Before you balk at the calorific content of this recipe, know this: the grilled cheese sandwich is my oldest son Henry’s ultimate dream meal, and a staple around here. This post is an ode to him, as a tribute and the final part of our celebration of his Bar Mitzvah last weekend.
While Henry fits the mold of the first born son in his devotion to his mother and general desire to “do the right thing”, he digresses when it comes to his food choices. The archetypal “plain eater,” he rejects most of the colourful and flavoursome food that I serve at home.
For many years the lack of variety in my over-indulged first born’s diet caused great anxiety. I spent hours pureeing and hiding vegetables a la Jessica Seinfeld, only revealing Henry’s exceptionally refined palate and the incredible ability to taste anything in disguise. As time passed and Henry reached an average height without scurvy, I resigned myself to the fact that his diet of white foods: cheese sandwiches, pasta, fish and chicken, would in fact still allow him to grow into an adolescent, so I stopped fighting.
I never thought the day would come that I no longer cry at mealtimes, but it has. Although Henry’s repertoire has improved slightly with age, grilled cheese happens here at least once a week. Now that he is officially a teenager, he eats his grilled cheese with cream of tomato soup (home made of course) and while it may not be green, it is not white, and thus satisfies my colour criteria.
A few notes about grilled cheese:
The secret of the crunchy yet not burned outside of the sandwich is thanks Deb Perelman, who grates cheese into the pan. I find it easier to grate it directly onto the bread before putting it in the pan. You do not get the cheese crown effect, but you get less complaints at the table.
To avoid burning the fat in the pan, and charring the crusts, I butter the both sides of the bread before filling it with cheese and then grating the outside with parmesan. This just produces a crispier outside without the greasy hand effect.
The bread: You can use soft white bread to recreate diner style grilled cheese, but I don’t think it is robust enough for my ultimate grilled cheese sandwich. Aside from the fact that there may be a lot of sugary treats in my house, white bread outside of challah is verboten. Hence I make grilled cheese on good sourdough or wholemeal.
The bread should be sliced about 1cm thick: enough to melt the cheese, but not burn the outside.
You want just enough cheese to ooze out, but not too much that it burns your mouth, or cannot be dipped into soup. You want enough cheese to feel like this is a decadent treat, but won’t make you feel sick with the richness of the filling.
The cheese: Always freshly grated – never sliced or ready grated from a packet as it just does not melt as well. For Henry, I use mature cheddar on the inside as it is his cheese of choice. Personally I love some sautéed leeks and onions thrown in with a little grainy mustard, and maybe even a thinly sliced tomato, but he would stand for none of that. Pickles are also a great treat in the ultimate grilled cheese sandwich, but again, not for Henry. Feel free to experiment with your favourite cheeses and combine at your will. Parmesan on the outside is really the only prescription here as it grates finely and thus creates the perfect crust.
The Ultimate Grilled Cheese Sandwich
2 slices sourdough or wholemeal bread sliced 1cm thick (not too many holes if possible)
50g grated mature cheddar or cheese of your choice
enough Butter to spread onto both sides of each slice of bread
20g parmesan, finely grated
(If you are cooking more than one of these, or more than fit in your pan, preheat your oven to 160C to keep them warm while you cook the second or third batch.)
Butter both sides of bread.
Sprinkle grated cheddar on one side of bread and close the sandwich with the second slice.
Grate the parmesan on to both outside pieces of buttered bread and gently press down.
Heat a cast iron or heavy bottomed frying pan on medium heat. You do not want it to be too hot as it will burn the outside of the bread before the cheese can melt.
Place the sandwich in the centre of the pan on medium heat, and press down with a spatula or a weight.
Cook for 3-4 minutes and then flip and repeat on the other side until the outside is golden and crunchy and the cheese has fully melted.
Keep warm in the preheated oven if you are making batches of these.