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English lunch classic plus skillet equals a gourmet sandwichOriginally Published April 25, 2013 at 12:00 a.m.
Updated April 24, 2013 at 11:51 a.m.
A grilled cheese sandwich is as American as American gets. But other countries have their favorite form of cheese sandwich. The Swiss have the tradition of eating melted raclette cheese spread on toasted bread. The French have the cafe favorite, the croque-monsieur, a hot ham and cheese sandwich. The English have Welsh rarebit, which features slices of toast doused in a savory cheese sauce.
Of course, the Americans have a processed cheese product melted between two pieces of cardboard white bread. It’s what most kids grow up on, myself included. But I think it’s time for a more mature grilled cheese sandwich.
My version puts a twist on an English classic, the ploughman’s lunch. It’s a sandwich I enjoyed countless times while traveling in England. The lunch is typically made of country bread, cheese, pickle or gherkin, and apple, pickled onions or beets.
According to some, the ploughman’s lunch is not some ancient tradition but was in fact popularized by the British Cheese Board to market the country’s cheeses. Whatever its origins, nowadays sandwich shops all over England serve some version of it. I simply take that sandwich and grill it to create the ultimate gourmet grilled cheese sandwich.
The ingredient that really makes the sandwich is the pickle, which is what the English term relish. Branston makes the famous English pickle, which includes rutabaga, carrot, onion, cauliflower and gherkin, all pickled in a vinegary and spicy sauce. It hits all the savory and sweet receptors in your mouth. However, the most important ingredient is cheese, in this case a very good English cheddar. As a rule, I always buy English or Wisconsin cheddar and never processed cheese. The apple slices add a slight sweetness and crunch to the sandwich. It’s perfect for lunch or a snack, and it’s easy enough to make in the frying pan or the toaster oven.
Ploughman’s Grilled Cheese Sandwich
Makes one sandwich
2 slices whole-wheat bread
4 slices English cheddar
1 tablespoon Branston pickle (see note)
1/2 apple, thinly sliced
Warm a skillet set over medium heat. Lay bread slices in pan and toast on both sides. Spread each slice of bread with 1 1/2 teaspoons pickle. Lay 2 cheese slices on each bread slice. Layer one slice of bread with apple slices and top with other slice of bread. Grill sandwich until cheese is melted and bread is golden brown, about 3 to 5 minutes per side.
Note: Find Branston pickle in the international aisle of the supermarket, in specialty British shops or online. To make the chunky relish more spreadable, chop finely in the food processor.
Joseph Erdos is a New York-based writer and editor who shares his passion for food on his blog, Gastronomer’s Guide. He writes articles for One for the Table, Amy Ephron’s online magazine that specializes in food, politics and love at www.oneforthetable.com.