The grilled cheese sandwich is an undisputed classic. Melted cheese on buttery toasted bread really can’t miss.
Whether it is offered as an old-school white bread with American cheese version or a fancy combo of imported cheese, artisanal bread, and specialty condiments, this sandwich is pretty wonderful. OK, OK, it’s not exactly health food, but sometimes a splurge is warranted (even after a month of holiday foods), and as far as indulgences go, this one is quite delicious.
When it is paired with a simple salad like the one below and chased with a dessert of fresh fruit, sorbet or mint tea, the richness of the grilled cheese sandwich balances out.
Coating the outside of the bread with mayonnaise is an unorthodox approach, but trust me, it enhances the crispiness of the bread, adds a subtle tang of flavor and, although this is not much of a consideration under the circumstances, slightly reduces the fat content in the sandwich by using a bit less butter.
As for the bread, I opted for a hearty whole grain loaf, but any good quality sturdy bread works — try a plowman’s loaf, table bread, boule, sourdough et cetera — different bakers have different names but you are looking for something firm and kind of chewy, not anything delicate or flimsy.
Using grated cheese ensures even melting and a transcendent texture. The amounts below are estimates; depending on the size of the bread, more or less of each ingredient may be needed.
The Best Grilled Cheese (Dairy)
Makes 1 sandwich
2 slices best-quality, sturdy bread
4 thin slices of tomato, cut to fit the bread
½ cup grated cheddar cheese
1 tsp. mayonnaise (enough to barely coat the outside of the bread)
¼ to ½ tsp. your favorite bottled hot sauce or very finely chopped chili peppers (optional)
1 Tbsp. butter
Lightly coat one side of each bread slice with mayonnaise. Melt half of the butter in a medium skillet over medium heat.
While the butter melts, assemble the sandwich. Place half of the cheese on the non-mayonnaise side of the bread. Place the tomatoes on the cheese, then add the hot sauce if using, and top it with the remaining cheese. Cover it with the remaining slice of bread and place it in the skillet.
Slowly cook the sandwich to a golden-brown on the bottom, carefully flip and add the remaining butter to the skillet.
Lift the sandwich and tilt pan to allow the butter underneath to spread. Cook the other side of the sandwich to a golden-brown and remove from pan. Serve hot.
If this flavor profile does not tickle your fancy, consider the following grilled cheese variations:
Rye bread, Swiss cheese, caramelized onion, grainy mustard
Italian bread, mozzarella cheese, pesto, sun-dried tomatoes
Italian bread, provolone cheese, roasted peppers
Pumpernickel bread, Muenster
Cheese, thinly sliced dill pickles, mustard
Sourdough bread, feta cheese, olive tapenade
Challah, goat cheese, apples, honey
Rye bread, smoked Gouda, Russian dressing, sauerkraut
Boule, Monterey jack, salsa
Baguette sliced on the diagonal, brie, walnuts, fig jam
Simple Salad (Pareve)
For the salad:
1 small head lettuce: bibb, red leaf, romaine, etc., torn
1 beet, peeled and sliced with a vegetable peeler
1 Granny Smith apple, chopped
For the dressing:
1 pinch salt
1 generous sprinkle of black pepper
1 scant sprinkle garlic powder
1 tsp. balsamic vinegar
1 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
Toss salad ingredients in a medium-sized bowl. Sprinkle the dressing ingredients over the salad and toss well.