July 31, 2013
Grilled cheese sandwiches aren't just for kids, assuming you know how to update them for a more grown-up palate.
Begin by using better bread. In place of the squishy white bread, try something with more substance: a flavorful sourdough, sweet brioche or crunchy baguette. Next, add interesting texture or flavors to the filling. Thin slices of sweet apple and spicy jalapenos complement sourdough nicely. The brioche makes a delicious and filling breakfast when stuffed with sliced ham, sauteed mushrooms and a fried egg. A baguette yields a bruschetta-like grilled cheese sandwich when dressed with fresh basil leaves, pesto and tomato confit.
The star in this show, of course, is the cheese. You can use the fanciest, stinkiest, crumbliest cheese your heart desires if you borrow a trick from the food scientists at Kraft: sodium citrate. This white, crystalline ingredient looks like salt, and in fact it is a salt - a salt of citric acid, which is a natural component of citrus fruits. You can buy sodium citrate at some brewer supply stores or order it online.
Just dissolve 11 grams of sodium citrate into 1 1/8 cups of milk or water over medium heat, bring to a simmer and gradually whisk or blend in 285 grams of finely grated cheese (3-4 cups, depending on the kind of cheese and coarseness of the grater). As the cheese melts, the sodium citrate serves as an emulsifier and prevents the fat from splitting off.
Use whatever kind or blend of cheeses and liquids you want. Add the weights of the cheese and liquid, and multiply the total by 0.028 to get the amount of sodium citrate to use.
AGED WHITE CHEDDAR ON SOURDOUGH WITH APPLES
Yield: 4 sandwiches
For the cheese slices:
3 teaspoons (14 grams) sodium citrate
1/2 cup (115 milliliters) water
6 cups (380 grams) aged white cheddar cheese, grated
For the sandwich:
Butter 8 slices sourdough bread, about 1/2 inch thick
8 very thin slices apple (Honeycrisp, or your favorite variety)
3 tablespoons (30 grams) thinly sliced jalapenos
Line a rimmed baking sheet with a silicone baking mat, or oil the sheet lightly, and heat it in an oven set to its lower temperature. The larger the baking sheet, the thinner the cheese slices will be.
In a medium saucepan over medium heat, dissolve the sodium citrate in the water, then bring to a simmer. Add the grated cheese to the simmering water a handful at a time while whisking or blending with an immersion blender until all of the cheese is completely melted and smooth.
Pour the melted cheese onto the warmed baking sheet. Tip the sheet back and forth to form a single layer of even thickness. Cover the cheese layer with plastic wrap and place it in the refrigerator until set, about 2 hours. Slice the cheese into pieces sized to fit your bread slices.
When ready to prepare the sandwiches, heat a large, heavy skillet over medium. Alternatively, heat a sandwich grill or panini press.
Butter outward-facing sides of each bread slice, assemble sandwiches, each with a slice of cheese, a slice of apple and a bit of the jalapenos. Add a sandwich to the skillet and panfry until the bread is golden brown and the cheese is melted, 2 to 3 minutes per side. Repeat with remaining sandwiches.