July 25, 2010

How to Make a Perfect Grilled Cheese Sandwich

Ok, I know I am really putting myself out there as a food snob by insinuating that there might be a right way and a wrong way to make a grilled cheese sandwich; but I'm willing to take that risk, because there might be some one out there who has written off Grilled Cheese as kid-food, who needs to give it another chance.

So let's just dive right in.  Oh, and by the way, you might want to consider sharing this post with your friends.  Because if you don't, a year from now when a friend serves you a crumbly, burnt-bottomed, lackluster grilled cheese sandwich, you'll remember this post and you'll have this whole internal back-and-forth dialogue: Shall I email her that post when I get home?...  No that would be kinda awkward, but what if she tries to serve me this crap next time I come over?  Shall I email her that post when I get home?....  Do your part to save the friendship now.  Click the share button...

This is one of those go-to recipes.  It's simple, easy and super-variable.  When you and the kids are starving after swimming lessons, it can save you a trip to MickeyD's.   Get the basics down and then you can dress it up with different types of cheese, pesto, mustard, caramelized onions and what-have-you to make a Grown-Up Grilled Cheese.  Soon you'll be making all kinds of panini.  Then we'll all be food snobs, won't we?

Basic Grilled Cheese Sandwiches

Lots of notes, but a simple process.

For each sandwich:

2 slices good Italian style bread, such as a sliced Tuscan, or sheepherders bread.  I love whole grains, but I don't think their rightful place is in a grilled cheese.  Just sayin'.
2-3 oz sliced cheddar cheese,  --We are Tillamook Medium Cheddar fans; I hesitate to put an amount here, because it will depend on the size of your bread.

Equipment-  frying pan or griddle, butter spreader,  a spatula, a plate about 2 or 3 inches in diameter smaller than the frying pan, and a 28 oz can of tomatoes, unopened 

1.  Set a skillet or grill pan over MEDIUM heat.  Do not, under any circumstances, bump the heat up above medium.  A perfect grilled cheese sandwich has a melty interior and a crispy golden exterior.  Raising the heat will cause the exterior to char before the cheese melts.

2. Butter one side of the bread and put one slice in the pan (buttered side down).  It is easier to spread refrigerated butter on bread that is frozen than on room-temperature bread.  But if your bread is at room temp and your butter is hard from being refrigerated, you may wish to melt 3 tablespoons of butter in the pan and then set the unbuttered bread in.  This method doesn't result in the sandwich browning as evenly, but, given the situation, it is a better than tearing your bread or dirtying another dish by softening butter in the microwave.

3.  Layer sliced cheese over the bread in the pan and top with the second slice of bread (with the buttered side facing up).  I like to have some of the corners of the cheese sticking out of the sandwich, because when it melts onto the skillet, it becomes deliciously crispy.

4. By now the butter on the underside of the sandwich should be just melted.  Use your spatula to turn the sandwich over.  Note that the cheese hasn't melted yet, so the sandwich may want to come apart on you, but the top of the sandwich isn't hot yet, so you can use your free hand to help it stay together as you flip it.   If you are grilling more than one sandwich at a time, try to keep them at least a half inch apart to avoid the cheese adhering them together.

5.  Top your sandwiches with the plate.  Press down firmly, then set the can of tomatoes on top of the plate to weight it.

6.  Cook on medium heat approximately 3-4 minutes.  Carefully remove plate; it may be quite hot. Check for doneness.  The underside should be golden brown and not stick to the pan.  Turn sandwiches over.  If your skillet is a bit overcrowded so that the outer edges of the sandwiches aren't cooking as quickly as the inner edges, make sure to rotate so that the less-cooked edge is closer to the center of the pan. This will ensure even cheese-melting in the absence of even browning.

7.  Top sandwiches with plate, press and weight with tomato can and cook on medium neat approximately 3-4 minutes, until bread is golden brown and cheese is thoroughly melted. If cheese isn't melting as quickly as the outside is browning, reduce the heat.  Do not increase it.

Keeping and Plating :  Sandwiches can be kept warm in a 200º oven while cooking a second batch, but do not hold sandwiches longer than 20 minutes.  Cut sandwiches on the diagonal to show off as much ooey-gooey cheese as possible. For real food snobs only:  garnish with a sprig of parsley.

Variations:  While making a totally kid-friendly grilled cheese, you can throw in a couple extras to make a more adult "panini."  Just remember that the cheese is the glue that holds the sandwich together, so if you add something non-sticky such as a slice of ham, you need to be sure that there is a thin layer of cheese on both sides to hold it together.  Wet ingredients, such as fresh tomatoes, are best added after grilling, as their moisture can prevent proper browning and crisping.

Classic Ham & Swiss:  spread bread with your favorite mustard.  Swap swiss for the cheddar and add an ounce or two of sliced ham.

Rueben:  Use rye bread.  Spread with Thousand Island Dressing.  Layer swiss cheese, thinly sliced corned beef and sauerkraut.  (Be careful to drain sauerkraut thoroughly to avoid a soggy sandwich.)

Italian:  Spread generously with sun-dried tomato pesto.  Layer mozzarella or fontina cheese, a thin slice of ham and sautéed mushrooms.

Tomato Soup's Best Friend:  Add 1/4 to 1/2 cup caramelized onions.  Use a sharp cheddar.

What's your favorite Grown-up Grilled Cheese?

1 comment:

  1. I'm in for the sliced ham and Swiss, but I like all of these other variations.