Sweet, salty, crispy, and custardy - our classic grilled Monte Cristo is the ultimate in hand-held comfort food! Thinly sliced ham and turkey layered between melty cheese, then battered and fried to a crispy, golden brown – I mean, what more can you ask of a sandwich?
What is a Monte Cristo Sandwich?
The makeup of a Monte Cristo varies by location and individual sandwich artist; but generally, it is a multi-layered ham, turkey, and cheese sandwich that has been dipped in a thin batter and fried golden brown.
The history of the Monte Cristo is hazy. Food experts generally consider the Monte Cristo sandwich to be a variation of an early twentieth century French Croque Monsieur, or grilled ham and cheese. The earliest official Monte Cristo recipe we could verify can be found in the Original Brown Derby Cookbook, published in 1949; however, others online claim to have found earlier versions dating back to 1924.
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Regardless of history, many of us (myself included) tasted our first Monte Cristo sandwich at the Blue Bayou Restaurant in New Orleans Square at Disneyland, where it has been a menu favorite since 1966.
Traditionally, a classic Monte Cristo comes dusted with powdered sugar and accompanied by a small service cup or ramekin of jam in which to dip the sandwich.
Is this like the Disneyland Sandwich?
Our Monte Cristo recipe is similar to that served in Disneyland; however, there are a few notable differences:
- Disneyland uses white sandwich bread; we suggest using a slightly sturdier bread.
- Disney's is dipped in a flour-based batter; ours uses an egg-based batter.
- Disney's sandwich is deep-fried; ours is grilled.
and last but not least...
- Disney serves their sandwich with blackberry jam; we suggest raspberry. (Or go crazy and serve both!!!)
Ingredients & Substitutions
The quality of any sandwich is dependent, to a great degree, on the quality of the individual ingredients used to make it. This is especially true of complex sandwiches like the Monte Cristo.
We get thinly sliced ham and turkey from the deli, but any sliced ham or turkey will work.
Choose good, quality meats, and avoid anything pressed, processed, or containing gelatin. (Scroll past the Monte Cristo recipe card below to read about our grossest culinary mishap to date!)
Tip: Monte Cristos are great for using up leftover holiday ham and turkey!
We like to use a sturdy, Texas toast-style, thick-cut bread for our Monte Cristos. Not only does it taste great on the sandwich, but it holds up to battering and frying without getting soggy. We have also used sourdough bread with great results.
Avoid using “sandwich” breads; they tend to fall apart under the pressure of battering and frying.
We attempted to make Monte Cristos with healthy, whole grain breads, but honestly, we were not impressed with the results. Of course, this is a matter of personal taste, so if you want to make your Monte Cristos with something like Dave’s Powerseed Bread (which my girls used to call "Birdseed Bread") go for it!
Monte Cristos are traditionally made with Gruyere; a creamy, nutty, slightly sweet Swiss-style cheese. However, real Gruyere can be difficult to find, so you can sub in your favorite melty cheese. (Avoid using “processed” Gruyere: it is an American imitation, and not a good one.)
We usually use Jarlsberg, which is our favorite all-around Swiss. It isn’t as melty as true Gruyere, but it packs a lot of flavor and is easier to find in our area. Other cheeses that work well with this sandwich include gouda, mozzarella, muenster, and provolone.
If you are lucky enough to have a good cheesemonger close by, stop in and ask what they might recommend.
Use real, full-fat mayonnaise. Not only does it have the flavor and consistency required, but it has a high fat content as well, which helps to seal the bread on the inside face and keeps it from getting soggy. Do not skip the mayo, even if you normally leave it off of sandwiches.
We are a Miracle Whip family: it is our preferred sandwich spread. That said, do not use MW for this sandwich. It is too sweet and will throw off the flavor of the Dijon-mayo spread, and therein the entire sandwich.
A smooth, mild Dijon is traditionally used for the sauce. Spicy brown mustard and honey mustard are also both good choices, especially if Dijon isn’t your favorite.
Almost any type of milk will work with this recipe. We have used whole milk, 1%, almond milk, and even an almond-coconut blend, all with good results.
How to Make a Classic Monte Cristo
In a small bowl, whisk together the mayonnaise and mustard to make a smooth Dijonnaise sauce.
For each sandwich, place two pieces of bread the on counter. Generously spread one side of each slice with the Dijonnaise sauce. Sprinkle grated Swiss generously over each prepared bread slice.
