It’s 2am. You’re a bit drunk. You realize you’re very hungry.
This… unique set of circumstances creates a perfect storm of fantastically unhealthy food. We being to crave short-term reward and the most gratifying eating experience. Almost always, this just so happens to be something hot, crunchy, fatty, and salty. This fantastic four of delicious-things-which-will-also-kill-you are something of a ritual for many weekend alcoholics. In a space filled with the likes of Mac ‘n Cheese, Döner Kebab, and $2 Maccas burgers, though, one food reigns supreme: the grilled cheese.
The ‘best‘ grilled cheese has always been a contentious topic, but I think many people overlook the ..significance of the environment in which a grilled cheese is usually prepared: stumbling into the kitchen at 2:07am, fumbling for something vaguely bread-like to smear with butter and throw in the pan and top with whatever cheese you find in the fridge. That will probably produce something very different to a ‘gourmet’ grilled cheese prepared sober.
Full disclosure: I only had my first ‘real’ grilled cheese about six months ago (until then it was exclusively British ‘toasties’), so if you value prestige and pedigree in your grilled cheese recipes you mightn’t find what you’re looking for here. You will, however, find a damn tasty cheese and bread-based meal.
First off, select your bread. I chose the original, white, for softness and taste (also it was the only bread lying around). If you’re looking for something more nutritious, go for seed bread or wholemeal – these also match well with more nutty cheeses.
For a grilled cheese with a touch more flavour, give yours two or even three cheeses – this one had cheddar, parmesan and a suspicious ‘four cheese blend’. Extra cheeses give it a deeper flavour and that ‘wow’ factor you crave so much in the wee hours of the morning (/s). Stick some black pepper in there if you want a bit of a kick.
Some prefer to melt butter in the pan and just cook the sandwich straight in that, but I find that buttering the bread itself lets you control the amount and spread of the butter. Make sure you get both sides, too. Be generous – you want this bread to fry!
Keep the pan at a medium-low and watch very closely – it can go from this to a cinder in a matter of seconds (not that that’ll stop you eating it). Once it reaches golden brown, flip it. Ideally you’ll only turn it once – like a steak – as it’s easy to disturb the sandwich’s structural integrity. Also, I’m lazy.
Note the bubbling parmesan on the left: this is thanks to the release of moisture and the separation of oil from the cheese. As a hard, dry cheese, parmesan goes very crispy when cooked – as opposed to say, halloumi or brie, which will remain soft while browning and charring much better before reaching this stage.
Pro tip: About 1 minute before you take the sandwich out of the pan, splash a teaspoon or two of water into the pan and whack a lid on top (another pan, upturned plate, whatever). This ensures the cheese inside is fully melted and delicious. This technique also gives perfect fried eggs.
Carefully slide your baby out of the pan and onto a plate, and be sure to cut into it immediately for that money shot, temperature be damned.
Crispy on the outside, soft on the inside, chewy and stringy from the cheese, salty and fatty too. Looks like we’ve hit all the bases. Damn. Now I’m hungry.
The only thing left to do now is eat the thing – don’t feel guilty, you’ve earned it. I think. Somehow. Screw it, we’ll all worry about regret in the morning.
April 30, 2015