My sons are smart. They figured out how to make grilled cheese sandwiches on their own, but they were discerning enough to notice the sandwiches made by their parents were far superior. And they wanted to learn our secrets. We've had years of practice, and we agree that if there's one thing we can teach our children, it's how to make an excellent hot sandwich, any time of day, from breakfast to late-night snack time.
The Glory of Grilled Cheese for Breakfast
Let's start with breakfast. There's nothing wrong with a plain grilled cheese sandwich for breakfast, but if you add egg and some kind of delicious breakfast protein? You have yourself a spectacular meal. An omelet folded into a grilled cheese sandwich is an excellent breakfast on the go. (Yes, I wish we had less of these, but some mornings, a few minutes of extra sleep is worth more than a sit-down breakfast. Fine. All mornings.)
In my opinion, the secret to an excellent breakfast sandwich is to not overcook the egg, so it can cook a little bit more while the cheese melts — because what's the point of a hot sandwich without melted cheese? — without getting too dry. As our boys grow older, we know they'll experiment with their own breakfast favorites.
What My Kids Should Know About Grilled Cheese
But what about the basic grilled cheese? Here are my tips:
- Start with great bread. It can be sourdough, whole wheat, or sunflower. A baguette or a bagel. It can even be a little bit stale. But it should taste good.
- While you heat your pan, coat the bread with something. My newest favorite "something" is mayonnaise (Duke's, of course), but butter works, as does olive oil or bacon grease.
- Place one side of the bread in the pan, and immediately add cheese. Harder cheese takes a while to melt, and unmelted cheese will be the downfall of your sandwich. For the youngest kids, I add an additional tip here: Stand on a stool or just be very careful to arch your wrist, so you don't burn your arm on the pan.
- Top it with another piece of bread, and flip the sandwich when the bottom half is as brown as you want it. Maybe you like it lightly toasted, or maybe you like it practically burnt — the choice is yours.
- Cheese still not melted? As the second piece of bread browns, put a pot top over the sandwich to trap the heat and achieve the gooey consistency you deserve. The top doesn't even have to fit the pan; it can rest in the pan, as long as it's larger than the sandwich.
As far as additions go, I encourage the kids to experiment. A slice of prosciutto is delightful, as are a few basil leaves. Add a little arugula, and it'll wilt in no time. Pile on some caramelized onions, and you're approaching a masterpiece. How about a thick slice of homegrown summer tomato? Or a handful of sprouts to give it some crunch?
Before you know it, you'll have a whole meal. Or cut it into quarters, and call it a party snack. Add whatever you like, just make sure the cheese is melted.
And a grilled cheese sandwich doesn't have to be a stand-alone dish — although I have no objection to it. It's the perfect side for tomato soup, a summer salad, or a handful of potato chips. But a grilled cheese, made right, is incredibly delicious, any time of day.
What's your favorite addition?
10 Kitchen Lessons for My Teenage Kid
I've decided to be a little more methodical about teaching my sons to cook. So this week and next I'm counting down the ten essentials I think my 14-year-old absolutely has to master before he flies the nest.