Note: We find that grating the cheese allows it to melt more readily. Thin slices will work, too.
Place ham slices on one side and turkey slices on the other, and fold the sandwich together.
Totally Optional: Add a Slice of Pineapple
Some time ago, we were eating at our local French bistro, and they included a pineapple slice in their Monte Cristos! We loved how the pineapple added a fresh, mildly acidic element to the sandwich, and decided to include it here as an optional step.
Important: Use canned pineapple! (One again, scroll past the Monte Cristo recipe card below to read about our grossest culinary mishap to date!)
If you choose to include the pineapple, we find that one canned slice, cut in half horizontally, works better than one whole slice.
Place the pineapple slice(s) in between the ham and turkey before folding the sandwich together.
Should the bread crusts be cut off?
It depends on what the texture of the crust on the the bread you are using is. If the crust is soft and pliable, leave it. If the crust is tough or rigid, then cut it off.
For example, when we use Texas toast-style bread, we leave the crusts on because the crusts are soft.
On the other hand, when we use sourdough bread, we cut off the crusts. Sourdough crusts are tough and chewy, and don't allow the sandwich to compress the way it needs to.
Press & Cure the Sandwiches
Once your sandwiches are assembled, you need to press and wrap them.
Pressing encourages the sandwich layers to meld and adhere to one another; like when you make a sandwich in the morning and eat it at lunchtime. In the morning, the layers are all over the place; but when you unwrap it at lunch, the layers are stuck together, and the sandwich is a single, cohesive unit.
This lamination process must happen before your sandwiches are dipped into the wet Monte Cristo batter. If it doesn't, the layers will slide and fall apart in the process.
There are two ways to press a Monte Cristo:
 Traditionally, a heavy skillet (or your palms) are used to gently press the layers together. This requires a little care. You want the layers to compress, but you don't want to flatten the bread. If you use this method, press; don't squish.
Wrap the pressed sandwiches in clear plastic wrap, parchment, or wax wraps, and allow them to cure in the fridge for at least an hour.
 Alternatively, the sandwiches can be tightly wrapped deli-style in plastic film and refrigerated for at least two hours. We find that this method works just as well as manually compressing the sandwiches and doesn't squish the bread layers nearly as much.
Can I prepare Monte Cristos ahead of time?
You can make them up to the point when they are pressed, wrapped, and refrigerated. They can be stored in the fridge for up to two days.
When you are ready, just mix up the batter and proceed.
Time for the Egg Batter
In medium bowl, whisk together Egg Batter ingredients: eggs, milk, brown sugar, vanilla, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt.
Be sure to use a container that is big enough to dip the sandwiches in.
Slather both sides of each sandwich with softened butter.
This butter layer creates a barrier that allows just the right amount of batter to be absorbed. It also helps give the sandwich that beautiful golden finish.
Dip each buttered sandwich into the batter for 10-30 seconds, allowing the bread to absorb the batter, much as you would when making French toast. Don't overdo it.
Grill the Sandwiches
Our Monte Cristos are grilled instead of deep-fried. Grilling is faster and easier, and requires far less clean-up. Best of all, we enjoy the resulting sandwiches more!
The guiding rule for cooking grilled sandwiches is Low and Slow.
If you own an electric skillet or griddle, now is the time to use it. You can also grill the sandwiches on the stovetop in a cast iron skillet; just be careful not to get the skillet too hot.
How hot should the skillet or griddle be?
- Electric skillet or griddle: Set the temperature to 275°F (135°C) degrees.
- Cast Iron Skillet: Heat over medium-low to low-low, depending on your stove.
When your skillet is up to temperature, use a pastry brush to coat it with a little canola or other neutral oil.
It is important to use oil for this step: it will help prevent the butter from burning.
Cook sandwich for 5-7 minutes on each side, or until golden brown.
If it takes less than 4 minutes for your sandwiches to grill on one side, your grilling surface is too hot.
Raspberry or blackberry jam is usually served on the side to dip your sandwich in, but you don’t have to stand on tradition. Try strawberry, peach, or even mango-jalapeño. (Mango-jalapeño is my current favorite!)
Or go full-on savory and serve it with barbecue sauce! It's your sandwich!
