Tuesday, July 17, 2012

The Perfect Grilled Cheese

The grilled cheese might seem like too simple a dish to write about, but there is an art to making one  right.  And this is the perfect grilled cheese.  What makes this the perfect grilled cheese is butter toasting the bread in the pan.  I have explored many of the ways to make a grilled cheese; I've done it with a toaster oven, panini maker, George Foreman grill, and any other reasonable way to try and make a grilled cheese.  I've tried using a slot toaster then putting the cheese on and hoping the heat will be enough to melt it.  That way doesn't work.

The Perfect Grilled Cheese

2 slices Texas toast bread (or white bread of your choice) frozen if possible
2 slices Land o'Lakes white American cheese
1 tbsp unsalted butter

Fun additions and accompaniments like:
Cream of tomato soup

This is the perfect grilled cheese and it's also the messiest way to make a grilled cheese, but worth it.  I'm using Trader Joe's Texas Toast bread, which is basically thick white bread with little nutritional value.  I've had grilled cheeses with wheat bread before, and wheat or multigrain bread can bring out the flavor in some cheeses, but the grilled cheese is junk food and should be made with white bread.  You can substitute whatever your favorite nutritionally void white bread if you like.  There are undoubtedly many different cheeses that one could use to make a good grilled cheese sandwich, but this is America and we use Land o'Lakes white American cheese.  It is important to butter the bread before toasting in the pan, and I used 1/2 a tablespoon of butter for each slice of bread.  For my wife's sandwich I added two slices of ham; other common additions include bacon or tomato.  This method also works well with hot dog buns to make a killer cheese dog.

Butter the bread before it defrosts
I've made these before and looked at the stick of butter wondering how much I used; it's easy to go overboard when buttering the bread.  Since my wife and I don't eat an entire loaf of sliced bread before it molds, we always freeze our bread after the first day or two.  So normally I would take four slices of bread out of the freezer 30 minutes or so before making grilled cheeses.  Then when the time comes to butter the bread, the hard butter rips up the top layer of the bread and ruins it.  Here's the trick: butter the bread before defrosting it.  I cut a tablespoon of butter, then cut that in half and butter each side of bread.  The only tricky thing is remembering to keep the buttered sides facing out when the bread goes in the pan.  The frozen bread doesn't get torn up and you get nice even coverage.
Building the sandwich in the pan

I build the sandwich right in the pan.  First slice of bread goes in, butter side down.  Then add two slices of American cheese, being careful to keep it in the center of the bread.  If the cheese sticks out over the edges of the bread, trim the cheese so it doesn't stick out.  You don't want the cheese to melt out the sides of the sandwich to burn in the pan.  It's also important to use two slices of cheese at the most.  If you use more you run the risk of spilling the melted cheese in the course of flipping the sandwich.  Two slices of cheese seems to be the perfect amount for the standard sliced bread size.

About to flip for the first time, see how thick the bread still is

I keep the heat right around medium and turn it up and down as needs dictate.  If the heat is too low you won't get the nice golden brown on the outside of the sandwich.  If the heat is too high you'll toast the outside without melting the cheese at the center.  It's best to start at a lower temperature (I set the burner to 4 out of 9) and turn it up if it takes too long.  It can be difficult to flip the sandwich using a spatula if the cheese hasn't melted yet; the sandwich doesn't have anything to keep it together until the cheese melts.  Hold the sandwich together as you flip it until you see that it's stuck together.  As it's toasting, press down with the spatula from time to time.  The bread compresses and it helps the heat get to the center.

This side looks done

My wife wanted grilled cheese with ham, so for her sandwich I added two slices of ham.  If I were making myself a ham sandwich I would use twice as much ham, but this is a grilled ham and cheese so the grilled cheese needs as much attention as the ham.  The ham goes at the center of the sandwich with a slice of cheese on either side before the bread on the outside.

Building a grilled ham and cheese 
Only two slices of ham

This recipe is high on the list of reasons why I could never be vegan. We warmed up Trader Joe's Creamy Tomato Soup and dunked the sandwiches in.  This is the definition of comfort food.

Ready to eat

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