Thursday, January 12, 2012

Toasted sandwiches

Just about this time, six years ago, I ate a sandwich that changed my life.

I realize that that is a sweeping and melodramatic statement to make about a sandwich, but I’m standing by it. Here is how it happened:

Once upon a time in my younger adulthood, I rarely ate sandwiches, other than tuna. I also had minimal experience of grilled cheese, other than as cheese piled on a slice of bread and run under the broiler until bubbly and crusty. These two facts seem unrelated, but are not.

While in Boston on a holiday visit, DP, Miss B, and I took a little road trip to visit my sister-in-law in western Massachusetts. While there, we made a stop at one of my favorite used bookstores in the world, The Montague Bookmill (also the possessor of the best slogan in the history of business, “Books you don’t need in a place you can’t find”), so I could spend the gift certificate my SIL had thoughtfully given me for Christmas. We had a good long browse for books, and also had lunch at the cafĂ©.

I selected a sandwich—a sausage and cheese sandwich. The bread was crusty and spread with zesty mustard. The sausage was spicy and flavorful. The cheese was very sharp cheddar. And the whole thing had been cooked until the cheese was oozy and bubbling, elevating the combination from merely tasty to transcendental. The variety of flavors and textures in each bite was a revelation to me.

It doesn’t seem possible that that was my first experience of a toastie—I was well into my 30s at that point—but it was the first one that inspired me. Before I ate that sandwich, I had never made a grilled-cheese sandwich on the stovetop; never made a tuna melt; never combined anything with melted cheese between two slices of bread. Since I’ve had it, I would estimate that I’ve eaten at least one toastie a week without fail. Every week for the past six years. From a food perspective at least (and what perspective is more important?), I would define that as life-changing.

Sausage and cheddar toastie
I make my toasties using one slice of bread, cut in half, in order to satisfy my cravings while not pushing my calorie consumption into the stratosphere. I also use a vegetable slicer to pare off thin slices of cheese, so that I can get complete coverage and good melting.

2 Tbsp/30 g olive oil
1 slice good bread
dijon or stoneground mustard
cooked sausage (I generally use leftover medium-spicy Italian sausage)
the sharpest cheddar cheese you can find

Put the olive oil in a frying pan (I use my medium cast-iron) and put on the stove on medium heat. Spread the bread thoroughly with mustard on one side, then cut in half. Cover one half with thin slices of sausage, then cover the sausage with thin slices of cheese. Top with the other half-slice of bread and place in the now-hot oil. Weight the sandwich to press it together (since my beloved Canberra brick got lost in the move, I am back to using a smaller cast-iron skillet for this job). Cook the sandwich for about 3 minutes per side, or until brown and crispy on the outside and oozing cheese on the inside. Serve immediately, preferably accompanied by some good potato chips and homemade pickles.

Serves 1. Can be multiplied as necessary to feed any number of toastie fiends you happen to have hanging around.

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