One of my favorite sandwiches of all time has always been the Monte Cristo, a toasted turkey, ham, and swiss sandwich with a touch of elegance. I initially discovered it at Bennigan’s. I later tried several versions at Diners along the East Coast. The one thing that I noticed was that you must use the proper ingredients to make a great Monte Cristo. There is a delicate balance between sweet and salty, and skimping on the ingredients can throw the whole balance off and turn it into a boring ham and cheese sandwich.
So I did my research and found the following to be the best recipe for a delicious and elegant Monte Cristo. Most restaurants and diners deep-fry the sandwich, but this recipe enables you to prepare it in your own kitchen.
One important element is the proper Swiss Cheese. Do not use the processed swiss you find in the grocery store. One recipe I found even called for Gruyere. But that can be expensive and is a little sharp for my palate in this particular recipe. Amish Swiss cheese from Ohio’s Amish country works perfectly. The same rule goes for the meats. Use quality smoked ham and turkey, not the discount processed meats from the grocery store. You would also be surprised to see what a big difference high quality butter can make over margarine. I prefer salted butter, but some prefer unsalted instead.
The best place for the chef to get creative is with the jam. Traditional recipes call for strawberry or raspberry jam, and I even saw one that used red currant jelly. But you can make this recipe your own by serving your favorite jam. The importance of the jam is to provide the sweet side of the contrast. Again, make sure you use a quality jam and not a grocery store jelly. If you make your own jam, even better!
Here is the recipe for the perfect Monte Cristo. Leave out the turkey and it becomes a Monte Carlo:
12 slices firm-textured white bread
12 thin slices swiss cheese
6 medium-thin slices Smoked Ham
6 medium-thin slices turkey
1/4 cup of half and half, light cream, or milk
Dash of salt
3 to 5 tbsp of butter
homestyle jam (traditionally strawberry or raspberry)
- Spread mayonnaise on one side of each bread slice and construct 6 sandwiches with 2 slices of cheese, one slice of ham, and one slice of turkey.
- Using a sharp knife, trim bread crusts and filling making sandwich edges even; cut each sandwich in half diagonally.
- Beat eggs, half and half, and salt until blended in a shallow dish. Place sandwiches in mixture and turn to coat; then let stand, turning occasionally until all liquid is absorbed.
- Melt 3 tbsp of the butter in a pan over medium heat. Add as many sandwiches as will fit without crowding. Brown lightly on both sides. Add butter to pan as needed.
- Place browned sandwiches on ungreased baking sheet and bake at 400º until cheese is melted (3 to 5 minutes)
- Sprinkle the powdered sugar onto the sandwich and garnish with parsley.
- Serve hot, accompanied by ramekin of jam. Makes 6 sandwiches.
For the more daring chef, add a dash of cinnamon and a teaspoon of vanilla extract to the egg mixture.