Hey, I won’t lie: it’s always a nice little jolt to the ego to get compliments on your work. And I know I make good food. It’s one of my few talents in life apart from being able to speed-read, mend clothes, always pick the slowest checkout line at the store, and sing “Yakko’s World” from memory.
But sometimes I don’t want to be the person making the best food. I want to be the person sitting on the couch, finishing up on a DVR’ed episode of Parks and Recreation while my husband brings me a perfectly composed plate of lemongrass pork or a fragrant bowl of penne vodka.
Full disclosure: Dan takes all responsibility for car maintenance, fully assists in the dusting and removal of cat tumbleweeds throughout the house, sprays for ants, and builds raised garden beds for my wonky vegetable planting. He does his share.
Yet even to make something as simple as a grilled cheese sandwich, so Vitruvian in its perfection, falls under my province for the reason quoted above. Can’t a gal who’s just dirtied every single prep bowl in the kitchen three times in the pursuit of homemade Phish Food ice cream get a break once in a while?
It’s true, though. I do make a mean grilled cheese sandwich. One that brings back all the hazy nostalgia of summers at the pool, being handed a Velveeta-and-Wonder Bread confection straight from the griddle, a sandwich that crunched when you sunk your teeth into it and stuck onto the paper plate as the cheese cooled. A grilled cheese sandwich for the ages.
There’s no reason we all can’t have that sandwich again, and that I can be the one being handed the sandwich someday instead of serving it to my nearest and dearest. Here are my tips:
- Use an oozy cheese. If you’re not sneaking to the grocery store in sunglasses and a hoodie to anonymously purchase a package of Kraft Singles, Cheddar and Monterey Jack are the all-American standards. But their semi-hard texture needs something a little more pliant to create that all-important stringiness. I use two cheeses on my sandwiches, pairing a semi-hard type with mozzarella or Muenster to ensure that satisfying pull of a gooey strand of cheese happens when I take a big bite of the sandwich.
- Slow and low, that is the tempo. All you cooks who are afraid of turning your burners up past four—this one’s for you. Though searing heat will certainly give you the instant Maillard reaction of crunchy bread crust caramelization, subjecting your sandwich to high temperatures for an extended period of time will make your bread burn long before the cheese melts. Keep it to medium-low and use a nonstick or well-seasoned cast iron pan, and you’ll get a crispity crunchity coating.
- White bread—it’s not just for middle America! Yes, it’s putting one more nail in the coffin of health for this meal. I’ve tried to be virtuous when making grilled cheese, but keep ending up with dry bread pucks attached to congealing cheese. Any soft, porous sandwich bread works wonders; you want something that’s going to soak up the sizzling fats like a sponge.
- Double up on your fats. Oh yes, and this is the final straw—Dr. Oz, avert your eyes. Not only do I butter both slices of bread within an inch of their lives—butter that’s been softened on the counter or the whipped version in a tub are amazing for the job, since they won’t tear the bread, but I also throw a few tablespoons of vegetable oil in the pan to get things started. More fuel for the fire!
- 2 tablespoons butter, at room temperature
- 2 slices white sandwich bread
- 1 ounce cheese: Monterey Jack, Cheddar, Muenster, and/or mozzarella cheese, sliced 1/8-inch thick
- 1 tablespoon vegetable or canola oil
- Thoroughly spread butter on one side of each slice of bread, making sure to cover the bread all the way to the corners.
- On the non-buttered side of one piece of bread, layer the cheese slices, then top with the remaining bread so both buttered sides are on the exterior.
- Add the oil to a nonstick or cast iron skillet and preheat for 2 minutes over medium-low heat.
- Add the sandwich and cook for 1-2 minutes to create a crunchy, caramelized crust before flipping.
- Cover the pan with a lid and cook for 1-2 minutes more.
- Remove the sandwich from the pan, cut in half, and serve.