If you're like us, you can make a decent grilled cheese sandwich—but you're always eager to up your game. We asked Top Chef alums and grilled cheese award-winning chefs for their tips on how to make a truly awesome version of the classic. Here are their pointers for how to “crush the grilled cheese minds," as expert sandwich-maker and chef Eric Greenspan puts it.
1. When choosing your cheeses, think texture.
Top Chef Season 13's Chad White recommends shredding one type of cheese and thinly slicing another type to create different textures. “To add extra pizzazz, use shredded Parmesan or Asiago cheese,“ he suggests. Chad then layers on another type of cheese towards the end of his grilling—for instance, thinly sliced Tillamook sharp cheddar. Chef Eric Greenspan, who owns Greenspan’s Grilled Cheese in L.A. and is a past first-prize winner of the Grilled Cheese Invitational, mixes and matches his cheeses to layer both the flavor and the texture. “These days people want the complexities of a stinky taleggio. It makes sense to do a combo—mozzarella for the melt and goat or blue for the flavor,” says Eric. Top Chef Season 13 alum and James Beard Award nominee Karen Akunowicz likes provolone for its "great melt-ability." As Eric notes, “Combining cheeses gives you the perfect match of texture and pungency."
2. Layer on some greens (and reds!)
“A great dish is about the mix of colors and flavors. A grilled cheese is no different,” says Eric. He adds arugula for its “freshness and pop." Karen combines greens with a spicy component. “I love to fill my grilled cheese with kimchi and lots of cilantro.” Top Chef alum Wesley True loves adding in onions, or switches them up with local and seasonal ingredients. “Ramps and leeks are a great option. If you're in the south, vidalia onions are super-sweet and great to use,” says Wesley. The choice is yours: Don't be afraid to experiment. “One man’s caramelized onion is another man’s roasted pepper,” says Eric.
3. Don't forget the spread.
A flavorful spread can transform a sandwich, and that holds true for grilled cheese too. Eric suggests “an aioli of sorts or a chutney to add a subtle complexity and bite.” Karen also adds an aioli to her sandwich: “I make an umami one that has black vinegar, soy sauce and black truffles in it,” she says. Top Chef Season 13's Renee Kelly takes it one step further with a different spread for each slice of bread: “One slice of bread gets fig jam while the other one is spread with a horseradish Dijon."
Want to take your grilled cheese to an even higher level? Try Eric's award-winning recipe for one of his signature sandwiches, The Champ (pictured below). His version is so rich and OTT, some would argue it's not even a grilled cheese anymore—but you can make a simpler version by shortening the ingredient list to just the butter, bread and cheese (plus any extras you want), and skip ahead to steps 3 and 4. Enjoy!
The Champ by Eric Greenspan
Makes 4 sandwiches
15 dried apricots
1 tablespoon nonpareil capers
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
8 slices dark raisin bread
5 tablespoons butter, at room temperature
4 small handfuls arugula
¼ cup sun-dried tomato, rehydrated
8 ounces taleggio cheese, rind removed, at room temperature
½ pound boneless beef short ribs
1 cup beef stock
4 pinches fleur de sel
1. Place apricots in small saucepan and add water just to cover. Bring to full boil and immediately remove from heat. Mix in capers, mustard and olive oil. Pulse in blender to chunky consistency; set aside.
2. Season the short rib with salt and cut into four chunks. Place in a pressure cooker with the beef stock and cook for an hour until cooked and shreddable. Shred and hold in the reserved cooking liquid.
3. Spread one side of each bread slice evenly (to the edges) with 1/2 tablespoon butter. With buttered sides down, top four slices with 2 tablespoons of apricot mixture, handful of arugula and equal portions of cheese. Add an even amount of rehydrated tomatoes and ¼ of the shredded beef per sandwich. Top with remaining slices, buttered side up.
4. Place large skillet over high heat, and melt remaining 1 tablespoon butter. Reduce heat to low and add sandwiches. Cook until browned and crisp on both sides, about 2 minutes a side. Transfer to a platter lined with paper towels, and sprinkle each with a pinch of fleur de sel. Cut in half and serve.
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