Food Porn! In Defense of the Sandwich Part 1
You know, now that I’m older I don’t do it very often. It smacks of loneliness, of hangovers and bad decisions prior to the hangovers, and it almost necessitates sprawling on the couch in a state of dishabille. I could make it happen anytime, anywhere, and lets face it, I’m not bashful – I was damn good at it. Everyone said so. People would come over just hoping I would do it for them. People wanted to watch, hoping that by watching me do it they could learn my secrets, see just what magic it was that made what I did when I did it so special.
I fear they were disappointed. No matter how good it is with a group, I feel I’m much better at it when I’m on my own. That’s the nature of the beast, I suppose. That’s the nature of the grilled cheese J.
What, you thought I meant something else? Naughty, naughty.
No, I am talking about the ooiest and gooiest of sandwiches, that ultimate decadent creation, that fried in butter or grilled and toasted delight that is bread and cheese and…? Because you see, the grilled cheese is not just a sandwich, it is quite possibly the sandwiches dirty little mistress. It can be dressed up in all kinds of finery, but still, its bread and cheese, as simple and wholesome as you can get. And as utterly comforting and completely satisfying as food can be.
That’s not to say that the grilled cheese should be taken lightly. Oh no. The grilled cheese, the properly appreciated grilled cheese, should have layers, subtleties, decadence and opulence. It should never be the same thing twice. It can be shared with others, this magic, but it is ultimately for you and you alone. It is yours to handle, to taste, to savor, slowly.
What, have you been getting by with a grilled cheese made out of slices of “yellow” cheese you peel off plastic, place between bread coated with margarine, and smashed down with a spatula in a skillet till it melts? You should be ashamed. That kind of sandwich is to the grilled cheese what a two dollar hooker is to a DC Madame. If this is you, you need this. Pay attention. The grilled cheese and I are about to rock your world.
The first thing you need to consider is your choice of bread. Sandwich bread is for wimps, pimps, and the broke ass bit of the end of the month. For this grilled cheese you want something fresh, cleanly sliced, and just the right degree of thickness. Sourdough? I’m a fan of sourdough. Foccacia? No. Foccacia is too much of a stage hog, and for this, you want a supportive little bread that’s happy to be there for the main event, but isn’t looking to snare you away. Sourdough, perhaps something in a mild multigrain, perhaps an Italian. I frown on French bread here because it doesn’t seem quite up to the task, being in my opinion a hair too light and airy. It must be a substantial bread, but not too showy….
The filling. Absolutely no cheese peeled from plastic slices. No. Brie, gouda, goat, gruyere, muenster, swiss, white cheddar, and bleu – all are acceptable, desirable, delicious. Combine as many of these as possible between the layers of your chosen bread. Make it thick.
The bonus – you want something to set off the creaminess, the saltiness, the essence of the cheese. My favorites are thin slices of apple, even better, slightly caramelized apple or well-caramelized onions, the kind that take hours. Or perhaps a smattering of apple butter or a fig jam. Or, if you’re feeling particularly adventurous, dabble in a bit of candied ginger. Be respectful and sparing with your bonus here, but the bonus can elevate the grilled cheese experience from the mundane to the irresistibly divine. This is for the true connoisseur. This is the flair that will impress upon others your expertise, but be warned. Once you have mastered this technique be mindful who you share it with. This level of umami will bind them to you, and they will, like a dog at your heels, be forever gently nipping, begging for more such experiences…
The lacquer – real butter, thinly spread, is acceptable. A light coasting of olive oil will also do. You want to be gentle, and sparing here, with what you add to the bread to keep it from pressing against the pan or press. This lacquer is not a tasting event. It is a means to an end.
Whether you use or a skillet or a panini press (and I prefer the press, because, lets face it, this is all about gratification, and the press brings satisfaction ever so much faster) make sure you don’t over do it. If your cheese is melting into your pan you’ve failed. There is a moment here, an exact and precise point at which the ingredients have melted and melded together, fused their flavors in a symphony of sumptuousness and it is not to be overdone. Don’t worry. Finding this point takes skill, practice, dedication, and patient observation. It gets easier with age, practice, and dedication….
Above all, the cardinal rule of the grilled cheese is to appreciate it in all its sinfulness. Don’t count he calories. Don’t bemoan the gluten. The sinking of teeth into a sandwich such as this should not come often. It is a rare and wondrous treat. And it is, therefore, to be a much coveted and admired experience. Make every bite count.
And lick your lips when you’re done.