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The Amazing Grilled Cheese Sandwich

Deck: The next best thing to a hug from your grandmother

Words and Photos by Kate Carpenter

There are few foods that spawn websites, poems and wistful daydreams that take one back to grandma’s kitchen. But grilled cheese sandwiches do all this and more.

A grilled cheese sandwich can be described in many ways, but the simplest is to say it contains two pieces of bread, some cheese, and a little butter to crisp it up and get the cheese melting.

But, oh, it can get far more complicated than that. The ultimate comfort food, a golden grilled cheese sandwich never fails to satisfy. It’s typically the first meal any boy or girl learns how to make at home. Can you think of any other food that is the favorite of both toddlers and octogenarians? Many think that it is the perfect comfort food because it is salty, gooey, crisp, and buttery.

Before digging deeper into the subject, here’s a little ode to the grilled cheese sandwich to enjoy, taken from the blog Nomadic Noesis.

Ode to a Grilled Cheese Sandwich By Ida Bettis Fogle

Comfort on a griddle
That’s what grilled cheese is
Golden toasted warmth
Full of the forbidden
Things that make you feel so good
Salt and butter and fat
But it’s solace that sticks
To your ribs, the next best
Thing to a hug from your grandmother
A grilled cheese sandwich is the
Stolid best friend of the food world
Securely there, always, unchanging
Sometimes this bare thought is enough
I could have a grilled cheese later
If I feel the need

From the blog Nomadic Noesis https://thedamari.wordpress.com/

Despite the widespread belief that the grilled cheese sandwich is about as American as you can get, the truth is that cooked bread and cheese is actually an ancient food, enjoyed throughout the world and prevalent in many cultures.

The U.S. version soared to popularity when inexpensive sliced bread and “American” cheese became widely available. During the Great Depression the sandwich was often called the Cheese Dream. Back then it was actually an open face sandwich with only one slice of bread, but by WWII it was nearly always built as a complete sandwich with two slices. Navy cooks relied on the simple grilled cheese sandwich to please nearly everyone. By the 1960s it was firmly entrenched as one of the primary comfort foods in the United States.

There are many different ways of assembling and cooking grilled cheese sandwiches, but two factors remain critical: the cheese must be melting and the bread should be golden brown. Getting both of these just right can often provide family cooks with a challenge.

The more adventurous are known to add ingredients to the sandwich until the cheese is almost a minor part of the equation.

A proper grilled cheese sandwich is cooked on a flat top griddle, fried in a pan, made on a Panini grill, or cooked in a sandwich toaster. In England, they use a toaster and call the sandwiches “toasties.”

Most people use a pan on the stovetop, cooking one side of the sandwich first, then flipping it over to cook the other side. Some cooks toast each half of the sandwich separately and then combine them for the finished product.

Butter (or oil, or mayonnaise) can be either spread onto the bread or melted into the pan before the bread is added. This is another area of debate as far as the “perfect” technique.

The vast majority of grilled cheese makers use white bread and American cheese. There’s nothing wrong with that and it makes a fantastic meal. But there are so many other options that create elevated foodie experiences that you owe it to yourself to give at least some of them a try.

If you’ve developed your own awesome grilled cheese recipe you might want to consider entering a cooking contest or two. One of the most popular is the Tillamook Grilled Cheese Contest in Tillamook, Oregon in April. At this event, you can qualify for the 2015 World Food Championships. Yes, you could be making a grilled cheese sandwich at the World Food Championships.

GOURMET GRILLED CHEESE ELEVATING THE STANDARD

At the author’s Escondido, California restaurant (Sunny Side Kitchen), grilled cheese sandwiches that were made for years just for family and friends are now part of the menu. Here is the recipe for the popular Gourmet Grilled Cheese, featuring mild and melty Havarti and Muenster cheeses, as well as the sharper Parmesan cheese.

SERVES 1

2 slices sourdough bread
1 ½ teaspoons butter
1 ½ teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
1/8 teaspoon Italian seasonings
2 teaspoons Parmesan cheese
1 ½ slices (about 1.5 ounces) Havarti cheese
1 ½ slices (about 1.5 ounces) Muenster cheese

Preheat the Panini maker and apply nonstick spray.

Prepare the Bread: Start with artisanal sourdough bread, sliced one half inch thick.

Next, melt the butter and then mix with olive oil. Use a pastry brush to spread the

butter/olive oil mixture onto one side of each slice of bread. On the same buttered side of both slices of bread, sprinkle the Italian seasonings. Add about a teaspoon of Parmesan onto each slice of bread.

