Sunday, March 7, 2004

Grilled cheese refit for new era



By Robin Kline
The Des Moines Register

The grilled cheese dream: Toasted golden squares oozing creamy orange cheddar ... molten goodness, dispensing comfort in its golden goo ... heaven to a third-grader in the school lunch line ... bliss to any customer at the lunch counter.

Served with tomato soup, it's another quintessential comfort food, and a favorite for children and adults during the Lenten season. Who doesn't love grilled cheese?

The classic sandwich, while mouthwatering in its pristine state, begs for additions - from simple to sophisticated, from classic to funky, plain to dressed-to-kill.

The idea here is to start with cheese and expand. Use different flavors, textures and ingredients to make a more intriguing offering.

Serious professional food-trend watchers tell us that the "reinvented grilled cheese sandwich" is an emerging trend. It's nice to know that we're on top of the trend, so let's get grilling.

The cheese

If you're going for the cheese, semi-hard to hard cheeses work best. But when it's sandwiched in with other ingredients, options expand.

• Hard and semi-hard cheeses like medium cheddar, Monterey Jack, Gruyere, Emmenthaler, Swiss, fontina and provolone always have been among the best for grilling solo. They're top performers in these hybrid grilled sandwiches, too.

• Although extra sharp, aged cheddar doesn't melt into creamy strings like more meltable cheeses such as Swiss, its tang adds dimension. Manchego, with an extra-firm texture like aged cheddar, is good.

• Soft, spreadable cheeses don't hold up as well as hard cheeses in a grilled sandwich, but if they're protected by other sturdy ingredients like meat, fruit or vegetables, you can use them - just do so sparingly. Camembert, brie and fresh goat cheese apply here.

• Hard, aged cheese such as Parmesan is better shaved over pasta, salad or an open-faced sandwich.

Whichever cheese is selected, be aware that too much of a good thing can be too much. Just a few thin slices of a tangy, robust cheese - or a creamy, rich one - is enough to lend good flavor and style to a grilled sandwich.

Not to throw nutrition into the ringer and spoil a good time, but it's nice to know that adding lean roasted meat and thinly sliced vegetables or fruit to a grilled sandwich really boosts its nutritional rating.

The bread

For sliced breads, sturdy loaves with a tight crumb work best. Rye, whole wheat or white are all candidates, as long as the crumb is tight - no big air holes.

When using a bun or long, whole loaf, the crumb is not as important, because the crust will be grilled. Long hoagie buns, round sandwich buns, ciabatta-style rolls, long baguettes (cut lengthwise to fit pan or panini grill) and focaccia are all good choices.

When building a sandwich, place cheese right inside one of the layers of bread for best melting possibility.

The grilling

When it comes to grilling in a hot skillet, on a griddle or in a sandwich press, just the barest swipe of soft butter will do - don't lather it on or the bread will become butter-soaked. That's great, perhaps, for toast, but not for a grilled sandwich.




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