When thinking of the name “Monte Cristo”, what comes to mind? The Count of Monte Cristo? The Monte Cristo? The quest for the Holy Grail… wait a second, that’s Monte Python! On the tastier side of things, the most tantalizing of these is the Monte Cristo Sandwich. The Monte Cristo is a delicious sandwich served in delis and restaurants across the world. Known for its savory layers of Swiss cheese and ham, turkey or chicken. This deli delight is far and away a cheese lover’s dream sandwich.
What exactly is the Monte Cristo sandwich?
While the Monte Cristo sandwich tends to vary from
restaurant to restaurant or from deli to deli, the general blueprint consists of two slices of white bread containing ham, turkey, or chicken, and slices of Swiss Cheese which are dipped in beaten egg and fried in butter. A classic Monte Cristo sandwich should come with a side of jelly in which you have the option to dip your sandwich for the best Monte Cristo Sandwich experience.
What is the origin of the Monte Cristo Sandwich?
1910s… Most culinary experts believed that the Monte Cristo Sandwich is a variation of a French dish called Croque Monsieur, a grilled cheese sandwich consisting of Gruyere cheese and lean ham layered between two slices of crust-less bread, fried in clarified butter and made in a special grilling iron with two metal plates. Croque Monsieur was served for the first time in a Parisian cafe.
1930s to 1960s… American cookbooks published in this time period showcased this sandwich under a myriad of names including… French Sandwich, Toasted Ham Sandwich and French Toasted Cheese Sandwich, all sounding delicious, but lacking a truly unique sandwich identity.
1950s… This sandwich was first served under the name “The Monte Cristo” in southern California in the 1950s
1966… Disneyland made its contributions to the ever-surging Monte Cristo Sandwich. It appeared on their menu at the Blue Bayou and Tahitian Terrace restaurants in New Orleans’s Square in Disneyland.
Ever since, the Monte Cristo Sandwich has made leaps and bounds in culinary notoriety becoming one of the most delicious sandwiches of our time and finding its place on menus of restaurants, delis, and other sandwich shops, nationally and internationally.
How to make the Monte Cristo…
- 12 slices firm-textured white bread
- 12 slices Swiss cheese, each about 1/8″ thick
- 6 slices cooked ham, each 1/8 to 1/4″ thick
- 6 slices cooked turkey, each 1/8 to 1/4″ thick
- 3 eggs
- 1/4 cup half-and-half, light cream or milk
- Dash of salt
- 3 to 5 tablespoons butter or margarine
- Powdered sugar
- Parsley sprigs
- Red currant jelly
Thinly spread one side of each bread slice with mayonnaise. Then assemble 6 sandwiches, using 2 slices of cheese, one slice of ham, and one slice of turkey for each sandwich. Trim bread crusts and filling with sharp knife, making edges of sandwiches even; cut each sandwich in half diagonally.
In a shallow dish, beat eggs, half-and-half, and salt until blended. Places sandwiches in mixture and turn to coat; then let stand, turning occasionally, until all liquid is absorbed. Melt about 3 tablespoons of the butter in a wide frying pan over a medium heat. Add as many sandwiches as will fit without crowding; cook, turning once, until lightly browned on both sides. Remove from pan. Repeat with remaining sandwiches, adding more butter to pan as needed.
Place the sandwiches on an ungreased baking sheet and bake in a 400° oven until cheese is melted (3 to 5 minutes). Dust with powdered sugar and garnish with parsley sprigs. Serve hot, accompanied with jelly. Makes 6 sandwiches.
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.