Flip one of the pieces of bread onto a cake lifter, so that the Parmesan side is on the bottom. The Parmesan will stay with the bread as you slide the sandwich off of the cake lifter onto the Panini grill.

Cut the whole pieces of cheese in half and take the three half slices of each Havarti and Muenster and lay them across the bottom slice of bread, covering it with a crisscross pattern of cheeses. Put the other slice of bread on top, Parmesan cheese side facing up, and the sandwich is fully built. Slide the sandwich off of the cake lifter onto the hot Panini grill and cook until the cheese is melting approximately 2 to 4 minutes. Serve with a Kosher dill pickle spear.

SERGEANT PEPPER WITH PEPPER JACK AND CHEDDAR CHEESE, ROASTED CAULIFLOWER, AND CARMELIZED ONIONS

There are those who go to extraordinary efforts to build a grilled cheese sandwich that is memorable. Take a look at this recipe for the Sergeant Pepper grilled cheese sandwich that is on the Grilled Cheese Academy website (www.grilledcheeseacademy.com). It’s complicated to make and a sight to behold. It might be worth your time to give it a shot.

We’re pretty sure your taste buds will be quite smitten.

SERVES 4

2 tablespoons butter
1 head cauliflower- cut into small pieces
Salt and pepper to taste
1/2 cup flour
1/2 cup rice flour
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1 cup cold seltzer water (club soda)
Vegetable oil for frying
2 yellow onions- thinly sliced
8 slices sourdough bread
4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
4 slices Wisconsin Pepper Jack cheese
4 slices Wisconsin Cheddar cheese

Start the Sauté: Heat a large sauté pan over high heat. Add butter and cauliflower; sauté on high until brown, stirring so cauliflower doesn’t burn. Season with salt and pepper; remove to plate lined with paper towels; drain.

For the Batter: Whisk together flours, cornstarch, and a pinch of salt and pepper. Whisk in cold seltzer water until smooth. (Water MUST be cold for a tempura-type batter.) Store batter in the refrigerator until ready to fry.

Start Frying: Heat 3-4 inches vegetable oil to 350 degrees F in the fryer or deep pan. Dip onion slices into the batter to cover and fry until golden brown. Drain on paper-towel-lined plates and season with salt and pepper.

Heat Large Frying Pan to Medium: Drizzle one side of each slice of bread with a 1/2tablespoon olive oil; place 4 slices, oil-side down, on a pan (or use Panini press). Top each slice with Pepper Jack, cauliflower, fried onions, and a slice of cheddar, in that order.

Place remaining 4 bread slices on top of sandwiches, oil-side up. Grill, turning once, until the bread is golden and the cheese is melted.

COURTESY OF: © 2015 WISCONSIN MILK MARKETING BOARD  GRILLED CHEESE ACADEMY IS A REGISTERED SERVICE MARK OF THE WISCONSIN MILK MARKETING BOARD, INC.  WWW.GRILLEDCHEESEACADEMY.COM

THE BILOXI WITH WISCONSIN FONTINA, PULLED BARBECUE PORK, AND CREAMY COLESLAW

Don’t be surprised if there is a line of spatulas outside your kitchen door, just waiting for a chance to meet this charming sandwich. It features Wisconsin Fontina, pulled barbecue pork, and creamy coleslaw.

SERVES 4

For the Pork
2 tablespoons kosher salt
2 tablespoons smoked paprika
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 tablespoon ground black pepper
1 3- to 5-pound pork butt
1/2 pound (8 ounces) smoked bacon
1 bottle of your favorite barbecue sauce

For the Cabbage

2 cups water
1 head red or green cabbage- cored and thinly sliced (Prepared coleslaw mix may be substituted)
1 cup mayonnaise
1 teaspoon celery seeds
2 teaspoons mustard seeds
1 tablespoon horseradish
Juice of 1 lemon
1/4 cup white wine vinegar or apple cider vinegar
1/4 cup sugar
Kosher salt to taste
Salt and pepper to taste
2 carrots- peeled and shredded

For the Sandwich

6 tablespoons butter- at room temperature
8 slices buttermilk bread (or other firm white bread)
8 1-ounce slices Wisconsin Fontina cheese
2-3 pickles, sliced
1 onion- sliced about 1/8-inch thick

Prepare Pork: Mix kosher salt, smoked paprika, brown sugar, cayenne, and black pepper and rub all over the outside of the pork butt. Wrap the pork with plastic wrap; enclose in a resealable bag and refrigerate at least 2 hours, preferably overnight.

