Here at Food52, we love recipes -- but do we always use them? Of course not. Because once you realize you don't always need a recipe, you'll make your favorite dishes a lot more often.
Today: Food52's Assistant Editor Marian Bull proves that the perfect grilled cheese is within reach -- and you don't need a recipe to make one.
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A perfectly executed grilled cheese sandwich relies on a number of factors, the most important being: Textural contrast, cheese that melts, and avoiding burnt toast at all costs. Also, a lot of butter.
Here is the biggest problem with grilled cheese making: Sometimes your cheese does not melt as quickly as you'd like, so you either get hard, cold cheese surrounded by perfectly golden bread, or melted cheese hiding behind charred, black bread that you then have to scrape into the sink. There is no kitchen sound more shameful than this.
But lucky you! I have a no-fail way to make grilled cheese sandwiches at home, and it yields both melty cheese and a buttery, golden exterior. It also allows you to serve multiple hot sandwiches at a time, which means if you want to have, say, a grilled cheese party, you don't have to draw straws to decide who gets to eat the only warm one.
How to Make a Perfect Grilled Cheese Sandwich in 5 Steps
1. Before you get started, set yourself up for success: Slice your bread, shred whatever cheese you'll be using, and bring your butter to room temperature. Preheat your oven to 350° F and preheat a heavy-bottomed skillet over medium heat.
Generously butter two thick slices of bread. I like crusty, chewy bread (like a sourdough or levain) without too many big holes, but if you grew up on Wonderbread and Kraft singles, well, I'm not going to stand in your way. You want an even smear of butter that covers the whole slice -- this makes for a crisp, golden, flavorful exterior. If your butter is unsalted, sprinkle a bit of salt over each buttered side.
2. Lay one piece of bread, butter-side down, in your hot pan. The butter should sizzle, but not angrily -- you don't want your pan so hot that it burns your bread in under two minutes. Top the bread with shredded cheese; I use a mix of Gruyère and cheddar. Use whatever cheeses you like, but remember that melty cheeses should dominate, and something sharp like cheddar will balance out all of the fat and general unctuousness happening here.
You can also customize your filling here: try dashandbella's pickled jalapeños or sautéed mushrooms. Some people swear by a smear of mustard; I have never tried this, and maybe never will. I'm lazy.
3. Lay down your second piece of bread, buttered side up, and press down with a spatula. You don't want to flatten the sandwich completely, but a good press will help your cheese melt, your butter sear, and your bread smoosh in a pleasant way.
4. After a minute or so, begin to check the color on your bottom slice. Once it's nice and brown, flip everything over, holding the sandwich together with your other hand to keep it from falling apart. Press down some more with your spatula, and cook until the bottom slice looks like the top slice.
5. Here's the kicker! Once you're happy with the color of your crust, finish your sandwich on a baking sheet in the oven. If you're making more than one, use the oven as a way to keep everything warm. Let your sandwiches bake for at least five minutes, or until their cheese is completely melted.
Slice in half, and enjoy immediately. Remember that tomato soup is never a bad idea. And you'll want some napkins at the ready.
Photos by James Ransom
A New Way to Dinner, co-authored by Food52's founders Amanda Hesser and Merrill Stubbs, is an indispensable playbook for stress-free meal-planning (hint: cook foundational dishes on the weekend and mix and match ‘em through the week).