No one walks into Lion d'Or for lunch and orders a grilled cheese sandwich. No one walks into Jean-Louis at the Watergate and asks for a croque monsieur, the classic grilled ham-and-cheese sandwich of Parisian cafe's. And that is precisely the problem -- the only place we dare order a grilled cheese is exactly the kind of establishment that cannot make a good grilled cheese sandwich.
Most of our lives we eat this great winter sandwich at inexpensive luncheonettes and greasy spoons that, at the hand of an uncaring and untrained cook, reduce the sandwich to a greasy, often burned mess made from processed bread and wonder cheese (or is it the other way around?). Be it never so humble that we have to eat it that way again!
Before getting to the recipe, there are a few purely subjective facts about grilled cheese sandwiches you should know. First and foremost, a grilled cheese sandwich is never served open-faced, and it is never made under a broiler. It is prepared only with fresh unsalted butter, never margarine. Should you wish, a little mustard or mayonnaise may be spread on the inside of the bread, but only a little and it can never be butter. Butter belongs only on the outside.
You can only make one sandwich at a time in a medium-size saucepan. If you cramp two into the pan, neither cooks properly and they are nearly impossible to flip. Potato chips, cole slaw and pickles are good accompaniments, but a simple salad is best.
And finally, your mother most likely didn't know how to made a great grilled cheese sandwich, so read and follow the recipe that follows very carefully if you want a great new dish to serve family and friends during the coming cold months.
Here are a dozen grilled cheese sandwich ideas. It goes without saying that they would all be better on homemade bread. Choose the combination you want, then follow the recipe below:
*Sharp cheddar with bacon and tomato on rye
*Provolone and mozzarella on white topped with a thick, chunky tomato sauce after the sandwich is grilled
*Gruye re or swiss with ham on white (called a croque monsieur in French)
*Vermont cheddar and cooked turkey on whole wheat
*Leyden and tomato on rye
*Gouda and bacon on rye spread with a little meaux mustard
*Emmenthaler, watercress and tomato on white or rye
*Cheshire on white topped with a Texas-style chili after the sandwich is grilled
*Monterey jack with jalepenos and avocado slices on whole wheat
*Smoked mozzarella, anchovies and tomato on rye or white -- Black diamond cheddar with cooked thin asparagus on white or whole wheat
*Cotswold or leicester with saute'ed wild mushrooms on rye ACCURATE DIRECTIONS LEADING YOU TOWARD A GREAT GRILLED CHEESE SANDWICH (Makes 1 sandwich) 2 slices bread, cut 1/4-inch thick if possible Enough cheese, at room temperature, sliced no more than 1/3-inch thick, to cover one slice of the bread 2 tablespoons unsalted butter Sauce, if using
Toast the bread very lightly without coloring it (this is done best in a toaster oven) to insure that the bread will be perfectly crisp when saute'ed.
Arrange the cheese between the two slices of bread. It should come almost, but not quite, to the edge of the bread. If a filling besides the cheese is being used, place half the cheese (sliced 1/4-inch thick or thinner) on each slice of bread, then place the remaining ingredients in between and close the sandwich.
Melt the butter in a heavy bottomed saute' pan over medium-low heat. When the butter just begins to bubble, place the sandwich in the pan. Cook for exactly two minutes, lowering the heat at the first signs of the butter around the edges of the sandwich beginning to brown.
Flip the sandwich with a spatula. The first side should appear nicely browned and crisp but not at all burnt. Reduce the heat again and cook until the cheese appears to melt, about 2-to-3 more minutes. Lower the heat as often as necessary to insure that the sandwich does not burn before the cheese has melted. For thick sandwiches, the heat may have to be started on low and be reduced to very low for most of the cooking time; or, if you prefer, simply brown and crisp the bread as described above and then place the sandwich in a hot oven to heat the filling.
With a little practice and a lot of softened butter smeared on the outside, grilled cheese sandwiches can be made on a waffle iron or croque monsieur pan, adding a decorative pattern to the outside of the sandwich.