Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Make a Perfect Grilled Cheese Sandwich

Would you like to know the secrets to great grilled cheese sandwiches? Heidi Gibson, the Commander-in-Cheese of The American Grilled Cheese Kitchen is a serious grilled cheese champ. She has won more grilled cheese sandwich contests than anyone. Last night I learned from Gibson how to make breakfast and brunch versions of grilled cheese sandwiches and picked up some amazing tips. I also got the news that The American Grilled Cheese Kitchen just won a $250,000 grant that will help them to open their second location in the Cafe Gratitude space on Harrison Street. No joke. Gibson, manager and co-owner Nate Pollack and all their customers are truly grateful.

So let's get started! 

What's best to slather on your bread? 
On the outside Gibson goes with butter, she recommends European style and she likes salted, not unsalted butter so that the sandwich has a bit of "salty crunch" when you bite into it. 

What kind of bread should you use? 
Almost any kind! With the exception of potato bread which does not lend itself well to grilled cheese sandwiches. Bread with holes can be used, but find a cheese that will melt though, giving you crusty "plugs." Some types of bread to consider--levain, sourdough and artisan whole wheat. 

What about seasoning your ingredients? 
Here Gibson breaks with tradition and says, if you have salty ingredients like bacon or ham, don't season each ingredient as you go. Cheese also adds salt, and salted butter will add flavor to your bread. 

What seasonal ingredients are good to use? 
The American Grilled Cheese Kitchen has offered up sandwiches with brussels sprouts, preserved Meyer lemons, asparagus and even butternut squash. While the sandwiches were delicious, they did not become best sellers with customers looking for more familiar fare. 

What about fruit?
Sure! Gibson particularly likes peaches and strawberries. 

What's the best technique for grilling a sandwich?
It's not using a panini press, which creates a pressed sandwich something different from a traditional grilled cheese according to Gibson. Her technique is to use a hot convection oven. Place your sandwich on a sheet pan or a hot cast iron pan, and cook each side separately before assembling. This technique allows for more fillings and height to a grilled cheese sandwich. 

What pairs best with grilled cheese sandwiches?
Beer! Gibson likes porter with an aged gouda and bacon sandwich and a hoppy IPA with spicier sandwiches. 

More top tips: 

Control your moisture. You want to prevent the bread from getting soggy, so if you are using a wetter ingredient like tomatoes or a wetter cheese like fresh mozzarella, layer in between drier ingredients between the bread.

Always put the smaller side of the bread on the outside, so you have more surface area inside. 

Avoid triple cream cheeses and brie which are too delicate for most grilling techniques or use in the middle rather than next to the bread. 

More is not better, be sparing with fillings. The balance of bread and cheese and other fillings is key.

In other grilled cheese news, my sandwich won the impromptu contest sponsored by Tillamook cheese and will be offered at The American Grilled Cheese Kitchen soon with 20% of the profits going to the charity of my choice, La Cocina.  It's the Southwestern and features Tillamook Monterey Jack and Sharp Cheddar, fresh jalapeƱos, corn, tomato and black beans on sourdough. 

My sandwich won't be on the menu tomorrow, but there will be a Happy Hour at The American Grilled Cheese Kitchen featuring Tillamook Cheese. This is a fun opportunity since the shop is normally not open in the evening (with the exception of Giants game nights). 

Wednesday, August 22 from 5–8 pm

·         $3 Tillamook Grilled Cheese - ‘Tillamook Classic Grilled Cheese’ (regularly $6) made with award-winning Tillamook Sharp Cheddar and Monterey Jack

·         Drink specials - Local craft beers ($5, Pitchers $19), California wine ($8), Sangria ($4, Pitchers $15)

·         Toppings (at an additional charge) - Fresh jalapenos, applewood-smoked bacon, seasoned roasted tomatoes, cured ham, housemade pickles, smoked turkey

American Grilled Cheese Kitchen
1 South Park
San Francisco

Open 7 days a week:
Mon-Fri 8am-3pm
Sat & Sun 10am-4pm
*Extended hours during events/ball-games at AT&T park