Comfort food, gourmet style
Special to The Union
Allow us for a moment to consider the humble sandwich. It’s generally the first “meal” most of us learn how to put together: bread, whatever filling we can reach that doesn’t involve heat or sharp things, more bread, chow down. What could be simpler?
Well, nothing really. But the fun question is what can we do it make it more interesting? Now that heat and a wider selection of ingredients are part of the equation, sandwiches can move beyond the basics.
One of my all-time favorite sandwiches was a standard at a restaurant my mother used to cook at. French bread spread with garlic butter with both swiss and cheddar toasted on a hot flat top grill. I’ve never been able to recreate this sandwich to my satisfaction. I blame two factors: 1) I can’t find a French bread that I like that is also sliced thin enough and 2) the grill had approximately 40 years worth of seasoning on it, which is hard to replicate.
So rather than spend the rest of my life sadly searching for a new favorite toasted sandwich, I chose to take matters into my own hands and do some creating of my own.
Because a sandwich is essentially stuff between two (or more) slices of bread, the only limitation is your taste buds. Start with a good bread, any kind will do but don’t go too thick. If the bread is strongly flavored – for instance, pumpernickel or rye – then the ingredients should be strong to match. Red onion, corned beef or pesto all would be great matches for a heavy dark bread.
Since the point of grilling a sandwich is to warm up the ingredients, adding cheese seems like a logical next step. Personally, cheese is a non-negotiable and it needs to be a cheese that would melt well – which eliminated many aged cheeses and left me with the softer varieties. Of these cheddar and swiss are my two favorites and I already knew I liked them together.
Creating an exact duplicate of my old favorite sandwich was not the goal, the goal is to go one better. Everything is improved by cured pork meat, thus two slices of honey smoked ham found their way into my sandwich. Bacon, smoked turkey or thinly sliced chicken breast wouldn’t be out of place here either.
A hungry person could stop here and by perfectly happy. I wanted a little something extra, something with a bit of crunch and contrasting texture. Apples and cheese are great together and apple pie served with a chunk of cheddar can be found at many fine diners across the country. Thus, several slices of thinly sliced apple were added to the pile. Avocado would also be excellent.
Once all of this was done, the last step is to grill it. The two main keys to a successful grilled sandwich are to butter both the bread and the pan. When the pan butter is melted, add the sandwich. The other point to keep in mind is to keep the heat in the medium to low range. Too high and your sandwich will burn before the filling has time to heat, too low and the butter will melt into the bread and the toasting action will take a lot longer. Also, try to flip your creation only once. Grilled sandwiches don’t appreciate a lot of handling.
Once everything is golden brown and delicious, slide out of the pan onto a flat surface, cut in half and enjoy.
Makes 1 sandwich
2 slices of bread
2 slices of cheddar cheese
2 slices of swiss cheese
2 slices of ham or bacon
4 thin slices of apple, preferably Granny Smith or other tart variety
1-2 tablespoons butter, softened
1. Butter one side of each slice of bread.
2. In a skillet over medium heat, melt remaining butter. When melted and slightly foamy, place one slice of bread – buttered side down – in the pan.
3. On the bread place in order: cheddar cheese, ham, apples, swiss cheese, remaining slice of bread buttered side up.
4. Allow the sandwich to toast until the edges of the bottom slice of bread are slightly crisp. Flip over, being careful to keep everything together.
5. Toast the other side until the edges are slightly crisp and all the cheese has softened and melted.
6. Slide out onto a cutting board or plate. Cut in half and enjoy while hot.
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