on one side of the grill and place the applewood wood chunks on top of the burning coals. You should have a direct heat side, and a cooler indirect heat side. Place cooking grate over coals cover grill, and heat about 10 minutes. Scrape cooking grate clean with grill brush, and wipe a thin layer of vegetable oil over the grates with a paper towel held by tongs. Grill is ready when you can only hold your hand 5 inches above grate for 2 to 3 seconds.
Meanwhile, prepare the bechamel/mornay sauce. In a medium saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the shallots and garlic, and cook for 1 minute. Pour in the flour and whisk until a somewhat thick paste forms, about a minute. Add the half and half, and continue whisking until the flour is fully incorporated and dissolved into the liquid. Stir frequently as the mixture beings to thicken enough to coat the back of a spoon, about 2 to 3 minutes. Turn off the heat and add the cheeses, nutmeg, salt, pepper, and fresh thyme. Fold everything together until the cheese is melted. Pour sauce into a bowl, cover with plastic wrap and set aside to cool.
Place the ham over the direct heat and allow it to sizzle and char slightly, about a minute or two. Flip over and repeat. Remove ham when it’s heated thru and set aside. Place a large cast iron skillet over the indirect heat side of the grill to get hot slowly while you build your sandwiches.
Butter one side of each slice of bread. Spread thin layer of dijon mustard on unbuttered slices of bread. Sprinkle a light pinch of black pepper over the dijon mustard. Layer equal amounts of cheese over 3 slices of the dijon-spread bread, then place 2 to 3 slices of ham on top of the cheese. Sprinkle equal amounts of remaining cheese on top of the ham, followed by a pinch of fresh thyme. Close the sandwiches and take them to the grill. Place each sandwich in the cast iron skillet. Push the skillet over to the hot side of the grill to toast the bread and get it lightly golden brown. Flip each sandwich to repeat. Bring the skillet back over to the indirect heat side of the grill. Spread a desired amount of the cooled béchamel sauce over the tops of each sandwich. Close the lid and allow the indirect heat to penetrate the sandwiches and melt the cheese. Open the ventilation holes on the lid of the grill making sure they’re positioned over the indirect heat side so that the smoke is drawn through the sandwiches.
Meanwhile, fry 3 large eggs in a generous amount of olive oil over medium-low heat. Do this part in your kitchen if you don’t have enough room on your grill. Season with salt and pepper. Cook to desired doneness.
Place fried eggs on top of the sandwiches when the cheese sauce starts to blister and brown in spots.
Use any cheese here. Try Jarlsberg, Comte, or even Cheddar. You can also use sliced cheese instead of shredded for the sandwiches.
You can use any wood to smoke.
Prep Time:30 minutes
Cook Time:15 minutes
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