Thursday, June 14, 2012

Grilled Cheese Sandwich - 2 Ways

Grilled Cheese Cut in Half 2



PHOTO TUTORIAL  |  PRINTABLE RECIPE  |  HUNGRY FOR TIPS?

Fear Conquered: Grilled Cheese

If you missed the title of this post, I'm sure the picture will be a dead giveaway. But knowing what you know about me, if I were forced to pick just one of my favorite comfort foods, which of these four do you think I'd pick without hesitation?
  • Dutch Apple Pie
  • Macaroni and Cheese
  • Grilled Cheese Sandwich
  • Chocolate Chip Cookies
It might help if you remember how much I love bread. And how much I love cheese. And how much I love toasted croutons. Or it might help if you remember I'd rather have a slice of bread with butter than a slice of dessert. So I'm sure it's no surprise that I'd grab the grilled cheese and run for high ground. But you probably already knew that just looking at the picture.

Elmo

The real reason grilled cheese sandwiches rank as my favorite comfort food is more complex than just the simple combination of bread and cheese. The sandwich conjures up comforting memories from years ago: an impromptu lunch one late high school afternoon while reading Catch-22; lazy summer evenings with our cat Elmo (purrrrrrr purrrrrr purrrrr); watching new-to-me Star Trek TNG reruns with my other half; pretending to resist the dramatic pleas of my other half for a second grilled cheese.

Yet when it comes to comfort, not just any grilled cheese sandwich makes the cut. Who's surprised? If I'm picky about my chocolate chip cookies and picky about my buttermilk biscuits and picky about mayonnaise and about whipped cream, of course I will also be picky when it comes to grilled cheese. But I should clarify. It's not that there's only one perfect version - it's just that when I've got a craving for grilled cheese, I now know the exact combination that's guaranteed to squelch it. Simple, predictable and utterly comforting.

There's a ridiculous variety of sandwiches that call themselves grilled cheese: with onions, with mushrooms, with bacon, with tomato, with arugula, with shredded meat, with fruit, with pesto, with 12 cheeses, with grill marks - and hundreds of other combinations and pairings. In fact, when I was in Cleveland, there’s a restaurant called Melt devoted to grilled cheese sandwiches of all varieties.

And there's nothing wrong with that and I'd be the first in line to try the cornucopia that is grilled cheese. But variety is not what I crave from comfort food and after 10 years of sampling and 9 months of active experimentation on grilled cheese, I have confirmed the shameful truth: I'm a simpleton and I crave a simple grilled cheese sandwich.

Grilled Cheese Triangle with Veggies

12 to 13 years ago when I first discovered the magic of melted cheese between crusty slices of bread, I always used Velveeta (it's what my parents used and what I knew). And when it comes to creamy, gooey meltiness, nothing comes close to Velveeta thanks to its engineered processed origins. For the longest time, I couldn't endure the less-creamy, more-stringy nature of real cheese like cheddar and wound up using American cheese as a marginally less-processed substitute for Velveeta.

I finally conquered my resistance to real cheese - goodbye processed cheese products! - but I then faced a new challenge: Which cheese should I use and how much? How many cheeses? And should it be grated or sliced?

To complicate things further, I needed to find the right homemade bread. And wouldn't bacon be delicious? And how about some tomato and arugula?

9 months later - with a slew of grilled abominations littered behind me - I knew which cheeses I didn't want: Fontina, Gruyere, mozzarella, provolone, Parmesan, goat cheese, Gorgonzola and Monterrey Jack. Most of these cheeses were just too salty, some had a strange texture and some just didn't hit the right flavor notes. On a whim, I tried combining extra-sharp cheddar with Swiss. Turns out, my taste buds crave a 2:1 combination of melted cheddar and Swiss.

Next came the bread. I discovered the exact variety of bread is far less important than the right amount of salt, cheese and crispiness. But there was one clear favorite from all my experimentation and I doubt anyone will be surprised: homemade brioche makes the best grilled cheese. The rich eggy flavor of the brioche turns tangy when grilled with cheese, and the inherent butteriness of the bread results in phenomenal toasty goodness. So brioche became my go-to bread.

Slices of Homemade Brioche

When I'm out of brioche, or just feel mildly more health-conscious, my next favorite choice is homemade multigrain bread. With good dijon mustard. The deeper flavors if multigrain bread can overwhelm the cheese without a little help from the dijon. Don't argue - I've tested too many sandwiches and I'm not in the mood. Just add the dijon and see if your multigrain grilled cheese doesn't taste cheesier.

So with the perfect mix of cheeses and bread, there was just one more hurdle - and it turned out to be the linchpin for the entire sandwich: Sliced or grated cheese?

