Wednesday, July 28, 2010


I am prone to random proclamations.

Like when I claim that grilled cheese will make me rich someday.

But it will! I am not sure exactly how yet, but there is one thing I am sure of. I can make a mighty tasty gooey cheese sammich.


Grilled gruyére and comté on sourdough with arugula, sauteed red onions and peppadews. Bottom one also has bacon.

There are a few principles I follow when it's time for a snazzy grilled cheese dinner. Or lunch. Or even breakfast. Whenever.

1. Let creativity ooze the way the cheese should.
Oh boy. Where to begin... there are so many types of cheese to choose from for your sandwich. As long as it is a type that melts well, consider it an option. I like to pick two different cheeses to work with. One type is fine as well, but you get more complexity with two. I think three would start to make the cheeses compete instead of working together. But hey. Prove me wrong and make a six-cheese sandwich!

The next thing to decide on is what else will go into the sandwich – you didn't think it was just cheese and bread now, did you? Think of all of the foods that pair well with cheese: eggs, meats, pasta, tomatoes, pickles, jams, fruit, hot peppers, mayonnaise, hummus, hot sauce, vinegar – this is possibly and endless list – lettuce (so many kinds!), sprouts, hot dogs, bacon, french fries, zucchini, cucumber, sprouts – I am going to cut myself off now. But see what I mean about the creative possibilities? Making a great grilled cheese sandwich is all about experimentation– just like college.

2. What goes in is what comes out.
The better quality the ingredients you buy, the better the end result. If you go to the corner bodega and buy white bread, American cheese slices and some Oscar Meyer bacon, you are going to get a sandwich that lives somewhere between the school cafeteria and 7-11 in Flavorland. Take a trip to your local farmer's market and get inspired! See what produce looks the best this week. Chances are you'll see something that you wouldn't have normally considered for your sandwich... ramps maybe? Lambsquarters? Dandelions? Apples? Also keep an eye out for some tasty slabs of artisan meats, fresh eggs and home-made condiments.

As much as I love love love a farmer's market, I think my most favorite part of the whole ordeal is shopping for cheese. For me, making grilled cheese is the perfect excuse to spend time at the amazing Murray's Cheese! Ah, beautiful Murray's. If they had the space, I would live there (I hope they like cats). If you claim to be a cheese lover and you have never been to Murray's Cheese, do yourself a favor and drop what you are doing right now, walk out the door and go visit them on Bleecker Street. Just a warning, it's extremely addicting and you may experience vivid cheese dreams afterwards.

A store like Murray's is a great place to start because not only are there limitless cheeses to choose from, but the cheesemongers there really know their shit and if you ask them for recommendations they'll give you great advice... and samples... SAMPLES!

And then, while you're there, you might as well walk a couple of doors over to Amy's Bread and grab yourself a fresh baked, crusty loaf. I BEG YOU... don't overlook the bread! Choosing the right bread for your sandwich is just as important as choosing all the other components. Consider the flavor and texture of the bread just as you would the fillings. It's no good choosing challah bread if you are trying to build a strong, savory, hard sandwich. Plus, just like with the cheeses, there are so many great options!

3. Take it to the stove!
If I had to sum up this step in one word, it would be patience. Rushing the grilling process will get you nothing except a sandwich with some burnt, greasy bread.

Start by preparing any ingredients that you need to cook, for example, sauteeing onions or frying up bacon. Next, slice your cheeses into thin slices, no more than 1/4" thick, so they melt easily.

Pick a clean nonstick skillet and heat it up over a lower medium flame. Let's say like a 4 out of 10. While the pan is heating up, assemble your sandwich. Spread any condiments such as mayo or hummus onto both slices of bread, then the cheese on both slices, and the other ingredients between the cheese. This makes the cheese act as a glue, holding the bread together with the other ingredients. No need to butter the outsides of the bread slices.

Grilled cheese myth #1: you do not need loads of butter to make a crispy sandwich!

Once the pan is thoroughly heated, about five minutes, drop a small dab of butter, no more than half a tablespoon into the middle and spread around. The pan should be hot enough to melt it immediately. Once the butter is melted, place sandwich in the pan, and do not touch.

Grilled cheese myth #2: high heat will make a toastier sandwich.

Cook over medium heat, periodically checking bottom to make sure bread is not browning too quickly. The goal is to get one side to brown as the cheese is about half way melted. Adjust the heat accordingly, never exceeding that 4 out of 10 flame. Gently push down on sandwich with spatula once or twice to work melting cheese through ingredients.

Grilled cheese myth #3: constant flipping prevents the sandwich from burning.

When the first side is thoroughly browned, about 5 - 8 minutes, flip sandwich over. If the pan looks dry, add a bit more butter before placing the sandwich back in the pan. Do not flip sandwich again. Periodically check to make sure bread is not browning too quickly again, and give it a few more presses with the spatula.

If the bread is browned thoroughly but the cheese looks like it could use a few more minutes, this is when you can flip the sandwich and press it every ten seconds or so to help melt the cheese without browning the bread too much more.

Remove sandwich from pan, cut into halves and serve. I like to serve grilled cheese with an arugula salad with citrus in it to cut through the grease of the cheese.


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