Archive for March, 2011
The sound my daughters make when I tickle them. That first deep breath you take when you get out of the truck and stretch your legs after finally arriving at the campsite. The crack of opening an ice cold beer or Coke on a sweltering hot day. Head rubs. A really, really good grilled cheese sandwich. These are a few of my favorite things.
I would like to take a moment to diverge from my usual discussion of literature and DnD to talk about the sublime gooey goodness of a a really good grilled cheese sandwich. Don’t worry, I will soon be back to regaling you all with tales of my adventures not getting published. Or maybe I will bring up politics, you never know.
Few people, in my opinion, give the grilled cheese the respect it deserves. They relegate it to I-don’t-feel-like-cooking-tonight-so-I’ll-just-make-grilled-cheese instead of the God of Comfort Food it really is. I admit, sometimes I do this too. And why not? It’s so easy to just heat up a pan, wipe some butter at a few slices of bread and slap on a thin slice of cheddar, or -shudder- a slice of American cheese. Ok, I must also admit to keeping American singles in our fridge. For two reasons only: snacks for the kids and lets be honest, American does melt so nicely on breakfast sandwiches, which I make often. There, I admitted it. Move on. There is nothing to see here.
There are grilled cheese and there are Grilled Cheese; one is simple comfort food, the other is an orgasm for your mouth. The first thing to remember about making a Grilled Cheese, is to respect the ingredients. Do not compromise. Do not settle. Insist on only the best, or you end up with a sloppily thrown together, bland and limp, cheese sandwich.
Next, there are three components to a properly orgasmic Grilled Cheese: Lube, Bread and Filling. Each of these are easy to dismiss. Don’t. Let’s start with bread, which is the foundation of a good Grilled Cheese. Do not use regular sandwich bread. Anything else will do. The better the bread, the better the end result. French bread, Challah, multi-grain and especially Rye all make great Grilled Cheese bread. Left over hoagie rolls work especially well(ever had a Cuban sandwich?).
Lubrication. There is always time for lubrication. Sure, you can get by with some of that whipped vegetable oil crap that pretends to be butter, but why? let’s be honest, butter is better. This outer coating of the sandwich will be the first thing to touch your tongue, so why not maximize the impact? If you must use tubbed butter, you can up the flavor ante by mixing in an equal part mayonnaise, which will add some wonderful crunch. If you have real butter, use that. Once again, why not up the flavor impact? Sprinkle the butter with parmesan cheese and paprika. Another trick I sometimes us is to saute some minced garlic in olive oil, then brush the bread with the oil before grilling. Or mix in a little dried tarragon and thyme into the butte before spreading.
We cannot ignore the cooking vessel either. You don’t need an expensive panini press to make a great Grilled Cheese. A nice thick cast-iron is best, or a sturdy griddle pan. Please show the sandwich respect and cook it in an appropriate vessel, a cheep non-stick skillet will not give you nearly the same results as a good cast-iron pan. And don’t crank up the head to ‘charcoal’. Medium to med-high only. Another trick is to place two cast-iron pans in a 300 degree oven for twenty to thirty minutes. Prepare the sandwiches while the pans heat. Remove from oven and place the sandwiches in the larger pan with the smaller on top. This will give you a wonderful crust and will squish down the bread like a poor man’s panini.
Lastly, we have filling. Please, do not fall into the trap of limiting yourself to cheese. A Grilled Cheese is so much more than just melted cheese between bread. You can add virtually anything to a Grilled Cheese. Tomato and basil? Yup. Mustard? Hell yes! In fact, if you add nothing else, please consider a little brown mustard. Apples or figs? Why not? Ham or turkey or bacon? Please. Apricot jam? Trust me. In fact, I have a theory that you can mix any bread, any cheese, and any jam to make a spectacular Grilled Cheese. Try it, you’ll like it. Jam on a Grilled Cheese is like playing Dungeons and Dragons, if you can get past the cultural programming that says ‘hey, that’s what dorks do’, then you will find you might actually enjoy it.
Here are a few other combos you might want to try:
Swiss(or gruyere) and caramelized onions.
Blue cheese and figs.
Mozzarella, tomato and basil.
Pepper jack, avocado and salsa.
Brie, ham and sliced apple or pear.