A well-made grilled cheese is essentially perfect. Choose breads and accompaniments that will flatter the cheese. The bread should be thick enough that it's crisp outside and soft inside, but not so hefty as to bury the cheese. A slightly acidic or tart partner, such as slices of tomato or pickle, will nicely offset the cheese's richness. Go with a dressy classic, such as croque monsieur, or create an uncomplicated pairing, such as Swiss with turkey and mustard.
Choosing the right ingredients is paramount: A grilled cheese presents its elements bare, without the safety net of side dishes or elaborate presentation. It's a showcase for the cheese; select one that melts evenly, such as cheddar, Swiss, or Monterey Jack. That said, almost any cheese will do. After all, even if eating the sandwich gets messy, it'll be polished off quickly -- another triumph of the true art of cooking.
When to Flip
To properly melt the cheese without burning the bread, cook the sandwich on one side over medium-low heat; flip it as it begins to turn golden brown. Grill the other side, then flip the sandwich back onto the first side to reheat. Grilling both sides at once, whether in a sandwich press or using a second heated skillet to press the sandwich as it cooks, is efficient but yields a much denser texture.
Classic Grilled Cheese
Makes 2 sandwiches
The key to making a good grilled cheese sandwich lies in the heat of the cooking surface. A griddle or well-seasoned cast-iron skillet will produce equally delicious results.
4 slices (1/2 inch thick) firm white sandwich bread
1/4 pound cheddar cheese, sliced 1/3 inch thick
Unsalted butter, room temperature
1. Heat a griddle or large cast-iron skillet over medium-low heat. Place two slices of bread on a clean work surface, and cover each with a layer of cheese; top with remaining bread slices, pressing gently to adhere. Generously butter both sides of each sandwich, spreading it all the way to the edges.
2. Place sandwiches on the griddle or in the skillet. Cook until golden brown on each side and the cheese has completely melted, 3 to 4 minutes per side, turning once. Before removing from griddle, flip sandwiches to reheat first side, about 15 seconds. Cut each sandwich diagonally in half; serve immediately.