So, I posted Simple Tomato Soup the other day, and I realized I’ve never really posted a grilled cheese recipe. Now, really…who needs a recipe for grilled cheese? I suspect no one does, but I’m giving you one anyway. Okay, it’s not really a recipe but more of a process, because everyone should be able to make The Perfect Grilled Cheese! The Latin Lover wasn’t too hungry, it was a tad chilly out, so tomato soup and grilled cheese was his desire. I had leftover Simple Tomato Soup, so a grilled cheese was just the thing to complete the perfect cycle of life!
The keys to grilled cheese perfection are: good bread, good cheese, low heat and mayonnaise. Yes, you read that correctly, mayonnaise. It isn’t butter, but mayonnaise. Hands-down mayonnaise will give you a better browned and crispy exterior than butter. I know what you’re thinking, because others think this a little too frequently for The Goddess’s comfort…”She’s crazy!” But, try this and you will see how wonderful, and uncrazy, it is.
Let’s break this down…good bread. I made a loaf of potato bread yesterday, because I had some sour milk and well, leftover mashed potatoes. It turned our wonderfully well, which is nice, since recently that hasn’t been the case. I use the handy-dandy bread machine, but on the “dough” cycle. Then, I shape it and bake the loaf in a conventional oven. So it was really nice and just perfect for grilled cheese. However, I have used that spongy bread, in a pinch, and well, no one spit them out!
Good cheese. I don’t use “American cheese”, because I’m not crazy about the way it melts or the lack of flavor. I know this makes me sound like the worst kind of food snob, but I prefer to use “real” cheeses—sharp cheddar, Swiss, Gruyère, brie or any combination that suits you. Today, I used sliced sharp, Wisconsin cheddar. Use at least two slices per sandwich; I used three. The Latin Lover likes a sandwich with some substantial cheese. Now, having said all of this, if you like/love American cheese, use it. My mother always used Velveta®, and I must say, I loved those grilled cheese and it does melt like a dream.
Mayonnaise is so, so, so much better than butter. If you want a crispy, nicely browned exterior. Think about it—butter is about 16-17 percent water; mayonnaise has about 7-8 percent water, depending on the brand. Therefore, less water, crispier sandwich. Instead of smearing the outside with butter, smear it with your favorite mayonnaise. You don’t need to soak it, just a good smear, or schmear!
Low heat is essential, or this won’t end well. You’ll end up with a crispy, but burned grilled cheese, and the cheese won’t even have melted. I usually get the pan hot, then turn the heat to medium or medium-low. You’ll have to know how hot your stove/burners are to judge the heat level. Cast iron pan’s work particularly well, but remember, once they’re hot, they retain the heat more and therefore you’ll need to use lower heat. I usually flip the grilled cheese, when I see the cheese just beginning to become slightly limp. Then, whoosh!!! Over it goes.
Those are the essentials. But, you may smear a little mustard, jam or preserves on the bread (the inside, not the outside!) Some fresh herbs are nice. Bacon is nice (particularly with bleu cheese or brie). Ham is nice, too. But then, really you’re into something a bit different from The Perfect Grilled Cheese!
So, for each sandwich, you’ll need:
- 2 slices good-quality bread
- 2-3 slices cheddar, Swiss, Gruyère, gouda, havarti cheese
Place a heavy skillet over medium heat. While the skillet heats, prepare your sandwich.
Place the cheese slices on the bread; close the sandwich. Smear a thin layer of mayonnaise on one side of the exterior of the sandwich. Lower the heat to medium-low or low; place the sandwich, mayo-side down in the skillet. Carefully smear mayo on the side of the sandwich that is now facing upward. Do not move the sandwich. Let it brown nicely. This will take about 2-3 minutes, depending on the level of heat. When the cheese just begins to soften, it’s time to flip the sandwich. If the sandwich moves and sort of comes apart, just push it back together. Let the second side brown, about 2 minutes. The cheese should be completely melted. Remove from the heat. Cut in half and serve immediately.
NOTE: You may cut a grilled cheese sandwich into small squares and use them as Ina Garten does, as “croutons” in bowls of tomato soup! YUM!
And that’s it. As an aside, I like tomatoes, for some reason. It makes the sandwich a bit juicy and more difficult to eat, but I like it. I also like my sandwich on the “dark side”, as you can see. That is, by the way, intentional! And, from time to time, The Goddess has been know to indulge in adding thinly sliced dill pickles to her sandwiches made with sharp cheddar. And just to complete this Philistine adventure, she dips the sandwich in ketchup. Horrors! But, it’s a childhood memory and well, she had a wonderful childhood! Enjoy!