Origin of Monte Cristo
What is the origin, geographically or culinarily, of the notorious Monte Cristo sandwich? As ever, we prefer authoritative and well-documented responses; however, we always enjoy wild conjecture and outright fabrication.
The serious response is here:
I, on the other hand, am convinced that real story behind the sandwich is this: After avenging his enemies, the Count of Monte Cristo opened a fast food shop in Marseille. It became so wildly successful -- the McDonald's of the day -- that his name has always been associated with his flagship sandwich. Originally, the Count called it "Number 1 on Toast," but he was sued by a powerful competitor, Le Roi des Hamburgers, which claimed to have copyrighted the name. Henceforth, he just started calling it "Le Sandwich." "The Monte Cristo" was the nickname given the product by les Marseillaises, because they needed something to differentiate the Count's sandwiches from the hundreds of shops that sprung up but served inferior product.
Monte Cristo sandwich
Recipe-wise, food experts generally consider the Monte Cristo sandwich to be a simple variation of an early 20th century French dish called Croque Monsieur. According to several articles published in newspapers and magazines, Monte Cristo sandwiches were first served in southern California and were very popular in the 1950s-1970s. Therin ends the agreement. The who/what/why/where/when behind the Monte Cristo sandwich is still very much a subject of debate.
This is what the food writers say...
"Monte Cristo sandwich...A sandwich composed of ham, chicken, and Swiss cheese enclosed in bread that is dipped in beaten egg and fried until golden brown. The origin on the name is not known."
---Encyclopedia of American Food and Drink, John F. Mariani [Lebhar-Friedman:New York] 1999 (p. 209)
"A classic story deserves a classic sandwich, even though nobody knows how the sandwich got its name. It may have been invented in San Francisco in the 1950s."
---"I'm going to see a remake of "The Count of Monte Cristo...," Hartford Courant, January 24, 2002 (p. 10)
"Monte Cristo sandwich invented in the Coronado Hotel in San Diego..." [no date provided] ---"LA really is a bread basket," Los Angeles Times, December 19, 1996 (p. H13)
"...the [Blue Bayou in New Orlean's Square, Disneyland/Anaheim California] restaurant's Monte Cristo sandwich probably has been the most recognizable -- and demanded -- item on the menu since it first appeared in 1966. It hasn't changed since then," said Boll, "and it's become a standard. It's a very, very popular item. We serve about 160 to 200 of them every day. When the first one of the day comes out, everybody who sees it wants to order one. It comes close to the croque monsieur that originated in France."
---"Chef du Jour: Disney's counter of Monte Cristo," Los Angeles Times, July 15, 1993 (p. 36)
The earliest reference we find to a a Monte Cristo sandwich is printed in a 1941 menu from Gordon's on Wilshire Blvd., Los Angles. We do not know how these were made.
The oldest recipe we have (so far) for the Monte Cristo sandwich was printed in The Brown Derby Cook Book, 1949. The Brown Derby restaurant is located in Los Angeles, California and is famous for serving Hollywood's elite.
"Monte Cristo Sandwich.
Take three slices of white bread. Butter the first and cover with lean baked ham and chicken. Butter the middle slice on both sides, place on meat, and cover with thinly sliced Swiss cheese. Butter the third slice and place, butter down, over cheese. Trim crusts; cut sandwich in two; secure with toothpicks; dip in light egg batter; fry in butter on all sides until golden brown. Remove toothpicks and serve with currant jelly, strawberry jam, or cranberry sauce."
---The Brown Derby Cookbook [Doubleday & Company:Garden City NY] 1949 (p. 183)
[NOTE: This sandwich appears to be a cross between a club sandwich and a toasted French-style sandwich, two very popular menu items of this period.]
An old menu from Disneyland's Tahitian Terrace restaurant features the Monte Cristo.
[NOTE: Disney didn't invent the Monte Cristo, but it is certainly responsible for introducing it to thousands of theme park visitors.]
We checked many popular American cookbooks published in the 1920s-60s and found several recipes for sandwiches which are essentially Monte Cristos [ham--sliced & deviled/turkey/chicken sandwiches dipped in egg & then fried to a tasty golden brown], under different names: