How did le Croque-Monsieur get its name?

ham and cheese sandwich the croque monsieur at the grocery storeLe croque-monsieur (croak-missyou) is THE real French sandwich. It is not just a ham and cheese sandwich made with two pieces of bread. It is toasted and it is famous. Le croque-monsieur is one particular sandwich that has made it’s way from the brasserie and bistro to the microwave in France.

Diners take photos of meals exquisitely arranged on the plate. Not many take a photo of a sandwich. These foods, however, do share something in common. They are available in the refrigerated section of the grocery store. I could not believe my eyes when I saw a wide variety of croque-monsieur flavors in the same refrigerated case as Joël Robuchon’s ready made meals.

Probably anticipating my lust for French history and knowledge, the metro daily, Direct Matin, one day answered the question: Literally translated: “Why is le croque-monsieur” called that?”

The legendary croque-monsieur was born in Paris at the brasserie on Boulevard des Capucines in 1901. The legend began with Michel Lunarca, a bistro owner. Having no more baguette for his crusty sandwich of the day, Monsieur Lunarca decided to bake a loaf of “pain de mie”. Lightly baked, the bread keeps the crustiness of the baguette. When one of his customers asked about the origin of the ham, he responded, “Cést la ‘viande de monsieur’!” (“It’s that guys’ ham!”–probably referring to the local butcher or farmer.) Et Voilà!

One well known brand of “pain de mie” is Poilâne. Poilâne’s signature loaf is made of 4 ingredients: sourdough, stoneground wheat flour, water and sea salt from Guérande. When you go to a brasserie for le croque-monsieur or madame (with the egg on top), I recommend looking on the menu that the brasserie uses Poilâne or an equivalent.

The free newspaper in the metro, Direct Matin, is a source of the latest morning world and French news. Published weekdays, one column particularly interests me: “Pourquoi….“. (Why this, why that … )

Occassionally, the why’s are French related: Why is the rooster a symbol of France and not the eagle? or Why is there a prize in the annual galette de rois pastry?

I hope you enjoy the periodic translations of the morning “Pourquoi…” column and it brightens you day.

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