I haven’t eaten this much bread in a long time. It’s all Goddess Hamilton’s fault.
I never knew there was a National Grilled Cheese Day/Week/Month/Whatever. No idea. Grilled cheese has never really been on my radar. I would’ve expected that to change when I had kids but my kids have never really gone in for normal food. Back in the day, I would listen with envy as the moms at the playground commiserated about how impossible it was to get their children to eat anything other than a hot dog. I would’ve dropped to my knees weeping with joy if either of my children had willingly touched a hot dog to their lips. Or chicken nuggets. Or grilled cheese. No way.
But last week I saw a link to a post on Food 52 about Gabrielle Hamilton’s “secret” to grilled cheese and I clicked it. Oh, how I clicked it. I couldn’t click it fast enough. Not because of the grilled cheese, though. Because of HER. SHE is Gabrielle Hamilton, chef and owner of Prune in the East Village. I recently read her memoir Blood, Bones and Butter which immediately elevated her to goddess level in my eyes despite the fact that I have yet to dine at Prune.
So what makes her a goddess? She’s a great writer. A fearless moving-forward-er. And the woman knows food as completely and effortlessly as a husband knows his wife’s body after 50 years of marriage. And loves it just as much, too.
And so grilled cheese entered my life.
After reading her post and the comments it seemed to me that the first step was deciding if you were on Team Mayonnaise or Team Butter. Once you figured that out, if ~ and this is a big IF ~ you had good bread you could layer anything inside with the cheese and it would be delicious. I decided to put this theory to the test by making three different sandwiches with the same delicious loaf of sourdough bread from Union Market on 7th Ave in the Slope.
Sandwich #1 – Grilled mozzarella with mushrooms and homemade chipotle aioli.
Sandwich #2 – Grilled gouda with braised red cabbage and apples and mayonnaise (Hellman’s.)
Sandwich #3 – Grilled parmigiano reggiano with strawberries and butter.
- Pre heat cast iron** skillet over medium-low heat until it’s nice and warm. Around 5 minutes. You want your sandwich to start sizzling as soon as it hits the pan. **Goddess Hamilton says you can use a non-stick skillet as well. I have a hard time imagining it would crisp up as well, but she is the goddess, not me.
- Slather backs of both slices of bread with either mayonnaise or butter, depending which team you’re on.
- On the UNlubricated side of the first slice of bread, spread your first layer of cheese.
- Layer your filling(s) on top of that cheese.
- Then spread another layer of cheese on top of that filling.
- Place the second piece of bread on top, lubricated side UP.
- Place sandwich in cast iron skillet over medium-low heat. On my stove I set the burner between the 2 and the 3. Bear in mind that you can’t turn down the heat on cast iron if your sandwich starts to burn. At least, not in time to save your sandwich. Ask me how I know. Go ahead. Ask me.
- Let cook until cheese gets a little melty, around 4 minutes.
- Flip that baby.
- Cook for another 4ish minutes.
And the results?
The mozzarella and mushroom was hands down the winner. The earthy taste of the mushrooms combined with the smoky heat of the chipotle is delectable. And the mozzarella. Melty enough to give you the true grilled cheese experience. Mild enough not to compete with the stronger flavors.
On the other hand…
I completely effed up the braised cabbage and apple sandwich. Burnt. To. A. Crisp. Naturally, I tasted it anyway. The gouda was really nice and I think if it were done properly, it would’ve been good. Not as good as #1, but good.
The cheese was nowhere near ample enough to make it feel like a real grilled cheese. Being a hard cheese, I’m not sure you could ever get there. But you could spend a lot of money trying. When that sandwich fell short of expectations, I tried strawberry with cream cheese. It didn’t work. It was too rich and didn’t feel enough like a sandwich. It was more like a dessert that got confused. I’m convinced there’s a place for strawberry in the grilled cheese hall of fame. I just haven’t found it yet. I consider it a work-in-progress. Maybe fontina. Or it could even be as simple as cheddar. I’ll find it before strawberry season ends. But after I digest all this bread!