Thursday, July 14, 2011

Grilled sandwiches

A perfectly grilled egg and cheese sandwich has broken, fully-cooked yolks. For crispy and brown toast, don't skimp on the butter, and don't use a very high heat.

A tasty summer pairing: iced coffee and a grilled sandwich won't heat up the kitchen.

Skills and skillet.
I’ve got the technique down for making the best grilled sandwich. The essentials are a well seasoned iron skillet, butter, and good quality ingredients. For me, it starts with the grilled cheese sandwich, the classic. I learned to make grilled cheese so well by age nine that my mother would have me make them for us and my little sister for lunch. That version was American cheese on white bread, possibly even margarine, but on this model I learned my technique: a lot of butter and a low flame. I prized, and stil do, those very crispy edges on bread grilled with lots of butter.

I like a cheddar melt, while Kevin likes Swiss. A thin slice of meatloaf, or some tuna salad, a slice of tomato, a couple of eggs: all good additions to a simple cheese sandwich. I’ve been making grilled egg and cheese sandwiches for lunch nearly every day for two months and I’m not tired of them. The secret of a good egg and cheese is good quality ingredients. I like a very sharp cheese, and the very best eggs I can find. I eat eggs almost every day and I can tell you: not all eggs are alike. Not at all. Someone who doesn’t know you and doesn’t care about you will set some eggs down in front of you, cooked to order, side of toast, but these eggs are nearly always of poor quality. They taste tinny and sulfurous, and the reason they’re so bad is they were raised that way. A pasture-raised hen will lay an egg with a rich, buttery yolk of a deep, orange color, and mild and unmetallic-tasting whites. If this sounds wonderful but you’ve never tasted eggs like this, seek out some pasture-raised eggs. The most sublime of chicken eggs come very fresh, as the local ones at your farmer’s market are, or if you are devoted, from your own hens.

Starts with the egg.
I cannot seem to get to the farmer’s market quickly enough to get my favorite eggs recently. Most problems get better if you write about them, but not this one. If I tell you that my favorite eggs, from Mockingbird Farm, may be sold out on a Tuesday afternoon by three, you might rush down there next week and elbow me out of the way for the last dozen. Pete’s a nice guy and we shouldn’t behave that way about his coveted eggs, nor should we exhort him to take measures to make his hens lay more eggs to keep up with demand. We could ask him to maybe get a few more layers, and we could commit to buying them every week. Until then, I’m going to try to be there when he’s setting up.

Perfect grilled egg and cheese sandwich

2½ T unsalted butter (Cabot uses local dairy), or more as needed
2 eggs (from Mockingbird Farms or another local, pasture-raised chicken)
Sliced cheese, size and variety to taste (I like extra sharp Cabot Vermont Cheddar)
2 slices of whole wheat bread (Barowsky’s Organic 100% Whole Wheat is widely available in my area and has no weird ingredients)

  1. Heat an iron skillet over a medium flame. Melt a scant tablespoon of butter in the pan and spread the butter evenly with a spatula. Crack each egg into the pan by tapping it on the edge of the skillet several times, making a long crack around the equator of the shell, before opening the hinge quickly to release the contents into the hot pan. Sprinkle the eggs generously with salt and pepper.
  2. Break the yolks by cutting across their tops with the edge of the spatula. This step will save you from causing hot yolk to spurt from the sandwich at a later point, such as when you construct the sandwich or bite into it. Ignore this step at your peril.
  3. Cover the pan with a lid and allow the eggs to cook for about a minute, until the edges are solid and the bottom is substantially cooked, though the top remains clear and gelatinous. If the eggs have cooked together into one, cut them apart with the edge of the spatula into compact and roughly even portions: no gerrymandering.
  4. Flip the eggs and cook them briefly on the other side, just until they set.
  5. Hold a slice of bread in the palm of your hand, and put the slice of cheese on top. Use the spatula to place the fried eggs onto the slice of cheese, arranging them so the edges do not overhang and there is as even a distribution of egg across the bread as can be reasonably achieved.
  6. Put another scant tablespoon of butter in the pan and spread it around with the spatula. Lay the slice of bread in the middle of the pan. Put the other slice of bread on top.
  7. Move the sandwich around the pan to soak up the butter on all four edges.
  8. Allow to grill, undisturbed, in the center of the pan for even grilling, for at least a minute before checking. If the cheese is not melting, lower the heat slightly and cover the pan.
  9. When the bread is the desired shade of toasty brown on the grilled side, add another teaspoon of butter to the pan and flip the sandwich. Move the sandwich around the pan to soak up the butter on all four edges.
  10. Note: The second side will not take as long to grill.
  11. You may cover the pan again if the cheese still needs help melting.
  12. Lay a piece of paper towel on a cutting board.
  13. Remove the sandwich to the paper towel and allow to blot briefly and rest before cutting.
  14. Slice into halves. This usually works best if you slice it right down the middle, more or less between the two eggs, but if the eggs are very well cooked it won’t matter. Serve immediately.

For two sandwiches: Use a large enough skillet to accommodate both sandwiches at once. Halfway through grilling each side, rotate each sandwich 90 degrees for more even grilling.
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