Croque monsieur with leftover Christmas ham

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Christmas has been and gone and no doubt many of you will be stuck with a fridge-load of Christmas ham! I understand your predicament, so have created a recipe to use up that luscious load of protein, and it can be eaten at breakfast, lunch or dinner! This is my take on Croque monsieur, an addictive French dish with juicy Christmas ham, sandwiched between thick, crusty bread and smothered in a bechamel sauce. Many Arrowtown dwellers will have tried this magnificent dish at Bonjour restaurant, something I still miss being able to do on a lazy Sunday morning since its closing! Merry Christmas to you all, have a safe and happy new year and holiday and let’s say goodbye to this peculiar, exceptionally-challenging year and welcome in a new year with a bang. Enjoy!

PREP TIME:  7 MINS

COOK TIME:  15 MINS

SERVES:  4 PEOPLE

INGREDIENTS

BECHAMEL SAUCE
300ml milk
1 small onion, halved
1 bay leaf
2 cloves
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
50g butter
50g flour

FOR THE SANDWICH
8 slices Christmas ham (or enough for 4 sandwiches)
8 thick slices of bread
1 cup grated Gruyere cheese (or just use what you have in the fridge)
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard per sandwich (optional)

METHOD
1. Pre-heat the oven to 210degC.

2. Gently bring the milk up to a simmer with the halved onion, cloves, bay leaf and nutmeg. As soon as it reaches a simmer, remove from heat and let it infuse for about 15 mins. Drain through a sieve once infused.

3. In another pot, melt the butter on a medium heat, then stir in the flour. Stir the roux continuously for about two mins.

4. Remove from the heat, and slowly pour in about half of the milk, stirring vigorously so it doesn’t become lumpy. If it does, just grab a whisk and whisk out the lumps. Place back on the heat, and continue adding in a bit more milk, then stirring again until thickening, then add some more until all the milk has been used.

5. Cook for another 5 mins, constantly stirring until the sauce is nice and thick. Season with salt and pepper. Set aside to let it cool — it will thicken more.

6. Take an oven tray and line with baking paper.

7. Next, toast the sliced bread in the toaster. Take four slices of the bread, and spread over the Dijon (if using) then a good heaped tablespoon of the bechamel sauce. Next, layer each slice with the leftover Christmas ham. Sprinkle just a little cheese over each before placing the remaining four slices on top of each piece.

8. Smother the top-side of the bread with about 1cm of bechamel sauce (more if you’re feeling a little decadent), then sprinkle evenly with the Gruyere cheese.

9. Place onto the baking tray and cook for 10-15 mins, until the cheese is brown and bubbling. Serve immediately.

NB:If you want to turn this into Croque madame, simply add a fried egg on top!