One great aspect of lockdown is having the time and inclination to try old-favourite recipes.
Recently The Melbourne Age ran an article on How to make the perfect toasted cheese sandwich. It provides heaps of ideas and options.
So recently we have been cooking our version. It derives from a visit to Dallas, Texas, some years ago.
The Lumen Hotel Front Room
The Lumen is a smart hotel across the street from a major Dallas University which we were visiting for a piano competition some years ago. At the end of each day of watching the performances a number of us would adjourn to the Front Room for drinks and supper. (Photo from their website.)
Twice I ordered their ham and cheese sandwich, which came topped with a fried egg. As it was so impressive and memorable, I made notes so I could try to recreate it when back home in Australia. They include the following comments:
- A thick square block of three slices of quality bread, cheese and ham
- Square-shaped, like a tin loaf
- The bread either a light sourdough or medium-density quality white bread
- Not heavy nor light, nor overly flavoured (such as a strong rye)
- Lovely flavourful cheese (gruyère-like)
- Thin slices of ham (the absolute best quality, possibly a cured ham like jamón)
- Is the sandwich baked, microwaved, made in parts and cooked and put together, toasted on both sides?
- Grilled cheese on top, and a fried egg.
- Were there other flavours inside, such as mustard, even perhaps some jalapeño, …?
- Served warm in the middle of a large plate with some salad leaves and pickled gherkins or cucumbers, ….
On arriving home I experimented with different bread types. The shape did not matter except that the square block at the Lumen does look impressive. And I experimented with different cheeses and hams. And methods.
I like recipes that are simple, don’t require too much cleaning up and which still give excellent results. For this I use the pan-fried method rather than a grill or a specialty sandwich maker. If we have any leftover sandwiches – from work or other functions – we fry them this way. The method works on most types of sandwich fillings.
Thus the main equipment you will need is a non-stick frying pan big enough to cook your sandwiches without crowding. You also need a small to medium-sized plate and a saucepan or other lid. The plate and the lid need to fit inside the frying pan. The plate allows you to push the sandwiches into the hot pan, instead of having to use a spatula. The lid goes over the top during cooking to act as a heat trap to allow the sandwiches to heat all the way through, and it is also used to push on the plate from time to time to help compress them. The saucepan lid also enables you to cook the egg at the end.
I use two types of cheese – a hard cheese in the style of Gruyère or Comté, and a soft cheese in the style of Camembert or Brie. Try this combination first so you know what might give the best result. But experiment with other cheeses. The article from The Age mentioned above provides many options. For the ham, I tend to use the best quality traditional Australian style, finely sliced. Use imported cheeses and ham if you wish. There is no need to butter the inside slices of bread as the soft cheese will take care of that. However, you need to butter the top and bottom slices, as explained below. Spreadable butter works fine if you don’t have softened butter.
Make the sandwiches first, then get your pan going. You will need a little olive oil in the pan to start cooking. The fried egg is optional and is done in the same pan in the left over “juices”, after the sandwiches have been removed. A toastie is rich by definition, so a simple green salad or something tart is the ideal accompaniment.
Ingredients (for two sandwiches)
- six slices of quality bread, equivalent to 12 cm by 12 cm and 1 cm thick.
- 100 g Gruyère or Comté-style cheese, thinly sliced or coarsely grated
- 100 g soft cheese (e.g. Camembert or Brie) sliced into flat pieces rather than segmented
- 100 to 150 g lovely, thinly sliced ham
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- 100g butter, softened
- 2 eggs (if using)
- green salad to serve and/or dill pickles or similar
Make the sandwiches by starting with two slices of bread. Layer on some hard cheese, then some soft cheese, then some ham. Place another slice of bread on top and layer with ham, soft cheese and finish with hard cheese. Place the third slice of bread on top.
Heat the frying pan with a little olive oil. Butter the top of each of the two sandwiches. Test oil for some sizzle. Upend the sandwiches into the oil. Press on top of the sandwiches to compact them a little. Place a flat plate on top and press some more, without squeezing out too much cheese or ham. After a minute or two, put the saucepan lid over the top as a heat trap and every now and again push downwards onto the plate to compact the sandwiches even more.
After several minutes, when the sandwiches slide easily, remove the lid and plate and butter the top surface of each sandwich. Perhaps with two spatulas, carefully flip the sandwiches over and repeat with process with the plate and saucepan lid. Cook for another few minutes until the bottom has also browned and the cheese has mostly melted. Test to see if the heat has made it through to the middle of each sandwich, and cook a little longer if not.
Remove to warm plates. There should be some butter, oil and melted cheese pan juices remaining. Tip this over the sandwiches, except if you are using eggs, fry them in the juices, placing the saucepan lid over the top to allow even cooking without having to turn the eggs. Once to your liking, ease the eggs and juices onto the top of the two sandwiches.
Serve warm with a green salad and/or pickles. Serves 2.
Degree of difficulty: 2/5 (Not difficult)