The secret to the best grilled cheese sandwich? Mayonnaise, apparently

A student staple and supreme study snack, it's time to proclaim our love for this gooey gourmet delicacy, on Grilled Cheese Sandwich Day!


Happy Grilled Cheese Sandwich Day, everyone! I hope you had a great Grilled Cheese Sandwich Eve!

Around now, I expect the first stirrings of British dissent: “It’s just a cheese toasty,” “You mean, cheese on toast..?”

To be clear, we are not talking about toasties made in that prototype panini press, the sandwich toaster.

Pride of every first home or student kitchen, and reliably re-bought by families with young children, convinced, this time, they will keep it pristine: this is not their story. The use of adapted waffle irons, pie irons or even just an iron to make melted cheese on bread has been around for over a hundred years. Melted cheese on bread, even longer.

For such a simple concept, it’s been given a lot of names, and is a matter of pride in countries with their own specific recipes. So we’re not talking about croque monsieur, monte cristo or Welsh rarebit, either.

So, what’s the difference? Where does the grilling come in? Whilst grilling in the UK usually means a top-down, radiant heat technique, in North America, grilling is most commonly bottom-up, direct heat cooking. Like a frying pan. 

Yes, we’re going to fry cheese, on white bread, in butter, bringing together all the good things in the world.

The only issue is that without a large pan or tiny bread, you need to make these one at a time. Which means NOT eating the first one whilst cooking the next, especially if you have a guest. 

Let's make the perfect Grilled Cheese Sandwich!

What you’ll need:

Thick sliced white bread. An utterly fabulous variation substitutes brioche. 

Cheese: sliced or grated. Traditionally, you would use those lovely, individually wrapped ‘cheese’ slices we put on burgers. This is that mysterious ‘American Cheese’ you see mentioned in imported tv shows.

Processed cheese was invented before sliced bread, which makes sliced bread the best invention since plastic cheese.

Butter. Real butter, preferably salted. Best get two packs. 

Mayonnaise

No, it’s not a typo. Get some good, full fat mayonnaise, too. 

The process is simplicity itself:

Get your ingredients and equipment together.

Heat up your non-stick, flat-based frying pan or large iron skillet nice and gently. A moderate, not high, heat is very important. You are going for taste and texture, not speed. Add a decent-sized slice of butter and let it start to melt, but not sizzle, whilst you spread a thin layer of mayo on two slices of bread. Once your butter is just starting to fizz, it’s time for the bread.

Gently add one slice, mayo side down. On top of this, you’re going to add a layer of cheese. Get a good melter. Cheddar is obvious, Red Leicester is good, Monterey Jack and Gruyère are brilliant too. I see Raclette mentioned on US recipe sites, but it’s a sin to have Raclette and not use a Raclette machine.

Grated cheese gives a quick melt, and allows you to mix different proportions of different cheeses. Processed cheese melts if you give it a passionate glance, however. Have no shame in being pretentiously gourmet, and using wrapped cheese slices, in the ‘authentic manner’.

Unwrap them first, though.

Don’t let your pan get too hot, or run out of butter. Cook it gradually, to get the right colour whilst having time for the cheese to go gooey. Once your cheese has started to melt, add your other slice of bread to the top, mayo side up.

Using a good-sized, broad, turning spatula or fish slice, flip the sandwich, and see what colour your first slice has gone. Not quite golden brown enough? You can flip it again at the end for a couple of minutes.

You may well find you need to add more butter to your pan before flipping. Go for it. Let it get properly melted before you flip, and keep that heat gentle. 

Once you are golden-side up, you can use your spatula to press down on top, improving both adhesion and butter-absorption. Let it cook until the underside is perfectly golden brown too.

Remove from pan, slice diagonally. Remember, hot cheese is hot, so give it a moment or two before biting. If you can. (Although this method does not create the ‘hotter than the heart of the sun’ contents that a toasted sandwich maker will.)

Eat. Then, glance at the ingredients still remaining. I mean, the pan’s dirty anyway. Why not just do one more, to perfect your technique?

Adaptations

Of course, you can add (precooked in the same pan. You’ll thank me…) bacon, onions, peppers, chillis, mushrooms, pickles, pineapple, jam, anything you like inside. You can also do the gourmet deluxe method, where you cook one side of the bread, then flip, and put the cheese on the freshly-cooked side. This is where a big skillet helps, as ideally, you do the first side of your second piece of bread whilst the cheesed slice is cooking. Put the second slice, cooked-side inwards, on the cheese, and *carefully* flip the whole thing to cook the remaining side. You will need extra butter for this. You’ll be surprised how soon it gets used up before cooking is done. 

‘Polish’ the sandwich around the pan to evenly distribute any extra butter you add. 

Traditionally, Americans like to accompany the grilled cheese sandwich with tomato soup. This is pretty amazing, it has to be said.

You can make an acceptable vegan version with, yep, vegan cheese and vegan butter. Don’t have these to hand? Make your own vegan cheese to go inside!

Most importantly of all, keeping Grilled Cheese Sandwich Day holy is very important. But any day can be a grilled cheese sandwich day – and probably should!

Share your ideas, tips and results in the comments!


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