Ultimate Monte Cristo Sandwich Recipe
- Electric Griddle or heavy skillet
- 8 slices Texas Toast-style bread or sturdy sandwich bread
- 3 tablespoons butter
- 3 tablespoons mayonnaise
- 3 tablespoons Dijon mustard or honey-Dijon, or spicy brown mustard
- 4 ounces Swiss Cheese thinly sliced
- 8 ounces ham thinly sliced
- 8 ounces turkey thinly sliced
- 4 slices canned pineapple *optional
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 2 tablespoon vegetable oil
On the Side
- powdered sugar
- raspberry jam or blackberry
- In a small bowl, whisk together the mayonnaise and mustard to make a smooth Dijonnaise sauce.
- For each sandwich, place two pieces of bread the on counter. Generously spread one side of each slice with the Dijonnaise sauce. Sprinkle grated Swiss generously over each prepared bread slice.
- Place ham slices on one side and turkey slices on the other, and fold the sandwich together.
- Optional: Add a Slice of Pineapple (Use canned pineapple!)Place the pineapple slice(s) in between the ham and turkey before folding the sandwich together.
- Optional: Cut off the CrustsIf the crust is soft and pliable, leave it on. If the crust is tough or rigid, cut it off.
Pressing & Curing Sandwiches
- There are two ways to press a Monte Cristo:Manual Pressing - Use a heavy skillet or your palms to gently press the layers together. You want the layers to compress, but you don't want to flatten the bread. If you use this method, press; don't squish.Wrap the pressed sandwiches in clear plastic wrap, parchment, or wax wraps, and allow them to cure in the fridge for at least an hour.Plastic Wrap CompressionTightly wrap each sandwich, deli-style in plastic film, and refrigerate for at least two hours.
- In medium bowl, whisk together Egg Batter ingredients: eggs, milk, brown sugar, vanilla, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt.Be sure to use a container that is big enough to dip the sandwiches in.
- Slather both sides of each sandwich with softened butter.Dip each buttered sandwich into the batter for 10-30 seconds, allowing the bread to absorb the batter, much as you would when making French toast. Don't overdo it.
Fry the Sandwiches
- When your skillet is up to temperature, use a pastry brush to coat it with a little light olive or other neutral oil.It is important to use oil for this step: it will help prevent the butter from burning.Electric skillet or griddle: set the temperature to about 275°F (135°C) degrees.Cast Iron Skillet: Heat over medium-low.
- Cook sandwich for 5-7 minutes on each side, or until golden brown.
- Raspberry or blackberry jam is usually served on the side to dip your sandwich in, but you don’t have to stand on tradition.
This website provides approximate nutrition information for convenience and as a courtesy only. You are solely responsible for ensuring that any nutritional information provided is accurate, complete, and useful.
Welcome to Kitchen Science 101
Today's topic: How to liquify turkey with fresh pineapple
When we develop a recipe for this site, we usually make a dish a number of times, using a variety of ingredients our readers are likely to use. Not only does this allow us to prove out the recipe, but it also helps us identify any concerns or problems that may arise.
During testing for this Monte Cristo recipe, I thought it would be a great idea to use fresh pineapple for the optional pineapple step. I mean, why not? Fresh pineapple is the best, right?
At the same time, Mr B bought some cheap sliced turkey, which (we later learned) was made using gelatin.
When we took our sandwiches out of the fridge the next day to prep for frying, we noticed that they didn't feel quite right. So we opened one up, and there we found grated cheese and ham swimming in a grayish-pink, runny "turkey paste." The sandwiches were inedible. (It looked so gross I didn't even want to take a picture of it!)
Gelatin, which is technically a form of collagen that gels as it cools, isn't just for Jello. It can be found in a surprising array of processed foods, from candy and peanuts to pressed deli meats.
Pineapple contains a chemical called bromelain, which contains two enzymes capable of digesting collagen protein. When you add fresh pineapple to gelatin, the enzymes break the links in the collagen as fast as they form, so the gelatin never sets up.
Bromelain doesn't care if you are making a Jello Salad or using cheap cold cuts. If it has gelatin in it, bromelain will destroy it. (Processing destroys bromelain, which is why you can used canned pineapple and gelatin together.)
P.S. While researching this, I learned that a number of other fruits and vegetables contain these gelatin-wrecking enzymes; including papaya, mango, guava, broccoli, pawpaw, kiwi, figs, and fresh ginger!
Love a good grilled sandwich? Try our award-winning Irish Apple Pie Twice-grilled Cheese!
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