Oh grilled cheese, is there a food that doesn’t exist in some way in each cuisine? Mexican has the quesadea, Japanese has the Chiizu no yaki-onigiri (grilled rice and cheese ball), slovak has the Smažený sýr (breaded cheese sandwich), and even the British have their Welsh rarebit (open face grilled cheese). Bread and cheese just seems like a perfect fit, and there’s no end of ways of combining the two. So what makes a great grilled cheese sandwich?
If there was a top 10 foods I’d eat every day if my waistline let me, grilled cheese among them (the definite others being: Pizza, Tacos, and Sushi) . There are so many ways to enjoy grilled cheese, to dress it up, and to either simplify it or gourmet it.
Classic Grilled Cheese
Let’s start out simple. The classic grilled cheese. Two pieces of bread with cheese inside. Doesn’t get more simple than that. And yet there are so many things you can do with this simple design to bring the look and flavor up to the next level. Just remember Rule #1 of making a grilled cheese – It should be about the cheese.
- The “Grill” – Yes you can lightly toast the bread, by why can’t you add flavor with it? I keep my bacon fat in a sealed jar in the fridge (don’t judge me) and it works marvelously to add both crispness and great flavor to the sandwich.
- The “Cheese” – Yes you can go with “American Cheese” slices. But they tend to be so flavorless. Why not do some mixing and matching? Cheddar & mozzarella. Brie & PepperJack. Gruyère & Provolone. Use your favorite soft cheese and kick it up some.
- Extras – Even though this is a straight up grilled cheese sandwich doesn’t mean you can skimp on the extras. The often overlooked Salt & Pepper will greatly enhance any sandwich, grilled cheese is no exception. Depending on your cheese, adding some dill or basil gives a nice balance to the softer tastes of the cheeses. Try adding mustard or mayo to the bread. Just keep it simple. You don’t want it overpowering the cheese.
Grilled Cheese w/Veggies
Everything I said above? Still applies. But why limit yourself to a simple cheese & bread? Adding some veggies to the mix will not only add extra flavors, but also add some nutrition to what is usually… well lets say it’s not the healthiest thing around (but still so tasty). Few things whenever adding veggies to a grilled cheese:
- Thin – Rule #1… That being said, you don’t want to have a huge sandwich cause you stuffed tons of veggies in there. This is a grilled cheese sandwich, not a veggie sandwich. The cheese is the star and the veggies are helping actors.
- Pre cook – any veggie that you might want hot, or need to be cooked, do it ahead of time. The cheese is going to melt much faster than anything you put with it. Plan ahead and get everything up to temp first. Not to mention some foods just work better cooked, like spinach or onions in a grilled cheese.
- Remove water – I’m looking at you tomatoes on this one. If you are planning your veggie to stay crisp you need to make sure the veggie you are adding has most of the water removed. If you want hot tomatoes quickly fry them up and set aside on a paper towel to soak up that extra water that has been released. Adding cold items? Set them aside after slicing on paper towels to wick away extra moister. Nothing is worse than a soggy sandwich
- Some Assembly required – To place the items together before or after cooking the sandwich? If you are adding anything hot, place it between the bread along with the cheese when you cook the sandwich. Cold items go on after, although has the added complexity of needing to be cooked open-faced (or try separating warm gooey cheese afterwards… I however don’t recommend it).
Grilled Cheese w/Extras
Everything I said above… yea, you get the idea. Foods like that. Start simple and keep adding on layers. So extras. You’ve got your veggies but why stop there? Bacon is the most commonly added “extra” to grilled cheese (cooking ahead of time still applies remember), but it’s not the only thing you can do to your sandwich to give it a bit extra.
- Meats – You already know about bacon, but what about ham, shredded chicken, salami, or pulled pork? Just remember this isn’t grilled meat, but a grilled cheese. Keep the quantities small to add flavor to your cheese.
- Breads – So many options beyond white or rye. First your breads – you aren’t limited to plain sliced bread. Flat breads, pita, English muffins: If it’s bread (or bread like) it’s an option. And what about cooking it? Panini is probably the most common, many of us don’t have that. You can press it with a tin foiled brick, but why not try the waffle iron? Not bad, although you have to use way less filling. Granted why not try starting with the waffle to being with? Or perhaps make a breakfast grilled cheese with French Toast… technically isn’t a Monte Cristo a fancy grilled cheese?
- Combo sandwiches – Some things just work together. Grilled cheese is no exception, so long as you remember Rule #1. Why not make a pizza grilled cheese? Place some sauce on the inside of the bread and then add the pepperoni and mozzarella. Greek Salad Grilled Cheese – Feta & mozzarella with Roasted peppers topped with some crispy lettuce. Spinach Dip Grilled cheese – Take the traditional spinach dip and place between crispy bread. How about Grilled Cheese Burritos – cheese and beans between bread. Why not?
- “Other” items – Ever add an egg to a grilled cheese? A fried egg adds a nice flavor. (I prefer mine over easy). Depending on your cheese, some fruits even work (raspberries paired with brie come to mind). Basically if you think something would taste great with the cheese you are using, chances are you can figure a way to make it work in a grilled cheese.
What do you like in your grilled cheese? Have a favorite combo you’d like to share? Or perhaps your own hints that I’ve missed. Leave a comment below with your thoughts.
Herb or flavored butters are a great way to spice up grilled cheese. Along the vegetarian lines a bit of hummus can work in place of mayo. Also baking your grilled cheese adds a different flavor/texture to the mix and can allow you to cook veggies on the sandwich without precooking them if you’re looking for less dishes in the end (note this does not apply to anything that “requires” cooking to be safely edible). Using an heirloom tomato rather than a regular tomato could be a blog in itself, but off the top Big Rainbows are a very firm fleshy sweet tomato which help with the water issue, they are also brightly colored making it a fun one for kids. Black Krim also have unique coloration but are somewhat more to the salty end of the scale for flavor. Purple Cherokee tomatoes impart almost a smokey flavor. Which reminds me, just a touch of cumin can impart a smokiness to the sandwich, though if you use a smoked cheese this certainly won’t be necessary
Nice will have to try going beyond my traditional tomatoes. Always just used traditional big boys or grape tomatos since that’s what i usually have on hand. And always a fan of herbs. Hadn’t thought of Hummus though.
The heirlooms can be hard to find fresh, try a farmers market, you might have some luck but you’re still looking at at least 2-3 months from now for locally grown. Personally I’ve planted a small indoor garden with Big Rainbows and Black Krim along with some herbs, being in a basement apartment it’s really my only option, so we’ll see how that goes