It had to be shredded, right? If I was using real cheese, slices would never melt by the time the bread was toasted. That makes sense. Right? Here's a reading suggestion for my blog: when I ask a question that would seem to have an obvious answer, you can assume I'll argue otherwise.

What I found is that grated cheese has a funny way of disappearing into the bread rather than forming a delicious, melted cheesy layer. And it always makes a mess when flipping the sandwich. I also found sliced cheese will indeed melt by the time the bread is toasted - but it has to be close to room temperature before adding it to the sandwich. Sliced cheese will form that marvelously melted layer craved by all grilled cheese fanatics (or at least this one).

Sliced Swiss Cheese

So there you have it: real cheese, homemade brioche, sliced (not grated) cheese - the foundation of an amazing yet simple grilled cheese sandwich. Believe it or not, there are still more secrets to arriving at melted comfort. But you can read about those in the tips that follow this recipe.

I have one last thing I want to say about grilled cheese - it's sinful. And that's not a good thing. Remember how I said I would always choose grilled cheese as my favorite comfort food? That's a big problem for me. On the one hand, I'm psychologically addicted to all the wonderfully comforting memories evoked by this sandwich. On the other hand, this sandwich is packed with so many carbs and so much fat, there's NO WAY I can serve this to myself or my loved ones - and still claim I love them! On the other hand, my tongue craves more hot, salty, crispy, cheesy, buttery awesomeness. On the other hand, love says I must control my base cravings.

So I've had to make a compromise on this sandwich - I share. The below recipe makes two large sandwiches, but I limit myself to just one sandwich and split it with my other half. And I serve it with plenty of raw vegetables and often a big greens salad. Then I cram down the sandwich as fast as I can so I can forget about my indulgence and get back to the love.



STORY  |  PRINTABLE RECIPE  |  HUNGRY FOR TIPS?

Photo Tutorial

Cast Iron Pan Greased with Butter
Butter a cast iron skillet with 1 Tablespoon of unsalted butter; heat over medium heat until the butter is melted and browned.

Sliced Cheddar
Slice extra-sharp cheddar cheese, 1/4 inch thick.

Sliced Swiss Cheese
Slice Swiss cheese 1/8 inch thick.

Slices of Homemade Brioche
Slice 4 brioche bread slices 3/4 inch thick.

Sliced Multigrain Bread
Or slice 4 slices of multigrain bread 3/4 inch thick.

Slices Sprinkled with Kosher Salt and Cracked Pepper
Spread each slice of bread with butter and sprinkle with salt and pepper.

Cast Iron Pan Heated
When the pan is hot and the butter is browned, reduce the heat to medium-low.

Slice of Buttered Bread Added to Pan
Add 1 slice of bread, buttered side down.

Dijon Mustard Added to Bread
If making a sandwich with multigrain bread, spread the unbuttered side of the bread with dijon mustard.

Sliced Cheddar Added to Bread
Add the cheddar cheese slices.

Sliced Swiss Cheese On Top of Cheddar
Add the Swiss slices.

Second Slice of Bread Over Cheese
Top with the second slice of bread, buttered side up.

Second Side Grilling
Allow the sandwich to toast for 2 minutes on one side, then flip the sandwich.

Multigrain Sandwich Flipped
If making a sandwich with multigrain bread, allow the sandwich to toast for 4 minutes on the first side before flipping.

Grilled Cheese Pressed with Spatula
After flipping the sandwich, press with a spatula to seal the two slices of bread together, then allow to toast for another 2 minutes.

Grilled Cheese Sandwich Toasting
Flip the sandwich and toast for another 2 minutes before flipping and toasting again for another 1-2 minutes.

Grilled Cheese Cut in Half 2
Allow the sandwich to cool for 5 minutes, then slice and serve immediately.



STORY  |  PHOTO TUTORIAL  |  HUNGRY FOR TIPS?

