To begin with, a grilled cheese sandwich has several parts worth describing. First is the cheese, then the bread, then the butter or butter substitute that is applied to the bread prior to grilling. My preferences are:
Cheese: American, cheddar, havarti and Swiss.
Bread: It depends on my mood. For any old day, I like a hearty whole wheat bread — never with sesame seeds on the crust. Basically, if you butter the bread enough, even the most challenging bread becomes nicer when grilled, like Vermont bread, which is yummy, but you have to be a real granola head to eat this stuff in like, a peanut butter and jelly. It is just too hard! Occasionally, I like a thick good crusty bread, custom sliced right before grilling.
Butter: Butter, of course. This is my main complaint when eating grilled cheeses out. I hate bad griddle products. They give people tummy aches if they are not accustomed to them. Too many people are accustomed to this type of thing! Did you know one of the brand names for this is "whirlo"? How gross is that? That said, there is sometimes nothing like a grilled cheese at a diner.
Next on the topic is METHOD of grilling, including the type of pan.
The diner grilled cheese is often done on the big greasy grill. This can be OK. However, if something heavy is placed on the sandwich to speed the process, you get a flat little sandwich missing the properties of the bread — like the slightly crunchy surface and the soft inner parts of the bread. Diners often use super squashy white bread, which can be fun but not if the sandwich is flattened into a hard square item.
I really like my heavy cast iron fry pan. It is a seven-inch pan, and it is well seasoned, with a nice smooth semi-permanently greased surface. I let the pan warm up, set the burner on medium. Lots of butter, folks.
Now, the best grilled cheese is made at home. But the best one I ever had eating out was in New York City many years ago at a restaurant that I think was called "Mike's Broom Street Bar". It came on super thick bread with Swiss cheese. It was really great. My grandmother, who we call Mair, makes wonderful sandwiches on rye bread. I highly recommend rye bread. It is also really great as toast with marmalade.
Good luck and happy grilling! Check back for more local reviews of places of note making sandwiches worth talking about.
Cast Iron Pan Notes
I come from a long line of people (let's not be sexist, here but you know I am talking about my mom!) who knew how to use a cast iron pan. If you have a new cast iron pan, making grilled cheese is the perfect way to season it. If you didn't know that let me make sure you at least get this: never use soap on the pan unless you have a total mess! In fact, if you have just made a grilled cheese the best thing to do is just wipe out the pan with a paper towel. If you are like me and hate to waste such things, just leave the pan for a day then rinse it out. Never leave it with water in it! Never leave it in the sink! Only soak it if you have a real mess! I used to dry mine on the wood stove, but since part of that crumbled in a ball of fire now I sometimes put it on a burner for 5 minutes on medium, turn the burner off, wipe out the puddle with a dish towel and then pretend my dish towel is still clean. (Don't worry, I can't really fool myself about this. I have a stack of dish towels about 20 deep. I go through several a day, even though the only thing I really cook is grilled cheese.)
Rugged Mountain Grilled Cheese
So you are stuck on a mountain, working from home, with the remnants of a temporally distant shopping trip in your fridge? You are hungry but you don't know for what? Gather your strength, and get out that cast iron fry pan!
Here are the ingredients I know you will have on hand:
- 2 slices bread. This recipe should really use that heel that you have been avoiding. Come on, butter that up.
- Butter, of course
- What kind of cheese was that again? However much you have, at least enough to slice and cover the bread. and now, for the secret tuff-Mt-girl ingredient: Lingonberry Jam.
- Fire up the fry pan.
- Use the heel first, butter it well and stick it on the now warm fry pan.
- Slice (or unwrap!) cheese, apply to bread in pan.
- Take the other piece of bread, and while holding it in your hand, gather your fortitude and spread the jam on it. Plop on top of the cheese. Put a dollop of butter on the top, preferably a 1/3 inch cube.
- Cook until the heal side is getting a bit brown. Flip, cook the other side till done, flip again. Finish the heal side.
You've done it! Now eat it. I ate mine with sea salt and vinegar chips and a drink I make with milk and diet Polar cream soda.
Whatleigh's Pacific Street Grilled Cheese (version A)
I am being forced by my mother, the maker of over 4,860 grilled cheeses, to tell you that my recomendation of lots of butter is not from the original recipe. To quote Susan: "The texture to which you refer can be best achieved with minimal butter and well seasoned iron pan. "
Lets just say that although I had grilled cheese a la Susan for every single dinner of my entire life till I left home ... since then I have come up with my own style. And yes, you need to live a semi-arctic life style with plenty of sled dogs and outside chores to burn off all that fat from the butter.
Whatleigh's Pacific Street Grilled Cheese (version B)
For a different grilled, cheese try this one. It was made regularly by our downstairs neighbors in Brooklyn.
What you need is regular sandwich bread, nothing too thick, and 2 eggs per sandwhich. Use whatever cheese you want. Butter goes straight into the pan. Mix up the eggs and dip the bread in like you are going to make French toast. Put one piece of bread in, add the cheese, then put the other slice of bread on top. Grill as usual, but use a slightly lower heat so that you are sure you cook everything all the way through.
Whatleigh's Pregnancy-inspired Grilled Cheese
- Choose a nice bread.
- Butter generously one piece of bread and lay down in the heating fry pan.
- Slice some brie about 1/3 of an inch thick and cover the bread. Stud the cheese with walnuts.
- Spread raspberry jam on the second slice of bread. Put it down on the sandwich and then butter the top.
- Grill to perfection SLOWLY so you get lots of melting and a nice light crispness to the outside of the sandwich.