Ever since my muddied-leotard days as a precocious, pigtailed first-grader, I've loved making and tearing into grilled cheese sandwiches of all varieties, even those made from individually wrapped orange slices.
The mechanics are simple but the results are alchemical: Buttered bread develops a crispy crust in a hot pan. The heat of the bread cuddles and coaxes the cheese interior to melt and ooze in a neat little package that you can pick up with your two hands. The warm ooze contrasted with the crisp bread parcel is like a best friend -- comforting, gentle and familiar.
Grilled Cheese Guidelines
Bread of choice: Consider Jewish rye, pumpernickel and seven-grain -- something oaty and bran-y.
Unsalted butter: One thin butter-knife slice on each exterior side.
Cheese: For the grilled cheese, I'm a fan of semi-soft varieties such as Monterey Jack, Havarti, Gouda or Fontina. I would probably steer away from blue cheese, as the ooze could become messy. I also love firm/hard varieties such as very sharp cheddar.
Flavorings and fixin's: Unless you're making a grilled cheese during tomato season, I find the addition of tomato to be disappointing as well as watery. I prefer the sweet piquancy of sliced red onion, the richness of roasted red pepper, the heat of grilled jalapeño or some slabs of crisp applewood-smoked bacon. Mustard is critical. You need some acidity to cut against the fat of the butter and the cheese, so slab on some Dijon or even pretzel mustard.
Method: Assemble sandwich and generously butter the exterior of two bread slices. Preheat a cast-iron skillet (ideal) or griddle pan over medium heat. Place sandwich on hot pan and let it sizzle and cook for at least three minutes, until golden.
Turn over and allow second side to cook; place a lid or plate on first side to compress sandwich, almost in panini-fashion. Let sandwich cook and cheese melt, until desired gooeyness. Remove lid and eat immediately, whole or in kindergarten-style triangles.
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