Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Classic Monte Cristo of Black Forest Ham and Mushrooms

A classic monte cristo with mushrooms!

     Long gone, but not forgotten!  The monte cristo sandwich was once one of the most popular sandwiches in America.  The monte cristo first became popular in the 1930's.  Monte cristo sandwiches were on nearly every American small restaurant and diner menu till about the 1980's.  
     My second cooking job was at a tropical hotel kitchen.  I was a busgirl in the dining room at the restaurant and the cook quit.  Shortly after the cook walked off of the job, the kitchen manager asked me if I wanted to learn breakfast and lunch cooking.  I responded by asking if the job paid better than bussing tables and the answer was yes.  The kitchen manager was a seasoned US Navy cook who had prepared food at the San Diego naval base for over 15,000 people each meal.  The kitchen manager knew every trick in the book for cooking food efficiently and fast.  This guy was a great cook!  There was no better cook to learn short order breakfast and lunch cooking from.  He trained me to be a very fast efficient cook in short time.  I had to be fast, because the hotel was also a Greyhound bus station and 1 or 2 busloads of hungry customers arrived everyday.  I was able to handle an entire kitchen by myself and cook for 40 to 180 customers each shift.  Nobody waited more than a few minutes for their food!
     Breaking in as a short order cook in a diner atmosphere is how many chefs start their career.  It is a great way to learn how to cook fast and efficient.  It is also a great way to learn how to cook basic menu items that always sell, like the monte cristo.  To this day, there are very conservative people that never dine on fancy food.  This type of customer usually frequents old fashioned diners and they only order simple classic entrees.  This kind of customer refers to a club sandwich or monte cristo as being something fancy to eat!  
     Later in my career, sometime in the late 1980's, I often took short order cooking jobs, when no other work was available.  I noticed that monte cristo sandwiches were no longer on the menu at many diners.  When I asked a kitchen manager at one restaurant about the missing monte cristo on the menu, the response I got was just plain ignorant.  The kitchen manager said that monte cristos were taken off of the menu, because they were too messy to make!  I just kind of looked at the kitchen manager and thought to myself that this jerk really does not know his head from a hole in the ground and he probably is a natural slob cook that does not know the classic techniques for making a monte cristo the right way.  
     Yet at another restaurant, a few years later, I worked for 4 idiot brothers from Chicago who were once night club owners, turned drug addicts, who later went semi sober and opened a diner.  These guys did everything wrong, period!  They even refused to pay with a paycheck, so there would be no employee records, therfore they could hire and fire as business went up and down.  Business went steadily down for those guys and deservedly so.  When I asked why there was no monte cristo on the menu, the answer was the same old response of it is too messy to make.  When a customer ordered a club sandwich off of the menu one day, one of the idiot brothers refused to allow the order to be cooked.  His reason for the denial was that club sandwiches are too messy and they take too much time to prepare.  Obviously, the 4 idiot brothers had problems with making a simple club sandwich and a monte cristo was way beyond their capability.  They had hollandaise on the menu, but they purchased pre-made cryovac hollandaise sauce, because they could not even make a basic mother sauce.  
     The low quality of cooks had a lot to do with why the monte cristo disappeared from menus.  Many new cooks are not properly trained and they are just slammed into a spot on a cooking line, then told to go at it.  The low quality of kitchen managers and restaurant owners who were not really restaurateurs in the late 1900's was the fatal blow for the classic monte cristo sandwich.  The health food craze also had a lot to do with the disappearance of the monte cristo.
     A couple years ago, I posted a standard American diner monte cristo recipe.  That monte cristo was made with ham, turkey and swiss cheese.  No powdered sugar and no condiments for the sandwich were on the plate.  That was a plain jane American diner style monte cristo version that many modern food writers mistakenly describe as a regional version of this sandwich.  Regional version?  It was the American diner standard!
     In that monte cristo recipe article, I mentioned that monte cristos were a good candidate for being part of the recent trend of retro gourmet sandwich creations.  I also mentioned that I would post some gourmet monte cristo sandwich creations in the future.  Today is the day!  Instead of going bonkers and making a bizarre monte cristo, I decided to make a monte cristo version that was popular in the 1930's.  
     The original early monte cristo sandwiches were made with only ham and good cheese.  American black forest ham is a nicely seasoned ham that is in no way like the original German Black Forest Ham.  Even so, American black forest ham does taste nice.  Mushrooms were often added to monte cristos in the 1930's.  Gruyere or emmentaler (swiss cheese) were the original cheese options for a monte cristo.  Powdered sugar was sprinkled over a monte cristo.  The sandwich was always served with fruit preserves or jam.  I had no jam or fruit preserves when I made this sandwich, because I have not made any jellies or jams recently, so I made a healthy side of cannellini beans for the plate.  
     By the way, I made this monte cristo at the Le Cordon Bleu campus restaurant as my own employee meal.  The exective culinary instructor chef took one look and said that it had been decades since he has seen a monte cristo sandwich.  I thought to myself that the chef was going to confiscate my meal for himself, like so many chefs do when they see what I cook as an employee meal.  I cannot help if chefs like my cooking!  I got lucky, because the chef was busy cooking a meal for himself, when I made this monte cristo.  That old expression of "Never trust a skinny chef" is false.  Good chefs are skinny, because other chefs abscond their good looking food!  Ce est la vie!   

