“It always tastes better when you make it.”
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 an 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 washes dishes. 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.
My grilled cheese is a sandwich that brings back all the hazy nostalgia of summers at the pool, being handed a Velveeta-and-Wonder Bread confection straight from the griddle.
That sandwich crunched when you sunk your teeth into it and stuck onto the paper plate as the cheese cooled. It was 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 four foolproof tips so you’ll know how to make grilled cheese that always comes out perfectly:
Use a melty cheese.
Cheddar may be an all-American standard, but if you’re not sneaking to the grocery store in sunglasses and a hoodie to anonymously purchase a package of Kraft Singles, you still need something a little more pliant to create that all-important stringiness.
I use two cheeses on my sandwiches, pairing a semi-hard type with Muenster, Monterey Jack, Colby Jack, or even mozzarella to ensure that a very gooey and satisfying cheese pull every time.
Use white bread.
Listen, I’ve tried to be virtuous when making grilled cheese with multigrain slices, but they are just too hearty for this task.
The fiber content works against the slices, turning them into dry bread pucks attached to congealing cheese.
Any soft, porous sandwich bread such as a Pullman loaf or even sliced crusty Italian bread works wonders; you want something that’s going to soak up the sizzling fats like a sponge.
And speaking of fats, plural…
Double up on your fats.
I know, it’s putting one more nail in the coffin of health for this meal. But the combination of oil and butter is key.
Preheat a tablespoon of oil in the pan while you butter the bread all the way to the edges with whipped or softened butter. Some people prefer mayonnaise for the job, which is fine, but I’m just a dairy gal through and through.
When the solid butter hits the liquid oil, it starts a time-release reaction that slowly toasts the bread, letting it soak up all that tasty buttery flavor while the cheese melts. And speaking of slow…
Slow and low, that is the tempo.
All you cooks who are afraid of turning your burners up past medium—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 the heat no higher than medium-low and use a well-seasoned cast iron pan, and you’ll get a crispity crunchity coating for the gods.
- 2 tablespoons butter, at room temperature
- 2 slices white sandwich bread
- 1 ounce 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.
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