Grilled cheese, I’m convinced, is a food not at all to be taken lightly. I’d go to certain heights to prove this statement, and mainly those heights are the making of a grilled cheese sandwich for anyone who disagrees with me. Further proof of this is the fact that I am generally not a fan of warm or hot sandwiches in general. I tend to prefer a nice deli sandwich, but when it comes to grilled cheese specifically, I can’t resist. We’ll get into the topic of perfecting the deli sandwich at a later time.
I think the reason I have immortalized this meal is the simple fact that it was such a delightful rarity in my childhood. Given that lunches in my house were generally either left-overs from the night before or multi-grain pb&j’s with tortilla chips on the side (not generally the most enticing combination, honestly) anything else was met with dramatic excitement by all of us. One childhood friend in the community insisted on calling it a “girled cheese” and I tried to explain to him it was a grilled cheese but then he just told his mom that he wanted a “boyed cheese” sandwich for lunch. (That’s a true story.)
All that aside, I have spent a fair amount of time researching techniques and reading recipes. In the past, I’ve tried many variations on the traditional grilled cheese, and I have made quite a few – very scientific, I’m sure – observations: the bread can’t be too dense, because it will be dried out before the cheese has melted adequately. Conversely, the bread cannot be too airy or contain too many holes (ciabatta is out), or the cheese will melt through and you’ll have almost nothing left in the sandwich. If the bread is cut too thin, it will become more of a cracker, crispy and difficult to bite. It has taken many attempts to arrive where I have thus far. I was so pleased with my most recent attempt at perfecting what most people this side of 14 years old wouldn’t bat an eye at that I decided to document it for you.
It’s not one of those fancy grilled cheese sandwiches that have appeared in the pages of bon appetit magazine or an article on buzzfeed as a “grown-up” version…it’s simple, with just 4 ingredients: butter, cheese, aioli, and an english muffin. I don’t have pictures of the process for you (I promise to get better about that, I swear) but I have a recipe, nonetheless.
English Muffin Grilled Cheese
4 standard english muffins
2 tablespoons salted butter
8 slices monterey jack cheese (or havarti, fontina, pepper jack or colby jack)
Aioli, as needed
If you want to make your own aioli:
1/4 cup mayo, from a jar (hellman’s or best foods)
1 1/2 Tbsp dijon mustard
2 cloves minced garlic
(if desired) black pepper, ground, to taste
Heat a large skillet over medium high heat. Slice the english muffins in half (if not already sliced) and butter the insides lightly. Toast in the pan until golden brown, pressing each english muffin half with a spatula, using moderate force to flatten somewhat.
Turn the heat to medium, and remove the bread from the skillet. Spread the now toasted insides with aioli (whatever your desired amount may be) and place one slice of cheese on each half. Slap two halves together until you have a total of four sandwiches. In the skillet, melt enough butter to coat the bottom. Place the sandwiches in the buttered skillet and toast for 4-5 minutes.
Remove the sandwiches from the pan, toasted side up. Melt enough butter to coat the bottom of the skillet again. Toast the other side of the sandwich. When you feel the bread is toasted enough, check the cheese. It should be fully melted at this point. If it isn’t, here’s a trick: pour a teaspoon of water into the edge of the skillet, but not so it touches the bread. Place a lid over. The steam from the water will give the cheese a boost to melt it the rest of the way without the bread becoming overly toasted. Remove the lid (and the sandwiches) after about 30 seconds. Brilliant, eh?
Allow to cool for about two minutes, and serve two sandwiches per person.