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Christmas Leftovers: yes, it's yet another recipe for a sandwich
A print-only recipe of mine from back in the day. First published in the Bury Free Press (and editions) Christmas section, December 2018
I love leftovers, those patchworked plates of food gathered from a rummage through the fridge. Christmas holds particularly rich pickings in this department. In my family, it has always been a time for weird food combinations, some of which have more longevity than others - my father was the king of scraps, once hiding the leftovers of a turkey dinner inside an omelette. I have not repeated this experiment. I also have a fondness for catered roasts because of their tendency to taste like reheated leftovers. The work Christmas meal, school lunches, the hospital and factory canteen versions, and inexpensive pub carvery lunches draw me in like a moth to a flame. So it is unsurprising that the institutionalised nature of reheated gravy, turkey and veg in the days following the 25th appeals. I am only half-joking when I say I cook Christmas lunch specifically for the scraps.
I must have a traditional turkey dinner on the 25th of December. I’m not interested in clever twists, nor do I want to reinvent the wheel. I rarely eat turkey at other times of the year, so on the actual day itself, that is what I crave, traditional accompaniments and all (apart from bread sauce which I cannot bear). There must be a bony carcass in my fridge to be stripped as efficiently and ruthlessly as a crow deals with roadkill and then, as the days progress, in a more lackadaisical manner. I want sage and onion stuffing that grows increasingly crumbly, requiring copious amounts of gravy for lubrication, and I live for bubble and squeak made from potatoes and leftover sprouts splodged with brown sauce, ketchup or sriracha. Sprouts are extremely important to me. I do them two ways: some with a bit of crunch and whatever bits and pieces I think might go with them (chestnuts, prunes, bacon etc.), but I also have to hand a pan of half-boiled to-death sprouts because they remind me of my grandparents who never met a vegetable they didn’t try to murder. I used to phone my grandparents mid-October to remind them to get the sprouts on. I was only half-joking.
And yet there are only so many leftovers one can take before one starts to consider whether it’s time to hurl the rest into the bin. So I like to have a couple of what you might call non-accidental meals in my repertoire for when the ennui starts to kick in. These rely on an element of construction; there’s more to them than scraps on a plate anointed with splodges of the condimental kind.
The Monte Cristo is one such meal. Someone described it as a sandwich for those who want to commit to breakfast but can’t ignore lunch, which describes it perfectly. Someone else described it as stoner food and it is. The Monte Cristo looks like a creative accident. Most of what we eat between Christmas and New Year has this quality.
So…thickly sliced bread is layered with turkey, cooked bacon, cheese, and lingonberry jam, then dipped in an egg and milk mixture before being fried. (Use cranberry jelly if that’s what you have.) It’s an eggy bread sandwich (a good and noble creation), not French toast. Americans sometimes beer-batter and deep fry their Monte Cristos, but that is a step too far for me and my poor Christmas-beleaguered gallbladder. Sat at a bar in Memphis, I noticed their Monte Cristos came with a powdering of cinnamon, icing sugar, and syrup which may or may not have been sorghum. This is also a step too far. I think less is more in this case, although I am rarely understated at Christmas.
There exists a degree of conjecture about the origins of Monte Cristo, and it’s worth bearing in mind the words of Mark Twain about not letting the truth get in the way of a good story. Some people believe the sandwich to be an amended Croque Monsieur whilst others point to the popular version at Blue Bayou at the original Disneyland site in California, which first appeared on the menu in 1966. The oldest recipe I can find for the Monte Cristo sandwich was printed in The Brown Derby Cook Book in 1949 and appeared to be a hybrid of a club sandwich and a classic toasted sandwich. Certainly, the technique and the ingredients have appeared in cookbooks older than the Brown Derby’s, although none of the sandwiches bore the name Monte Cristo.
Turkey, Bacon and Cheese Monte Cristo
For two sandwiches:
Four thick slices of white bread (don’t use sourdough or any bread with an open, holey crumb)
Two large eggs
1 tbsp milk
Salt and pepper
Two slices of Emmental or Maasdam cheese
As much leftover turkey as you can fit in, sliced (it’s traditional to use white meat but use what you have)
Four slices of streaky bacon
Fry the bacon until it is crisp. Drain and set aside.
Beat the egg, milk, salt, and pepper together in a bowl shallow enough for the sandwich to lie flat when you soak it.
Lay out two slices of bread and place a slice of cheese on one of them. Spread the jam onto the cheese, then cover thickly with the sliced turkey. Crisscross the bacon slices on top of the turkey, add another cheese layer, and top with the remaining slice of bread.
Reheat the griddle pan (or shallow frying pan) and melt a nugget of butter.
Press down on the sandwiches with the flat of your hand and then dip them into the egg mixture. Lift, drain, then dip again, the other side down. Please don’t leave them to soak, or they will fall apart.
Place the sandwiches on the hot griddle/in the pan and fry until golden and crisp, using a fish slice to turn them once. If you have leftover egg, pour it in around the frying sandwich until it is set and crisp around the edges. Serve hot.
IKEA, SousChef, and Scandikitchen sell lingonberry jam, as do Ocado. Amazon UK has D'Arbo Wild Lingonberry Sauce at a good price. Use them as you would redcurrant or cranberry jelly.
Copies of The Brown Derby Cookbook are available online from independent secondhand booksellers. Shop around because prices vary dramatically.