Firm, thin slices of pullman bread work best for the sandwiches of this elegant first course. Chef Eric Ripert suggests using American paddlefish caviar or even salmon roe for the center of each croque monsieur.
The sandwiches can be assembled (except for the caviar) -- but not warmed -- up to 2 hours in advance. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate.
- For the croque monsieur
- 12 ounces Gruyere cheese
- 18 1/2-inch-thick slices pullman bread or good-quality white bread
- 18 ounces thinly sliced smoked salmon
- 2 tablespoons finely chopped chives
- 6 ounces American caviar
- 16 tablespoons (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature (soft enough for brushing)
- For the dressing
- 1/2 cup crème fraîche
- 2 teaspoons prepared horseradish
- 1 teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice, plus more for sprinkling on the apple
- 2 small shallots, finely minced (1 1/2 teaspoons)
- Water, as needed
- Fine sea salt
- Freshly ground black pepper
- For the salad
- 3 cups baby watercress, washed
- 1/4 medium Granny Smith apple, peeled and cut into 2-inch matchsticks, then sprinkled with lemon juice to stop them from browning
- 1/4 English (seedless) cucumber, peeled and cut into 2-inch matchsticks
For the croque monsieur: Use a mandoline or wide vegetable peeler to cut the Gruyere cheese into very thin, almost translucent slices.
Line up the 18 bread slices close together in 2 even rows. Evenly distribute the thin slices of Gruyere cheese on 9 of the slices, covering all of the bread. Lay the thinly sliced smoked salmon on the other 9 bread slices, covering all of the bread. Sprinkle the salmon with the chives. Join the halves to form 9 sandwiches and pat down slightly. Use a serrated knife to cut off the crusts; save them for another use, if desired. (You may make the recipe, up to this point, 2 hours in advance. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate.)
To assemble: Open each sandwich and gently spoon 1/2 to 1 tablespoon caviar onto the center (on top of the smoked salmon), spreading it in a circle about 2 inches across. Gently close with the cheese side facing up; use half of the softened butter to brush the tops of the sandwiches.
Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium to medium-high heat. Working with 2 or 3 sandwiches at a time, place them in the skillet, butter side down, and cook for 2 minutes, until lightly and evenly browned on the bottom. While the sandwiches are in the skillet, brush the tops with the remaining softened butter. Use a spatula to carefully turn the sandwiches over and cook for 1 minute on the salmon side. Transfer the sandwiches to a clean cutting board.
For the dressing: Combine the creme fraiche, horseradish, lemon juice and shallots in a small, deep bowl and whisk in about 1 tablespoon of water to loosen. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
For the salad: Place the watercress, green apple and cucumber in a stainless-steel bowl. Season with fine sea salt and freshly ground pepper and drizzle with the creme fraiche dressing. Divide the salad evenly, placing a small mound at the side of individual salad plates and making sure that sticks of apple and cucumber are evenly distributed.
To assemble: Carefully cut the croque monsieurs on the diagonal, twice, to form 4 small triangles (being careful not to squish out their filling). Arrange 3 triangles on each plate, next to the salad. Serve immediately.
From chef Eric Ripert.
Tested by Bonnie S. Benwick.
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