the perfect grilled cheese

My husband, Brian, is not a sophisticated foodie. When we started dating, he did not know what “kale” was and had a visceral loathing for all things “egg.” I have since honed him into an enthusiastic gourmande. He still has a lot to learn, but he has come a long way. For example, he now requests kale on a regular basis, is partial to spreading avocado on toast in the morning, has learned to successfully fry an over-medium egg, and positively adores fancy cheeses – the stinkier the better…I have taught him well.

When I was a kid, my father made grilled cheese. The old fashioned way. Pre-sliced bread, butter, and American Cheese Slices, which, if you recall, are nearly as orange as our current POTUS. Brian, being a red-blooded American boy, was also raised on grilled cheese’s made by his father.

One afternoon, when we were in college, Brian – at that time, my boyfriend –  was asking me if we could have grilled cheese and tomato soup for lunch. It was established early in our relationship that I was in charge of food. So I began to list off the ingredients we would need…bread, cheese, butter. Pretty simple.

Brian, a look of concern spreading across his face, asks, “What about mayonnaise?”

My jaw dropped. I felt red hot anger washing over my cheeks. I distinctly heard the high pitched screech of a DJ scratching a record.

“Mayonnaise?” I replied, a hint of warning in my voice.

“Yeah, my dad makes grilled cheese in the toaster oven with mayonnaise.”

Not one, but two cardinal sins against all things cheesy. First, that you would spread anything besides butter on the bread, and second, that you would neglect to achieve golden brown perfection by way of a teflon pan over medium heat. Toaster ovens are the devil’s playthings as far as I am concerned.

The argument that ensued led to a Grilled-Cheese-Off. A competition of sorts. Who’s grilled cheese was better?

The competition was held. I won with flying colors.

Needless to say, rules were established. Mayonnaise has a time and a place. But that place is not amongst the molten goodness of a grilled cheese. Toaster ovens have no place. Ever. Not in my kitchen. Not in any kitchen.

Grilled cheese is a food lover’s dream. There is a limitless plethora of toppings, substitutions, and augmentations. One can make a grilled cheese themed for every cuisine imaginable, or use grilled cheese to clean out the fridge at the end of the week. I have hundreds of iterations of grilled cheese rolling around in my brain right now. But for the purposes of this post, let’s stick to the basics.

It starts with excellent bread. You want something which can stand up to the cheese and the butter without crumbling, but is not so thick that the cheese disappears into the doughy depths of the bready center. eureka! Organic is one of my favorites. I prefer a store-bough whole wheat variety for my grilled cheese. But your favorite bread will do.

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As for the cheese, in the classic version, my father used the individually wrapped slices of American cheese. Ew. As an adult, my palet is slightly more complex. There are many cheeses to use, but again we are sticking to the basics. I go to the deli counter and have them slice me some Boar’s Head White American. It melts beautifully and has an easy-to-love flavor for our less adventurous grilled-cheese eaters.

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The bread must be buttered. There is just no other way. An even thin layer will do.

Lastly, the covered cooking method. This ensures that the cheese melts at the same rate the bread browns.

Voila! Perfection.

Some of you foodies are asking yourselves, “What is the purpose of a grilled cheese recipe? It is so easy…no recipe required.” To you, I say…the Joy of Cooking has a recipe for scrambled eggs. Not everyone is a natural in the kitchen.  Ladies and gentlemen, I give you, the perfect grilled cheese:

The Perfect Grilled Cheese

Ingredients:

Two slices of your favorite bread

Butter, room temp

Two slices of American cheese

Steps:

  1. Heat a dry skillet to medium/medium-low heat.
  2. Butter one side of each slice of bread.
  3. Place one slice of bread in the skillet, butter side down.
  4. Top with the two slices of cheese (overlap is acceptable).
  5. Top with the remaining bread, butter side up.
  6. Cover with a lid.
  7. Cook until cheese begins to melt and the bottom side is golden brown.
  8. Flip and cook until the cheese is fully melted and the other side is also golden brown.
  9. Remove from heat. Slice and serve alone or with your favorite tomato soup.
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