Grilled Cheese Sandwich - 2 Ways

    by Javelin Warrior
     Prep Time: 10 min
     Cook Time: 12 min

Ingredients (2 sandwiches)
    Brioche Bread Version
    • 4 slices homemade brioche bread
    • 4 slices extra-sharp cheddar cheese, 1/4 inch thick, at room temperature
    • 6 slices Swiss cheese, 1/8 inch thick, at room temperature
    • 5 Tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
    • 4 pinches kosher salt
    • 4 pinches cracked black pepper
    Multigrain Bread Version
    • 4 slices homemade multigrain bread
    • 4 slices extra-sharp cheddar cheese, 1/4 inch thick, at room temperature
    • 6 slices Swiss cheese, 1/8 inch thick, at room temperature
    • 5 Tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
    • 3 teaspoons dijon mustard, divided
    • 2 pinches kosher salt
    • 4 pinches cracked black pepper
    Instructions
    1. Grease the bottom of a cast iron skillet with 1 Tablespoon of butter, then heat the skillet over medium heat until the butter has melted and browned, about 8 minutes
    2. While the pan heats, spread each slice of bread with 1 Tablespoon of butter and sprinkle with salt and pepper (use less salt if using multigrain bread as dijon mustard is salty)
    3. Once the skillet is hot, reduce the heat to medium-low and place one slice of bread butter-side down in the pan (if using multigrain bread, spread mustard over the unbuttered side of the slice); top the bread with 2 slices of cheddar and 3 slices of Swiss cheese, then cover with a second slice of bread butter-side up
    4. For sandwiches made with brioche bread, allow the sandwich to toast for 2 minutes on one side, then carefully turn the sandwich over, press down with a spatula once to seal the slices together and toast the second side for 3 minutes; turn the sandwich over again, toast for another 2 minutes, then turn over one final time and toast another 2 minutes
    5. For sandwiches made with multigrain bread, allow the sandwich to toast for 4 minutes on one side, then carefully turn the sandwich over, press down with a spatula once to seal the slices together and toast the second side for 4 minutes; turn the sandwich over again, toast for another 1 minute, then turn over one final time and toast another 1 minute
    6. Allow the sandwich to rest for 3 minutes before slicing and serving; repeat steps 4 through 6 for the second sandwich
    Powered by Recipage



    STORY  |  PHOTO TUTORIAL  |  PRINTABLE RECIPE

    Hungry for Tips?
    • Cast Iron: For years, I made grilled cheese in regular steel and non-stick pans. The results were good but nothing spectacular. Then I bought a cast iron pan (thanks for prompting me, Dan) and the difference in the toasted bread was amazing. The bread toasts much more evenly and at much lower temperatures without becoming soggy or absorbing too much of the butter. Since real sliced cheese takes time to melt, lower heat is critical and thus the cast iron pan helps immensely.
       
    • Butter: Buttering the cast iron pan before heating allows you to really develop a wonderful browned butter flavor for the sandwiches - and helps to ensure the sandwiches don't stick to the pan. And despite the buttered pan, you still need to butter the bread generously if you want delightfully crispy toast. Make sure to use room temperature butter or you'll never get it to spread without crumbling the bread.

    • Cheese: Why extra-sharp cheddar? Why Swiss? I want to taste and see my cheese. Extra-sharp cheddar packs a ton of flavor. And I like yellow cheddar to ensure it doesn’t disappear against the bread. Swiss adds a tangy bite without adding much salt - and it doesn't become as stringy as provolone and mozzarella.
       
    • Bread: Don't slice your bread any thicker than 3/4-inch or the cheese will be overwhelmed by the bread. And don't cut the bread much thinner than 3/4-inch or it you'll arrive at hard toast without that wonderfully soft center.
       
    • Flipping: Flipping the sandwiches multiple times while grilling helps to ensure the bread toasts beautifully without burning. It also helps the cheese to melt more slowly without turning to a stringy mess. Depending on your stove's heating element, the precise times will vary - despite my recipe's precise interval.
       
    • Salt: A little salt will be your hero. Too much salt and you'll feel like you're eating toasted sea water. So salt conservatively and don't use any salt if you're using salted butter.



    Scan to view recipe on your mobile device


    6 comments:

    1. I remember Velveeta and that's about all we had for a long time growing up. I still eat some cheese but have cut out the majority of dairy products because I am finding I feel so much better physically. Anyway, I still loves me some grilled cheese sandwiches. It was a fond memory of something my mom always made for me.

      ReplyDelete
    2. Well no wonder you're worried about the health disbenefits, that's a fried cheese sandwich not a grilled one! Perhaps you could slowly adapt your comfort food cravings to a grilled cheese sandwich without any additional fat - ie butter? BUT I bet it tastes fabulous.

      ReplyDelete
    3. Oh my gosh, you're grilled cheese looks totally amazing! I'm down with any variety, though...it's always been one of my favorite comfort foods. Even regular ol' American on white dipped in ketchup (don't judge). ;P

      ReplyDelete
    4. Ok soo I'm not usually a big fan of grilled cheese but...I feel like if I made it as amazing as the ways you have here I'd have to LOVE it!

      ReplyDelete
    5. Mmmmm, I love grilled cheese. And what's totally funny is that I am just writing up a grilled cheese several ways post for the next week or so. I guess it's that time of year or something. I love the addition of arugula, perfect foil for the rich cheese.

      ReplyDelete
    6. What good looking sandwiches : ) I love a great grilled cheese sandwich...it's the ultimate comfort food and brings back all those chidhood memories, as usual some of your points made me laugh out loud, for eg. asking questions out loud : )

      ReplyDelete