I'm a great believer in doing simple things well. This is far better than doing complicated things badly. The Croque Monsieur is a case in point. I've very recently eaten one (or more accurately, a Croque Madame) at Boulestin, and my God, it was good: perfectly fried brioche, creamy Emmental (or Gruyère) cheese, Béchamel Sauce, salty juicy ham and a fried egg. It's a fabulous classic- very much the sort of thing The Greasy Spoon approves of- and champions.
Not that you've forgotten, the "Monsieur" is essentially a fried cheese and ham sandwich, and the "Madame" is more of the same, except it's topped with a fried egg. The egg is supposed to look like a fashionable woman's hat (knowing the French, isn't there a far more obvious explanation?), and according to Wikipedia (so it must be true) only dates back to around 1960. In Normandy the "Madame" is known as a croque-à-cheval. The strange thing is that experts think that the "Mister" only made its first appearance on a Parisian cafe menu in 1910. The earliest mention seems to have been in Marcel Proust's "A Remembrance of Things Past", published in 1918.
But how to make the perfect Croque Monsieur? I turned to Dining with Proust, a luxurious coffee-table book published in 1992. Splendid book, but no recipe. There was another book, "Dining with Marcel Proust", but I haven't- as yet- got it and it's currently on my amazon wish list.
I had better luck with the New Larousse Gastronomique:
Cut slices from a fresh or stale loaf. Spread with butter on one side, and lay a thin slice of Gruyère cheese on top, with a slice of lean ham on top of that. Close the sandwich and fry until golden in clarified butter.
Ginette Mathiot's I Know How To Cook says:
Cut the (stale) bread into thin, evenly shaped slices. Spread all the slices with some of the butter and sprinkle with the cheese. Put a piece of ham on half the bread slices. Cover each one with a buttered slice. Tie together with kitchen string. Melt the remaining butter in a frying pan over a moderate heat. Add the croque-monsieurs and brown for 4 minutes on each side. Remove the string and serve.
But how did Boulestin make theirs? The bread tasted very similar to a brioche and I suspect that this was fried in butter very carefully- to avoid burning. I'm not exactly sure what cheese they used, but it may well have been Emmental- which had been grated into a creamy Béchamel sauce. Personally, I'm keen on the "Mrs". I like the way you cut into the fried egg, and the soft, runny yolk oozes over the fried bread.