Side Dish: Grilled Cheese (October 11, 2010)

Grilled Cheese

One of my favorite tips for home chefs is to perfect a recipe that is both simple to execute and endlessly adaptable. (Loyal readers will know that simple food is a mantra of mine…all the way back to my very first blog entry!) Once you learn the basics of a Provencal-style gratin, for example, you can (re)make it with whatever is fresh and locally available (Swiss Chard, Spinach and Rice is one of my favorites!) and keep tweaking it throughout the year. Serve it hot. Serve it cold. Substitute quinoa for the rice. Try it with some squash. It’s a great way to keep a favorite fresh. Maybe one day I’ll share my gratin recipe, but today I’ve decided to illustrate my point with something more universally enjoyed: the grilled cheese sandwich.

Almost every adult I know loves grilled cheese in its many variations almost as much as kids do. So here are my tips to make the perfect classic grilled cheese sandwich. Enjoy it with a light salad or, for those cold falls days, a cup of delicious tomato soup. It can be the perfect family meal.

TIPS FOR COOKING A GREAT GRILLED CHEESE:

  • Use a heavy, flat (cast iron is perfect) skillet or griddle over medium-low heat.
  • Longer, slow cooking makes for delectably crunchy bread and thoroughly melted cheese. DON’T RUSH IT.
  • Spread about one tablespoon of butter over both sides of the sandwich, dividing it evenly.
  • When you set the bread into the skillet, there should barely be a sizzle. Cook until it is crisp and deep golden brown. This should take 4-5 minutes. If the sandwich is browning faster than that, lower the heat.
  • Instead of butter you can cook the sandwich in about a tablespoon of olive oil. Just pour enough oil in the skillet to make a thin, even film. Grill the sandwich as in the butter method, but lift it and replenish the oil before flipping.


Now how about some ideas to make….GRILLED CHEESE GONE FANCY

  • If you’re using butter to grill the sandwich, press herb leaves into the butter before grilling.
  • Match the herb to the filling: parsley for a plain grilled cheese, basil for grilled cheese and tomato, or cilantro for the grilled pepper jack and chicken below…

You’ve probably tried grilled cheese with tomatoes, crisp bacon or deli meats, but here are some other of my favorite ways to class up a simple grilled cheese, in case you can’t make it into Café 429:

Each makes 1 sandwich.

SUN-DRIED TOMATO GOAT CHEESE

Beat ¼-cup of softened goat cheese with 2 tablespoons of fine chopped sun-dried tomatoes (soaked and drained, if necessary) until smooth. Season liberally with freshly ground black pepper. Spread over one slice of bread, top with the other and grill with butter or oil.

SMOKED GOUDA AND MUSHROOM

Toss ½-cup coarsely grated smoked Gouda and ¼-cup coarsely chopped cooked mushrooms together into a small bowl. Pile onto one slice of break, top with the other and grill with butter or oil.

PEPPER JACK AND CHICKEN

Toss ½-cup coarsely grated pepper jack cheese and 1/3-cup shredded cooked chicken (or turkey) together in a small bowl. Pile onto one slice of bread, top with another an grill with butter or oil.

What is YOUR favorite way to make a grilled cheese??