KUALA LUMPUR, July 18 — There are so many ways to go about it. Almost everyone has a theory on what makes a perfect grilled cheese sandwich — that simplest and most sublime of toasted sandwiches.
It’s basically just cheese slapped between two slices of bread. When done right, it’s oh so good. When done wrong, you feel betrayed; your calorie allowance for the week squandered.
Some say you ought to use mayonnaise instead of butter when slathering some form of spread on the bread. (Never margarine!) Others argue the slices should go in the pan naked, the fat — preferably butter ‚— ought to be melted in the pan already.
Some say to add a bit of oil to the butter to increase the smoking point. Others consider this sacrilege — who’d want to bite into a grilled cheese sandwich tasting of olive oil or coconut oil? And that’s just the fat used. We haven’t even gotten to the bread or the cheese yet.
I’ve always been ambivalent about grilled cheese sandwiches; I’d see it on the menu at a diner or café, nod, and order something else. And it always felt a lot of trouble to make it myself at home, which is just me being lazy because there aren’t many other dishes that call for so few ingredients!
Still, I was indifferent to its charms until I watched Alvin Zhou, a Tasty producer, test 11 hacks to make better grilled cheese sandwiches. Some were duds — such as toasting the insides of the sandwich or rubbing the bread with garlic, the way you would with a bruschetta.
Others worked miracles. Zhou listed his favourite three — using sourdough instead of plain white bread, for extra texture; trying a variety of cheeses for more complex flavours; and adding honey for a hit of sweetness to what is a savoury snack.
I’ve always been a fan of Zhou’s work — his Making It Big series that supersizes treats such as pizzas and burgers is a sheer joy to watch — but now? Consider me a fan of grilled cheese sandwiches too. (Thanks, Alvin!)
GRILLED CHEESE SANDWICH
This might be the only grilled cheese sandwich recipe you need. It’s certainly the only one I’ll use from now on.
The trick to its simplicity — only FOUR ingredients! — is to use very good ingredients. Even then, I believe you can get away with any halfway decent unsalted butter and runny honey.
Instead, focus on the quality of the bread and the variety of the cheeses. Nothing beats sourdough in my opinion and even with sourdough, there can be a huge difference in quality.
I’ve used the signature loaf from Dou Dou Bake here, made from ancient grains — such as spelt, purple rye, durum and kamut — that are freshly milled daily.
You want a bread that tastes good on its own and can hold up to the rich, strong cheese flavours. The same goes for the cheese; you want to use cheeses you’d eat on their own. (It’s like how we choose red wines for red wine sauces — something you’d drink but nothing needlessly expensive.)
A good rule of thumb would be 3-5 cheeses. Some should be flavourful hard or semi-hard cheeses; these are grated. At least one cheese ought to be a good melting cheese; these are soft so are best sliced.
Here I’ve used an aged Cheddar, a well-matured Gouda and slices of Monterey Jack. But you can use any cheese you like, or switch it up every time you have a hankering for a grilled cheese sandwich. Raid the larder and use what you have; it’s a good way of finishing the odds and ends.
2 slices sourdough bread
50g aged Cheddar, grated
50g Gouda cheese, grated
3 slices Monterey Jack cheese
50g unsalted butter
1 tablespoon runny honey
Begin with one slice of sourdough bread as the base. Layer a mix of the grated cheeses on the slice, pressing down where needed so the holes are filled up too.
Next place the slices of melting cheese on top, finished with another layer of grated cheeses. Top with the second slice of bread and press it down firmly.
Place the butter on a non-stick pan and heat slowly over low heat. Stir constantly until the butter has completely melted. Once the butter begins to foam and some browned specks appear, you should smell a nutty aroma and the browned butter is ready for the sandwich.
Keep the heat on low even as you place the sandwich on the pan to prevent the butter from burning. Turn the sandwich around a few times so that the bottom slice is fully coated with the brown butter.
Then cover with a lid. This will allow the cheeses in the centre to begin to melt as the bottom slice gets some nice colour.
After 2 minutes, remove the lid and flip the sandwich carefully. Drizzle runny honey on the top (the grilled slice); the heat will caramelise the honey. Let it sit for another 2 minutes, without the lid, then remove from heat.
Rest on a wire rack for 2-3 minutes (to cool the grilled cheese a bit; else there’s a danger of burning your tongue!) before slicing into half diagonally. Stack on a plate and serve immediately.
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