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November 29, 2017

GRILLED: French ‘Croque Monsieur’ vs Spanish ‘Bikini’

by Julieta Lucca

There’s something about toasted sandwiches that’s incredibly comforting.

It’s probably the melted, stringy cheese and the buttery golden crust of the bread that is just so utterly calorific that it literally warms you up from the inside out.

Picture this, it’s a slightly rainy, foggy afternoon. It’s 2 pm and you haven’t eaten yet. Outrage! 

A quick scan of the fridge and as you close it disheartened, you remember that beautiful couple of slices of day-old sourdough waiting for you in the cupboard.

It’s easy from here, you know what to do. Grab the mustard, the butter, sea salt, a couple slices of ham and the cheese, your trusty (and slightly rusty) cast iron pan and steak press and you are on your way to one of the best, grilled sandwiches known to man.

Unlike other stories, this one ends well. Nothing can ever ruin the satisfaction of a grilled cheese sandwich because they are literally one the best things that have come out of humanity, and there are not many.

The French call their toasties Croque Monsieur. The Spanish call their Bikini. Both embody comfort food like no other dish. The French take it even a step further, simply add a perfectly round fried egg on top of a Croque Monsieur and turn it into a Croque Madame. Not to mention the countless other combinations, including my favourite, Croque Tartiflette, which includes slices of potato combined with Reblochon cheese. Oh, mama!

I decided not to bore you with historical facts like who came up with it first, where it originates from, yada, yada, yada. Because knowing these facts is pretty pointless. What really earns you some “excellent person” points is knowing how to make an outstanding Croque Monsieur or a Bikini.

the croque monsieur / madame

🕑 15 minutes

  • 80g gruyère
  • 80g matured cheddar
  • 40g ham
  • 1 tbsp whole grain mustard
  • 2 slices sourdough
  • 40g unsalted butter
  • salt + pepper

Method

– Spread a light layer of wholegrain mustard on the inside of the sandwich. Top with a layer of ham followed by a thick layer of cheese. Feel free to add as much cheese as you like.

– Pre-heat your cast iron pan over a medium heat. While the pan is heating up, salt and pepper the inside. Then close your sandwich and make sure you press it together tightly.

– Add half the butter to the pan and distribute evenly. Then place the sandwich on the pan to cook. If you have a steak press, put it on top of the sandwich to help flatten it further.

– Cook for a minute and a half or so, then lift it up with a spatula to check there’s an even toast throughout the slice. If it’s not quite there yet, leave it to toast on that same side for half a minute more. Check again before flipping.

– Before flipping to toast the other side, pick up the sandwich with a spatula and add the remaining butter to the pan to melt. Then flip the sandwich and toast the other side for another minute and a half / two minutes.

– Serve with a light salad and a glass of wine for the ultimate French lunch.

To turn a Croque Monsieur into a Croque Madame, simply add a fried egg on top.

BIKINI

🕑 15 minutes

  • 80g gruyère
  • 80g matured cheddar
  • 40g ham
  • 1 tbsp whole grain mustard
  • 2 slices white loaf bread
  • 40g unsalted butter
  • salt + pepper

– To make a Spanish Bikini, begin by taking two slices of a standard white loaf and cutting the crusts.

– Spread a light layer of wholegrain mustard followed by a layer of ham.

– Top with grated cheese and remember you can add as much as you want.

– Pre-heat your cast iron pan over a medium heat. While the pan is heating up, salt and pepper the inside. Then close your sandwich and make sure you press it together tightly.

– Add half the butter to the pan and distribute evenly. Then place the sandwich on the pan to cook. Bikinis are traditionally quite flat, so a steak press comes in handy if you don’t have one just use a spatula.

– Cook for a minute, then lift it up with a spatula to check there’s an even toast throughout the slice. If it’s not quite there yet, leave it to toast on that same side for half a minute more. Check again before flipping.

– Before flipping to toast the other side, pick up the sandwich with a spatula and add the remaining butter to the pan to melt. Then flip the sandwich and toast the other side for another minute and a half / two minutes and continue pressing with your steak press or spatula.

– When done, remove from the heat and cut in a diagonal.

our verdict

The French Croque Monsieur/Madame – (3.5 / 5)

Contrary to what it may seem, the Croque Monsieur and the Bikini are two very different sandwiches.

The Croque Monsieur has a more rustic approach, and even though all the flavours work harmoniously, the sourdough has a tendency to overcome everything else by toning all the other flavours down.

The addition of the egg that turns the original Croque Monsieur into a Croque Madame is a lovely touch.

The Spanish Bikini – (4 / 5)

The Bikini is extremely thin and flat, which at first sight, looks like a thin wafer rather than a sandwich. If done right, all the components should become one, alternatively, if the sandwich is not pressed fully, you still get a slight sponginess from the white loaf, tasty nonetheless.

The main difference is how the flavours of the ham and bread click together seamlessly. It just tastes better. Even though both are great toasted sandwiches, they have distinctly different flavours.

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