If the French croque monsieur and the American grilled cheese had a child, it would be the Monte Cristo: a sandwich filled with cheese and sliced meat, battered and often deep-fried. (It is American, after all.) The retro dish pops up now and then at diners, taverns and such chains as the Cheesecake Factory and Bennigan’s, where in March it was possible to win its “World Famous Monte Cristos” for a year.
According to the Oxford Encyclopedia of Food and Drink in America, the sandwich was first mentioned in 1923, in an American restaurant industry publication. While its origin story and the source of the name are unknown, historians generally agree that the dish comes from California. Despite its murky beginnings, the hefty sandwich continues to be popular, especially for brunch.
1. Bread: According to a recipe in the 1949 “Brown Derby Cookbook,” three slices of white bread are to be used to make a double-decker sandwich. We’ve found it’s more common to use two slices and a single layer of filling. As for breads, take your pick, but some popular choices are: sourdough, soft white bread and whole grain.
2. Batter: You’re likely to find the sandwich battered and deep-fried, (beer batter or a “beerlike” batter, minus the beer). Some versions are more like French toast, with challah coated in an egg batter and griddled. Some are layers of French toast.
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3. Cheese: Swiss cheese is traditional, though cheddar, Monterey Jack and Gruyere are sometimes used. Recipes can get creative fillings such bechamel and whole-grain mustard or whole-grain mustard sauce, tomatoes and caramelized onions.
4. Meat: As with a croque monsieur, the meat of choice is sliced ham. Turkey is often added. (Swap in tongue as the meat — we assume beef tongue, but it’s not specified — and you’ve got a Monte Carlo, writes Helen Brown in her 1991 “West Coast Cook Book.”)
5. Sweet: Strawberry or raspberry jam is a typical accompaniment, for dipping. You could also try a side of grape jelly, or breakfast syrup. A dusting of confectioner’s sugar is another frequent addition.