The Monte Cristo is clearly a variation on the French croque monsieur. What's not clear is where this particular iteration was first created. Most sources point to Southern California in the 1940s. In any case, as New Englanders adopted the sandwich, they added an ingenious garnish: a bowl of maple syrup for dipping. And thus the SoCal sandwich was perfected.
2-1/2 tablespoons salted butter, at room temperature
8 slices crusty bread, such as country white
8 slices good-quality ham
8 slices Swiss cheese
5 large eggs, beaten
1-1/2 teaspoons kosher or sea salt
Maple syrup for serving
Take 4 slices of bread and generously butter one side of each. Set the bread butter-side down on a cutting board and top with 2 slices ham and 2 slices cheese. Set aside.
Take the remaining 4 slices of bread and butter one side of each. Set, buttered-side up, on top of each sandwich.
In a shallow bowl, whisk the eggs with the salt. Dip the sandwiches in the egg mixture, pressing and turning to make sure the bread is coated.
Set a large (14-inch) skillet over medium heat. When hot, add the sandwiches and brown well on each side, 5 to 7 minutes per side. Cut each sandwich into 2 pieces on the diagonal and serve with maple syrup on the side for dipping.
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