A great grilled sandwich consists of quality ingredients cooked the right way.
Here's what's needed to make what will likely be the best grilled cheese sandwich you will ever eat.
1 Clove of Garlic
The type of garlic doesn't matter much, but the quality of the other ingredients makes a big difference.
First, the bread - if you want a great sandwich, you need the right kind of bread, which means a heavy, chewy bread with big irregular holes. Wonder Bread or one of its many clones that populate most supermarket shelves won't do. A bread with the word pane in its name is usually a good choice - for example, try Pane Piasano or Pane Rustica, but there are many other good breads you can use. The bread shown in these pictures is called Iggy's Sliced Francese Half-Basket. It's a sourdough bread available at Whole Foods.
The cheese is next, which is a personal choice. Any cheese you like plain is likely to be good in a sandwich. There are different opinions as to which cheese is best - all correct. I think cheddar (sharp) makes the best sandwich, where my wife insists that Swiss is best. Both make an excellent sandwich, but cheddar is better. Don't listen to my wife on this one.
Finally, there's the butter. Any good butter will do, but don't ever use margarine.
If you decide to add ham, tomato, or both - choose the best. Use a good deli ham and a fresh, home-grown, garden tomato (when available).
Once you have the ingredients together, it's time to make the sandwich. The first step is to rub garlic on the pan. That's the secret. That's what makes this sandwich great. Simply take a clove of garlic, cut it in half, and rub it on the pan. You'll want just a little bit of garlic juice on the pan, not any of the garlic pulp. That adds just a subtle wisp of garlic flavor, a flavor so subtle that many people won't even recognize it as garlic. But they will taste it and be mystified as to why this particular sandwich is so damn good.
Bread is the next step. I usually use frozen bread straight from the freezer. I freeze bread because it extends its shelf-life, but it's also easier to butter. If your bread isn't frozen then you should soften the butter in the microwave for a few seconds so it won't rip the bread when you spread it on. Butter one side of each piece of bread and place one of them on the pan, butter side down. Turn on the stove and set the heat between low and medium.
I usually build the sandwich in the pan instead of on the counter. I think it's easier, plus the sandwich can begin cooking a minute or two earlier, but that's just my way and doesn't seem to be anyone else's. If you prefer to build the whole sandwich on the counter first and then place the complete sandwich in the pan - please do so. It will taste the same. Anyway, my way is to place one piece of buttered bread in the pan, turn on the stove, then add the cheese and sometimes ham, tomato, or both. Finally, I top the whole thing off with the second piece of bread.
The type of pan does make a difference. A cast iron pan works best. Its mass distributes the heat better. You should cover the pan if you use frozen bread. That turns the pan into a mini-oven that holds the heat, allowing the top piece of bread to thaw while the bottom one is cooking. The cheese melts better too. My cast-iron pan didn't come with a cover, so I cover it with a plate.
If I'm lucky, some of the cheese will melt through the bread holes and cook on the pan under the bread. Those golden brown pieces of cheese on the outside of the sandwich add some great flavor. I tried to duplicate that a few times by placing little pieces of cheese on the pan under the sandwich, but gave up because it never tasted anywhere as good as when the sandwich does it on its own. I have no idea why.
After around 5 to 10 minutes of cooking at low/medium heat, the sandwich will be a nice shade of brown and ready to flip over. A few minutes later, it's ready to eat. You might want to sprinkle on a little bit of salt. - COB
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