Croque Monsieur with Poached Eggs

INGREDIENTS: good bread
3 to 4 slices good ham
grated gruyère, Comté or Swiss cheese
fresh thyme leaves

For the béchamel:
1 tablespoons butter
1/4 to 1/2 medium onion
kosher salt
1 tablespoons flour
1 cup whole milk
1 bayleaf

For the poached eggs:
2 eggs
splash of white vinegar

INSTRUCTIONS: 1. First, prepare pot for eggs and make the béchamel. For the eggs: Fill a shallow saucepan with two to three inches water and bring to a simmer. For the béchamel: In a medium saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter. Add the onion and a pinch of salt and cook about 5 to 7 minutes or until the onion is soft but has not begun to color. Turn the heat to very low, add the flour, and stir to combine it with the onion and butter. Continue to cook over low heat until the flour is absorbed, stirring constantly so that it doesn’t brown, about 2 minutes or so. Slowly stir in the milk. Drop in the bay leaf.

2. Over medium to medium-high heat, bring the mixture to a boil then reduce the heat to its lowest setting and cook for about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally to prevent the sauce from burning on the bottom of the pan. Taste and cook longer if the taste of raw flour is still detectable. The mixture should be thick, but if it’s too thick and becoming difficult to stir, you’ll need to whisk in a little more milk. Remove the bay leaf and discard.

3. Meanwhile, preheat the broiler. Place the slices of bread on a rack on a sheet pan (or a broiling pan) and broil them about a minute on each side. Remove pan from the oven.

4. Spread about 1 tablespoon of béchamel over each slice of bread. Top with 1 to 2 slices of ham. Top with grated cheese to taste. Set aside.

5. Crack each egg into a small bowl or ramekin. Sprinkle about a tablespoon of vinegar into the pot of simmering shallow water. Adjust the heat so that the water is barely simmering — get the water to a simmer, then turn it down so you don’t see any bubbles. Use the handle of a wooden spoon to make a whirlpool in the water, then drop one egg into the center of the whirlpool. Repeat with other egg. Adjust the heat to keep the water just below a simmer. Set the timer for 3 minutes.

6. When the eggs have cooked for 3 minutes, place croque monsieurs under the broiler and cook until the cheese is bubbling and starting to brown. Remove from the oven. Sprinkle with the fresh thyme.

7. Meanwhile, using a slotted spoon, lift one egg up from the water and shake it. The yolk should jiggle a little bit, but shouldn’t look too loose. You might have to cook the eggs for a minute longer. Note: Knowing when poached eggs are done is just a matter of practice and preference — personally I don’t like the yolk to taste raw, but I still like it runny, and for this consistency, I usually have to cook the eggs for about 4 to 5 minutes. When the eggs look cooked to your liking, remove them with a slotted spoon and transfer to a paper towel-lined plate.

8. Top each sandwich with a poached egg. Sprinkle with a pinch of salt and freshly cracked pepper to taste.

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