DISH: The Perfect Grilled Cheese
TYPE: Soul Satisfying
MAIN INGREDIENTS: Bread, Cheese, Butter
I have this really clear memory—though it may be an invention—that Jennie, our chef friend of Bolognese fame, once dictated instructions for making the best grilled cheese sandwiches. I think it was after she’d spent some time working in restaurant kitchens, and so she already understood the power of butter, and how delicious it makes everything it touches. Anyway, as per Jennie’s instructions, you were meant to butter BOTH sides of the bread before slowly browning the toast and melting the cheese in the middle.
But Grilled Cheese and I have a long history, much predating Jennie’s requirements for melty perfection. Growing up, a grilled cheese was actually a piece of toast or an English muffin that had been covered with cheese and toasted—in the toaster, not in a frying pan. It was not quite an everyday occurrence, but we definitely ate it a lot, as lunches, or snacks, or even breakfasts. On the other hand, the oxymoronic “fried grilled cheese” was like what you ordered in a diner: a sandwich that achieved its cheese melting by being sauteed in lots of melted butter, in a pan on the stove. This was more delicious, but it was a special treat.
In the college dining halls, the George Forman grill, aka my meal-time savior, was responsible for the creation of a hybrid style of grilled cheese. I couldn’t make the open-faced sandwiches of my youth, since the exposed cheese would stick to the top of the grill. And I couldn’t actually fry in a frying pan, because I didn’t have a frying pan, or a stove, or any cooking equipment to speak of. Actually, the dining hall had a grill in the back, where a cook would make you eggs or burgers or grilled cheese to order, but the cheese was American, the bread white, and the butter margarine. I didn’t really like those grilled cheeses, even though they looked appealing. It must have been then that I started buttering the bread before I put it on the grill, and though I didn’t butter both sides of both slices, Jennie-style, the result was still appropriately gooey and crispy that I felt I’d one-upped the dining hall’s chefs.
So though I realize most cooks probably need a grilled cheese recipe like a hole in their heads, it’s still a dish that has given me much enjoyment as I’ve eaten my way through the test runs and variations. The final version is made back in the frying pan, since my kitchen now lacks a George Forman, but it’s still most influenced by those college lunches, made crispy by buttered bread, but not so heavily buttered that I couldn’t, in theory, eat these almost every day.
From my kitchen of oozy, cripsy combos to yours,
Cara, THE QUARTER-LIFE COOK
The Perfect Grilled Cheese
Serves 1 (easily doubled)
I like to use a mixture of cheeses, but of course you can stick with whatever your favorite happens to be.
2 slices whole wheat bread
2 teaspoons butter
1 oz Jarlsberg, thinly sliced
1/2 oz sharp cheddar cheese, thinly sliced
1 tablespoon grated Parmesan
Freshly ground pepper
pinch of sea salt
Lightly toast your bread. Butter each slice with 1 teaspoon butter. Layer the slices of cheese in the middle, then sprinkle the Parmesan, pepper, and salt, and cover with the second slice of bread.
Cook in a frying pan over medium-low heat, flipping once, until the bread is golden and the cheese is melted. Serve immediately—and fill out your plate with veggies to even out the cholesterol intake.