Preheat Oven to 300 degrees F: Heat a large oven-safe pot (a slow cooker may be used; follow directions for pork butt cooking times) over medium-high heat. Add bacon and cook until crispy. Add barbecue sauce and water to bacon in pot and bring to a simmer.

Remove pork butt from bag and plastic wrap and add to pot. (For faster cooking, you may cut the butt into large cubes before adding.) Return to a simmer; cover pot and place in oven for about 4 hours (fewer if butt is cut in cubes) or until fork-tender and pulls apart easily. Turn meat once during cooking time.

Prepare Pork: Let meat stand 20-30 minutes. Using two forks, pull the meat apart until it is shredded. Leave in the sauce until ready to serve. The recipe can be prepared to this point up to 5 days in advance and refrigerated.

Make Coleslaw: Lightly salt the cabbage with a tablespoon or so of kosher salt, and place in a colander. Drain in the sink for a few hours. Rinse well under cold water and drain well. (Although this step is optional, it produces a creamier, crisper coleslaw.) Mix mayonnaise, celery seeds, mustard seeds, horseradish, lemon juice, vinegar, and sugar in a bowl; season with salt and pepper. Mix with cabbage and shredded carrots. Can be made one day in advance and refrigerated.

Make the Sandwich: Heat griddle or large sauté pan over medium heat. Butter one side of each bread slice. Place 4 slices butter-side down, on a griddle. Top each with 1 slice of Fontina, some shredded barbecue pork, coleslaw, pickles, onion slices, and another slice of Fontina. Place 1 slice of bread on top of each, butter-side up, and grill until bread is golden brown and cheese is melted, turning once during grilling.

COURTESY OF: © 2015 WISCONSIN MILK MARKETING BOARD  GRILLED CHEESE ACADEMY IS A REGISTERED SERVICE MARK OF THE WISCONSIN MILK MARKETING BOARD, INC.  WWW.GRILLEDCHEESEACADEMY.COM

Subhead: Pro Tips

Try This: The “inside out” grilled cheese has an extra slice of cheese on the outside of the bread and when cooked it turns into a crispy, almost caramelized outer layer.

Go Medium: If you are using butter to help get the golden-brown crispy crust that is traditionally thought of as the perfect grilled cheese look and taste, then you are best to use a medium heat. This will prevent the milk solids that are present in butter from burning before the cheese has a chance to melt.

Elevate Your Bread: Get away from Wonder Bread and try some sourdough, or French bread, or focaccia…or anything!

Ready When Melting: Leave a corner of the cheese hanging out from the middle of the bread and when the cheese is gooey and ready it will drip down onto the pan and the sound will let you know the sandwich is ready.

Double Toasted: A twist that J. Kenji Lopez-Alt (Chief Creative Officer of Serious Eats) likes to do is toast the two slices of bread and then build the sandwich with the untoasted parts facing out…therefore you toast both sides of each slice of bread. It’s the ultimate crisp factor.

Captions for Gourmet Grilled Cheese step-by- step
001 Lightly brush butter and olive oil mix onto one side of both pieces of bread.
002 Lightly spread Italian herbs over both buttered slices of bread.
003 Sprinkle Parmesan over the bread.
004 Flip bread over so the parm/butter/oil side is facing down on a cake lifter.
005 Cut or tear a slice of Havarti in half and put the pieces diagonally on the bread. Let a corner of the cheese stick out over the edge so that when it is fully melted it will touch the hot surface and “talk” to you when it is done.
006 Cut or tear a slice of Muenster in half (you might want to add an extra half slice) and put the pieces diagonally on the bread.
007 Put the second slice of bread on top of the sandwich
008 Slide the sandwich off of the cake lifter onto a Panini grill.
009 The final product is hot, cheesy, and oh so good!

Sidebar: Multiple Meltables

The possibilities are endless when it comes to cheeses and ingredients to make grilled cheese sandwiches. Here are a few that are sure to make you happy.

Mozzarella, Ricotta and Brie
Muenster and Harvarti with Parmesan (add bacon and avocado for even more comfort foodability)
Gouda, Roasted Mushrooms, and Onions
Cheddar and Tuna Salad
Cheddar, Monterey Jack and Swiss
Monterey Jack, American and Jalapeno slices