The humble grilled cheese deserves a makeover.
The simplicity and speed with which this classic sandwich can be assembled makes it a natural for a low-labor dinner after a long day. On its own it’s great any time of year. Paired with a bowl of tomato soup, it’s perfect fall comfort food.
But turning to a classic doesn’t mean you can’t tinker with tradition. Here are some simple suggestions for bringing new life to your grilled cheese without turning it into an ordeal.
Condiments can make this sandwich a whole new experience. Ignore the culture clash and use thin slices of manchego cheese (from Spain) along with a few tablespoons of mango chutney (from India).
Speaking of cultures, there is a whole world of wonderful cheese out there, so don’t limit yourself to sandwich slices. Most any soft or semisoft cheese works well. Brie is heavenly. So are blue cheese, gouda and fresh mozzarella.
Don’t forget the meat. Some thinly sliced deli meats, or shredded cooked chicken breast, go well with virtually any cheese, take no extra time and help turn the sandwich into a hearty meal.
Bacon is divine. Cook a few strips in a skillet, then remove them from the pan, but don’t drain the grease from it. Add the bacon to the sandwich and use the drippings as the fat for grilling the sandwich. Not healthy, but delicious.
Even if bacon isn’t your thing, don’t automatically reach for butter. Experiment with oils, such as peanut and sesame, which will lend savory, nutty flavors to the bread.
Roll with this one. Peanut butter and Cheddar cheese. A little bit of each will create a warm, oozing delicious mess.
For a decorative touch, imprint mushrooms or fresh herbs onto the top of the sandwich. First grill one side, then place topping on the uncooked side, flip the sandwich and continue grilling.
Bread variety can make a big difference. Hearty whole-grain breads add to the substance of the sandwich (white tends to just flatten out). Whole-wheat hamburger rolls are nice, too. And consider flour tortillas, which turn these into quasi quesadillas.
Whatever fillings you go with, following a basic construction formula helps ensure success. The best bet is to layer in this order — bread, cheese, other fillings, more cheese, bread. Having cheese on either end helps seal the sandwich.
Ham and Turkey Grilled Cheese
Yield: 1 servings
2 tablespoons butter
2 slices deli ham
2 slices whole-wheat bread
4 slices Cheddar-jack cheese
2 slices deli turkey breast
Thin slice of mushroom or fresh herbs for garnish
Freshly ground black pepper
Preheat a heavy skillet over medium heat. Add the butter and let it melt, gently turning the skillet to coat it evenly with the butter. Add the ham and cook 1 to 2 minutes, or until slightly browned and crisp. Remove from the heat.
To assemble the sandwich, top one slice of bread with 2 slices of cheese, then 1 slice of the ham, followed by both slices of turkey, the second slice of ham and the remaining slices of cheese. Finish with the second slice of bread.
Return the skillet to the burner over medium heat. Add the sandwich and cook for 3 to 4 minutes, or until the bottom slice is nicely browned and crisp. Spray the top of the sandwich with cooking spray, then set the mushroom slice or herbs on top. Sprinkle with freshly ground black pepper.
Carefully flip the sandwich, holding the herbs or mushroom in place. Place a plate on top of the sandwich and weigh it down with a heavy can or kettle filled with water (or other flat, heavy object, such as a cast-iron skillet). Grill for another 3 to 4 minutes, or until the bread is browned and the cheese melted.
Use a spatula to carefully transfer the sandwich to a plate, flipping to display the mushroom or herbs.