Sunday, September 20, 2009

Deluxe Comfort Food

For most people a grilled cheese sandwich is a piece of American “cheese” between two pieces of puffo bread smeared with some margarine and cooked on something non-stick long enough to melt said margarine. This is truly scary food!

Grilled cheese sandwiches, around here, fall into the category of Comfort Food. And, Comfort Food must be prepared with great care and cooked with love and affection. It, quite simply, cannot be prepared when one is angry—it defeats the purpose. As for the grilled cheese sandwich, it must be seen as an edible work of art, the highest form of Comfort Food.

The grilled cheese sandwich begins with a high quality sandwich bread. I like to use a whole grain bread or a seeded rye. If you make your own bread, you need search no further for suitable bread. Cheese—under no circumstances can American cheese, Velveeta or some other pseudo cheese product be used in a grilled cheese sandwich. If you want to create a truly memorable grilled cheese sandwich, a high quality cheddar must be used—preferably Vermont sharp or extra sharp. I’m not saying this just because I live in Vermont, I’m saying this because there is something about the quality of the flavor of Vermont cheddar that sets it apart from other cheddars. It also has the perfect melting qualities to create the desired texture. The tomatoes and the parsley are optional. I add them this time of year because we have tomatoes from the garden and this is version of the sandwich my family likes best—the Deluxe Comfort Food.

The absolute best pan to use is a well-seasoned cast iron frying pan—my grandmother called them spiders. Why? Who knows! Even my grandmother didn’t know. She called it a spider because that is what her mother called it. If you don’t have a spider, I urge you to acquire at least one at the earliest possible opportunity. Until then, use something with a heavy bottom that is not non-stick. So, here is my version of the---

Grilled Cheese Sandwich

4 slices good quality bread, preferably homemade.
Vermont Extra-sharp cheddar cheese
2 ripe tomatoes, cored and sliced about ¼ inch thick
Italian parsley
Butter, very soft

Place the four slices of bread on a cutting board. Take the cheddar cheese and cut slices about ¼ inch thick. Place enough of the sliced cheese on two of the pieces of bread to cover the surface. On top of cheese place about 6 leaves of Italian parsley. On top of the parsley place enough tomato slices to cover the surface. Cut the tomato slices in half, if necessary.

For this next step, make sure the butter is very soft or it will tear the bread. Using a spreader, cover the surface of the second slice of bread with a thin, but even coat of butter. Place this slice of bread, buttered side up, on top of the constructed sandwich. Repeat with the other slice of bread for the second sandwich.

Place a nine-inch spider on a large burner and turn the heat to medium. When the pan is warm to the touch, place one of the sandwiches in the pan buttered slice down. Remove the unbuttered top slice of bread from the sandwich and place it on the cutting board. Butter this slice of bread as instructed above. Replace it on the top of the sandwich buttered side up.

Adjust the temperature to ensure that the spider does not become too hot and burn the sandwich. When the bread is golden brown, carefully flip the sandwich and brown the other
side. The goal is to brown the sandwich slowly and evenly so that the cheese is melted at the same time the bread is perfectly browned. This takes practice and patience. If you have enough pans, you can grill more than one sandwich at a time. If not, remove the grilled cheese sandwich to a heat-proof plate and put it in a warm oven (175 degrees) while you cook the remaining sandwich.

When the sandwiches are cooked, plate them and cut them in half. Serve with dill pickles or other condiments of choice. Welcome to the land of Deluxe Comfort Food.

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