TBE recently went through a thoroughly disheartening financial crisis unheard of in the annals of modern and postmodern journalism. As such, we were in no position to enjoy the lavish buffets and champagne-fueled lunches to which our staff had become accustomed. Instead we set our sights on those luxuries that were still within reach. That is how we developed an intimate acquaintance with grilled cheese, a very precise recipe for which follows after the jump, along with a song to inspire you.
Bread (TBE prefers Rich Bake brand Milk Toast (the one in the royal blue package) as opposed to Rich Bake brand Toast (the one in the teal package). We’ve found milk toast to be more substantial than plain old toast. One could, of course, use wheat bread in making this recipe, but we advise against it, even if the more bourgeoisie amongst you might have an aversion to white bread due to the fact that it is commonly associated with poor people in the United States.)
Butter, softened so as to be easily spreadable on the aforementioned bread (We use Lurpak, due to the fact that it is available at Falaki Star market (downtown’s finest, in our rather less than humble estimation) as opposed to La Vache Qui Rit President, which is not, though we don’t have a strong preference either way. On no account should one ever allow Egyptian butter near one’s mouth or even one’s nose. It is vile.)
Cheese (We use the cheddar cheese sold at the aforementioned Falaki Star market, which is located on Falaki Street just off of Tahrir Street, near the Bab al-Louq market and whose name is a play on words in Arabic, which endears us to it even more.)
Tomato Slice, optional (Tomatoes can add a veneer of sophistication and health-consciousness to grilled cheese. When cooked, however, the tomato slices have an annoying tendency towards a different temperature profile than the other ingredients. Thus when deciding whether or not to use them, one must choose between enhanced flavor and diminished temperature consistency.)
Salt, optional (If one is using tomato slices, one should salt them to bring out their flavor.)
Take the butter out of the refrigerator. This is perhaps the worst part of the whole exercise, because you have to sit and wait for the butter to warm up to spreadable temperature.
Take the bread out of the package. Use two slices that are next to each other so that their sizes are as equal as possible. We at TBE like to skip the first two slices because they tend to be noticeably smaller than the others. After removing them from the package, gently turn one over as one might the page of a book (either Arabic or English style, at your discretion), so that the slices roughly mirror each other. This will ensure that the slices fit on top of each other.
When it attains a suitable level of spreadability, spread the butter onto one side of each piece of bread.
Add a small amount of butter, just enough to coat the bottom of the pan, to a frying pan, and turn the heat on low.
While the butter is melting, cut or fold slices of cheese in half. You should have three halves of cheese for each sandwich you plan to make, though this may vary depending on the size of the slices. As a term of reference, a slice of the cheddar we use is approximately half the length of the 13-inch monitor on our computer, according to our rough calculations.
When the butter in the pan has melted, place one slice of the bread into the pan, butter side down. Immediately place the three halves on top of it. As a general rule you should use the first two halves to cover as much of the surface area as possible, while the third can be torn into smaller pieces to cover any of the bread’s surface area not covered by the initial two halves. After arranging the cheese, place the other piece of bread on top of it, butter side up.
Maintaining the heat on low*, leave the sandwich in the pan for a good four to five minutes, until the bottom is golden brown and the bottom and perhaps middle layer of cheese are adhering to the bread. When the bottom of the sandwich has reached the desired level of golden-brownness, flip it with a spatula. The second side will not take nearly as long, so keep a constant vigil over it.
When the cheese is thoroughly melted and both sides of the bread are a rich deep hue of golden brown, remove from the pan.
* The number one biggest mistake amateur grilled cheese makers make is to turn the stove on to too high a temperature. This is an understandable impulse, as one assumes that cooking it at a higher temperature will allow it to cook faster, thus allowing the cook and/or his or her guests to enjoy oozing cheese ensconced in two crisp layers of buttery bread more quickly than would otherwise be possible. This is not true, however, as cooking too fast will result in burnt bread and unmelted cheese, quite the opposite of the desired result.
Here’s a song to inspire you before, during or after cooking grilled cheese. We used to think it was about the British Prime Minister but actually it’s about extolling the many virtues of grilled cheese.