Did you acquire an electric or stovetop panini press during the late 1990s craze, only to use it once or twice? Before you think about culling it from your kitchen, consider a few of the ways I use my stovetop model. It’s great for more than just sandwiches, and I find myself pulling it out of the cabinet often.
Allow me to tell you about my top five uses for one of my favorite tools!
When my husband and I consolidated our kitchen equipment, we discovered that we had two panini presses, one electric and one stovetop model. We donated the electric one and kept the stovetop version, an indestructible enameled cast iron set including a grill pan and weighted press. For us, the stovetop version has proved invaluable — we cook many foods in it beyond the namesake sandwiches, and here are my top five.
1. Sandwich-friendly bacon
Sandwich-ready, flat-as-you-please slices of bacon cook up in no time in the panini press. The press allows direct heat from top and bottom, since you heat the lid on a separate burner before use. Bacon is ready in about 10 minutes, well-rendered and perfectly crispy, and the lid means way less spatters on your stovetop, too.
2. A vast array of sandwiches
Yes, I know this one’s a no-brainer, but besides the traditional Italian panini, you can make Cubano-style sandwiches; toasted subs; and a killer croque-monsieur, tuna melt, or basic grilled (er, pressed) cheese. Most sandwiches are improved by a good toasting, and the press helps to meld all of the ingredients together into a crunchy, compact, easily sliceable sandwich.
3. Gravlax, sliced eggplant, and other weighted foods
Without even turning on the heat, the press is already useful. If you can get your hands on a super-fresh fillet of salmon, try curing gravlax in the fridge in your panini press! Just place the fish in the pan, then coat both sides generously with fresh dill, salt, sugar, pepper, and a good glug of aquavit or vodka, then weight it down with the lid. Two days later you’ll have a cured piece of salmon, ready to slice thinly and serve. This, obviously, works best with a stovetop pan and weight like mine.
4. Boneless chicken breasts, steaks, and chops
Similar to weighted dishes like pollo al mattone, cooking smaller cuts of meat in the press renders them dense and juicy, with beautiful faux grill marks to boot. If you're using a stovetop press, just heat the lid and pan as you normally would for cooking a sandwich, then put your seasoned meat in the pan, place the press on top, and transfer the whole thing to a 375ºF oven to cook through.
5. “Grilled” vegetables
No antipasto spread is complete without a generous pile of marinated vegetables. Since you’re forgoing the smoky flavor of an actual grill, consider sprinkling a pinch of smoked paprika or smoked salt on top of peppers, zucchini, and sliced eggplant after brushing them (and the press) generously with olive oil. After cooking, sprinkle with a little red wine or balsamic vinegar, and you’re done.
Where to Buy a Stovetop Panini Press
Those are my favorite ways to use my panini press! Despite its name, it’s certainly a multitasker in my kitchen.
Do you have one, and if so, have you found any unusual uses for it? I'd love to hear about them in the comments below!