Who says that you have to stick with bread and cheese for a tasty Grilled Cheese Sandwich? Learn how to liven up a classic recipe.
It's the perfect time for warm comfort foods like grilled cheese during this chilly winter season. The sandwich is a classic for reason — it calls for everyday ingredients and makes a quick and tasty meal on a busy weeknight. It's crispy, soothing and satisfies both kids and adults alike when it's made with care. What's not to love?
Gooey American cheese melted between two slices of white bread remains an irresistible combination. Sometimes, though, you need to mix it up. Not all breads and cheeses are suitable, however, so it's important to keep some grilled cheese making guidelines in mind.
Think Outside the (Bread) Box
Consider sliced sourdough, rye, French baguette or even Italian ciabatta. You also can't go wrong with a high-quality white or wheat sandwich bread. Stick to slices that are about half an inch thick to ensure the proper ratio of bread to cheese.
Speaking of cheese, remember that all are not created equal. Hard varieties like Parmesan and Pecorino Romano won't melt no matter what, so stick to younger cheeses (think Gruyere, Muenster, brie and young cheddars) that slice easily, even when cold. Use one or two ounces of grated, crumbled or thinly sliced cheese in each sandwich to ensure even cooking.
Fill It Up
Experimenting with fillings is also an opportunity to break the monotony and maybe even sneak in some nutrients. Seek out sweet or tangy fruits and vegetables that will contrast with the rich cheese and buttered bread. Any type of pickles like kimchi or peppers should be under consideration. Also explore spreads with an acidic kick like jams, chutneys, relishes and mustard. Finish it off with chopped fresh herbs like basil or sage to add an aromatic punch, or fold in a few slices of salty salami or prosciutto.
Bring the Right Heat
Patience is a virtue when making any type of grilled cheese, and the key to making the perfect sandwich lies in the cooking technique. If the heat is too high, the bread will scorch and turn black while the center remains cold and un-melted. On the other hand, the bread won't properly toast if the heat is too low. Use medium-low heat to guarantee bread with a golden crust and gooey cheese. Resist the urge to walk away and quickly sweep the floors or do the dishes while making grilled cheese, as it's a surefire way to end up with bread burnt to a crisp.
It's All in the Spread
The outsides of a typical grilled cheese are usually spread with softened, room temperature butter before cooking. It creates that toasty-brown crust and imparts that subtle caramelized flavor that makes the sandwich so appealing.
You can also use mayonnaise in a pinch if the stick of butter in your fridge is rock-hard. Spread each side of the bread with a thin but even layer, and it will produce an impressive golden brown crust when cooked in a hot skillet. Some even prefer its slightly tangy flavor to that of butter. Just be sure to use a store-bought mayonnaise because the homemade version won't produce the same effect. It might even convert the mayonnaise-phobes in your life.
Keeping all these tips in mind, here are six ideas to get started. Then try creating a unique grilled cheese that reflects your family's personal tastes and preferences:
1. Gruyere with apples: This hard Alpine cheese is made from the milk of cows grazing high in the mountains of Switzerland. It's renowned for its unmistakably creamy and nutty flavors, and it's a vital ingredient in an authentic fondue. Layer three thin slices of tart apples like Granny Smith over grated Gruyere cheese before cooking. Adults and adventurous kids will appreciate a squirt of honey mustard served on the side for dipping.
2. Cheddar with bacon: Stick with a younger and softer cheddar that will melt more thoroughly. Then cook two slices of bacon in a cast iron skillet until they're completely crispy on the outside. Remove them from the pan and layer over the grated cheese. Optional: place one or two thin slices of tomato over the bacon to add some brightness to this indulgent sandwich.
3. Mozzarella with pesto and sundried tomatoes: Recreate the beloved flavors of pizza with this pairing. Chop three sundried tomatoes into bite-sized pieces. Grate the cheese if using packaged mozzarella, but delicate fresh mozzarella in brine can be sliced. Spread the inside of one piece of bread with a store-bought basil pesto and the sprinkle with three sundried tomatoes.
4. Muenster with avocado: This American interpretation of the notoriously stinky German cheese, recognizable by its bright orange rind, is surprisingly mild. The semi-soft texture is also ideal for melting. Top grated Muenster with three slices of perfectly ripe avocado. Consider giving it a grown-up twist with the addition of thinly sliced red onion or a few leaves of fresh arugula.
5. Blue cheese with pear and honey: Select a mild and soft Danish blue cheese or Gorgonzola and spread the inside of a slice of bread with it. Drizzle the cheese with a tablespoon of honey and then top with four slices of thinly-sliced pear. Nut lovers can even add a few chopped pecans for added crunch.
6. Goat cheese with Nutella: Here's a novel dessert or after-school snack. Spread the inside of a slice of bread with the chocolate and hazelnut spread and then evenly sprinkle some goat cheese crumbles. The warm goat cheese will melt into the Nutella and create a treat reminiscent of chocolate cheesecake.