     Cannellini Beans with Tomato and Herbs:
     Heat a small sauce pot over medium heat.
     Add 1/2 tablespoon of olive oil.
     Add 1 pat of unsalted butter.
     Add 1/2 of a minced garlic clove.
     Add 1 tablespoon of minced onion.
     Saute till the onion turns clear in color.
     Add 3 to 4 small tomato wedges.
     Saute till the tomato wedges start to become tender.
     Add 1 cup of rinsed cooked cannellini beans or rinsed canned cannellini beans.
     Add 1 cup of chicken stock.
     Add sea salt and black pepper.
     Add 4 pinches of mixed chopped fresh herbs.  Thyme, oregano, basil, chives and Italian parsley are a nice choice!
     Bring the liquid to a gentle boil.
     Reduce the temperature to low heat.
     Simmer and reduce, till very little liquid remains in the pot.
     Keep the cannellini warm on stove top.

     Classic Monte Cristo of Black Forest Ham and Mushrooms: 
     A monte cristo is best when it is pan fried in a saute pan!  
     Heat a saute pan over medium heat.
     Add 2 pats of unsalted butter.
     Add 1/4 cup of sliced button cave mushrooms.
     Add sea salt and black pepper.
     Saute till the mushrooms become tender.
     Set the mushrooms aside.
     Heat a saute pan over medium heat.
     Add 2 pats of butter.
     Add 4 to 5 ounces of medium thick sliced American black forest ham.
     Saute the ham, till it becomes hot and light brown highlights appear. 
     Keep the ham warm on a stove top.
     Place 2 slices of pullman bread on a countertop.
     Place a few slices of gruyere or swiss cheese on each slice of bread.
     Place the warm ham on one slice of the bread.
     Place the sauteed mushrooms on the ham.
     Place the two sandwich halves together.
     Whisk 2 eggs in a mixing bowl.  
     Add sea salt and white pepper.
     Add 3 pinches of mixed chopped fresh thyme, oregano, chives and Italian parsley.
     Stir the egg was ingredients together.
     Heat a large non-stick or seasoned saute pan over medium/medium low heat.
     Add 5 pats of unsalted butter.
     Dip both sides of the sandwich in the egg wash.
     Place the sandwich in the hot butter.
     Saute both sides of the sandwich, till it becomes a golden color.
     Place the saute pan and sandwich in a 350 degree oven.
     Bake till the sandwich turns a golden brown color.
     Place the monte cristo on a cutting board and cut the sandwich in half.
     Place the sandwich halves on a plate.
     Sprinkle powdered sugar over the sandwich.
     Serve with a ramekin of fruit preserves or a jam of your choice.  (This is not pictured above in the photographs, but fruit preserves always accompanied the original monte cristo.)
     Place the cannellini beans with tomato and herbs on the plate.

     Classic!  This old time version of the monte cristo with good ham and mushrooms is great for a chilly day.  Yum!  ...  Shawna 

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