Thursday, September 03, 2015

Food Watch: 18 grilled-cheese sandwiches made all at once? That sounds like sorcery!


by Ken

Let's say you saw a tease like the one above. No, let's say you saw the tease above. Are you going to tell me you wouldn't click through? Come on, 18 grilled-cheese sandwiches made all at once! That's not worth a click?

Heck, you don't even have to like grilled-cheese sandwiches to want to see this trick performed. 18 at once? Once you've seen that, is there really anything left to see? Plus, say you have 17 people coming over in half an hour for lunch -- or a nice snack. You've got a couple of loaves of Wonder Bread and a jumbo pack of "American slices," but there's no way you can convert them into 18 sandwiches you can serve nice and hot, is there?

Is there?

Well, not as far as I know. Because by the time you've finished clicking on, this is what you wind up with:

And poor Anna Stockwell, through (probably) no fault of her own, is being booed and hissed before she has a chance to whip out her pair of sheet pans. Now if you had been promised six grilled-cheese sandwiches made at once, you probably wouldn't have gotten as keyed up, but you would probably have thought, "Heck, that's something, six grilled cheeses made at once." I'm not saying you wouldn't have proceeded to check out what's new in breast or penis enlargement, but you would probably have had it in mind to go back at some point and see just how those six grilled cheeses are made at once with a pair of sheet pans.

There's a lesson here for all of us in overpromising.


"Sometimes," she says, "you just need a mountain of grilled-cheese sandwiches. And not because you're planning on eating all of them."
Let's say a bunch of hungry kids (or kids-at-heart) are coming over. Let's say there's a pot of tomato soup on the stove. You need to become a one-person grilled-cheese machine. How do you do it?

Maybe if you have a stovetop griddle or get two skillets going at once you can do four, but it starts to get a little tricky to make more than that, and I inevitably end up turning on the oven to keep finished sandwiches warm while I knock out another round on the stove, and quick little lunch of grilled cheese for six people turns into more of a project than I'd signed up for.

But there's an easier, faster way: Cut the stove out of the equation entirely.
What? you say. Cut the stove out of the equation entirely? No way! But you're interested again, right?

If you've managed to rise above the worst of the rancor left from the bait-and-switch that disappeared those other dozen sandwiches, and you still want to know how Anna proposes to pull off this admittedly more humdrum miracle of sexta-grilled-cheese fabrication, here's the secret:

The flat metal surface of a heavy-duty 13x18" rimmed baking sheet (or half-sheet pan) is a great conductor of heat, and my favorite tool for getting nice brown and crispy edges on roasted vegetables. So I knew I could get a nice crispy edge on my grilled cheese sandwiches on a rimmed baking sheet, but I wanted to get that griddle-seared crust on both sides of each sandwich without having to flip it. That's where a second rimmed baking sheet comes in—by stacking it on top of the grilled cheese sandwiches then putting the whole "sandwich" in the oven, you mimic the effect of a panini press, searing and crisping both sides of the sandwich at the same time.

Is it my imagination, or do these sandwiches look dry?

As you can perhaps tell, Anna is pretty excited about all this. And she's every bit as excited by her hard-won discoveries after churning out ovenfuls of grilled-cheese sandwiches. Probably you or I would have guessed straightaway that you're going to want to invert the bottom pan but not the top one -- so that you have, you know, a press. Anna gets there eventually, explaining, "Having the bottom sheet inverted and the top one right-side-up yielded the best and fastest melting, since hot air is able to get in on all sides without the rim in the way."

But there's still a problem!
I kept getting unevenly-browned tops and bottoms on my grilled cheeses. So I tried a trick I like to use when I want to get even crispier potatoes, and preheated just the top baking sheet, since the top was consistently less browned than the bottom. Bingo!


"First off," we're told, "it's easier and faster to spread than butter (unless yours is completely softened), which makes a big difference when you're making six sandwiches at a time." And an even bigger difference if you thought you were going to be making 18 sandwiches. Of course you could start by working with softened butter. But there's another lesson afoot: "Even more importantly, the mayo grilled cheeses came out of the oven with gorgeously browned, delightfully savory, and shatteringly crisp surfaces. Sold."

"Shatteringly crisp surfaces"? Is this really what you and your five (or 17) guests are looking for?

Now you're probably wondering, "Gosh, Anna, what about the cheese? What kind(s) should I use?" And you'll be glad you asked, because she tested not just lots of cheeses but different kinds,
and the only thing my taste-testers and I could all agree on was that a blend of cheeses, and a sprinkling of salt and pepper on those cheeses, is always good. You can use just one kind of cheese if that's all you've got, but you'll get a richer, more complex flavor if you mix together two or three kinds.
We're encouraged in particular "to mix cheeses with different textures" -- for example, "a bit of Parm mixed in with softer meltier cheeses like mozzarella and Monterey Jack." This, you may be startled to learn, "adds deeper umami and saltiness." No, it's not the saltiness that'll surprise you, it's the "deeper umami." Okey-doke.

Or you might moosh some cream cheese, goat cheese, or crème fraîche with some harder cheeses, to get them to "bind together into a creamy filling." And if you want "plenty of melted-cheese strings when bitten into," then "you want a blend of grated mozzarella, cheddar, and Monterey Jack."

Now, for those other 12 sandwiches . . . .

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At 1:09 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Not only do the six baked sandwiches look dry but the resale value of the pan is now practically nil.

John Puma

At 3:39 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

John Puma - why are you always so negative?

At 11:37 AM, Anonymous Bil said...

Thanks Ken, I appreciate a break from the regular "politikal" programming!


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