Not Your Childhood Grilled Cheese

Not Your Childhood Grilled Cheese
The Champ, with Taleggio cheese, short ribs, and apricot-caper spread on raisin walnut bread. (Colin Price)
Crystal Shi

What could be better than a classic grilled cheese sandwich, buttered and toasted to crispy, gooey perfection? Eric Greenspan has a few ideas.

The LA-based chef’s new cookbook, “The Great Grilled Cheese Book,” is full of them. Greenspan draws upon his experiences working at Michelin-starred restaurants to turn the humble sandwich into complex works of culinary art. Focaccia or cornbread might replace white bread; American cheese is infused with beer or Sriracha, or swapped out for sharp gouda or creamy Camembert; poached tuna or slow-braised ribs add heft and flavor; and homemade jams, chutneys, and pickles cut through the rich with sweetness and acidity.

His playful reinventions take the childhood classic to the next level. “Use them as inspiration for your own creations,” he writes. “I’m hoping you’ll never look at a grilled cheese the same way again.”

The Champ

When I opened The Foundry on Melrose in 2007, I wanted to do an accessible yet sophisticated restaurant that anyone could enjoy, a gateway drug to fine dining. When my manager suggested a cheese platter for our bar menu, I felt it sounded too fancy schmancy. But everybody loves grilled cheese, right? So I took the stinky cheese, raisin-walnut bread, dried fruit, and other accoutrements from a cheese plate and made a grilled cheese out of them, then added the short-rib scraps for a more robust experience. It was a hit! The following year we entered the Grilled Cheese Invitational, which is like a mix between Burning Man and a cooking competition, and won. Next, it was featured on Food Network’s “The Best Thing I Ever Ate” and in the New York Times. Now it’s one of the most popular things I serve.
Makes 4 sandwiches
  • 12 ounces Taleggio cheese, rind removed
  • 8 slices dark raisin walnut bread
Short Ribs:
  • 8 ounces boneless beef short ribs
  • 1 tablespoon kosher salt
  • 1 cup beef stock
Apricot-Caper Spread:
  • 15 dried apricots
  • 1 tablespoon nonpareil capers
  • 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 20 dry-packed sun-dried tomatoes
  • 4 small handfuls arugula
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, for finishing
To make the short ribs, cut the meat into 4 equal chunks and season with salt. In a pressure cooker, combine the meat and stock, lock the lid in place, bring to full pressure, and cook for 45 minutes to an hour, until fork-tender. If you don’t have a pressure cooker, combine the seasoned meat and stock in a small, heavy saucepan on the stove top, bring to a boil over high heat, cover, turn down the heat to a gentle simmer, and cook for about 3 1/2 hours, until fork-tender. Transfer the meat to a plate, shred with 2 forks, then return the meat to the cooking liquid to keep it moist.

To make the spread, in a small saucepan, combine the apricots with water just to cover, bring to a boil over high heat, and boil for just a few minutes, until fully rehydrated and tender. Drain well and let cool. In a blender, combine the rehydrated apricots, capers, mustard, and oil and process until smooth.

In a small saucepan, combine the sun-dried tomatoes with water just to cover, bring to a boil over high heat, and boil for just a few minutes, until rehydrated and tender. Drain well.

Line up half of the bread slices on a work surface. On each slice, spread 1 tablespoon of the apricot spread, then top with a handful of arugula. Cut the Taleggio into 4 equal portions and gently shape each portion into a patty. Add one cheese patty and one-fourth of the tomatoes and beef to each slice of bread. Close the sandwiches with the remaining bread slices.

Line a large platter with paper towels. In a skillet over high heat, melt 1 tablespoon of the butter. Turn down the heat to low, add 1 sandwich, and cook, turning once, for 2 to 3 minutes on each side, until browned and crisp on both sides and the cheese is melted. Transfer to the prepared platter to blot the excess grease. Repeat with the remaining butter and sandwiches.

Cut the sandwiches in half, plate, and serve.

Reprinted with permission from “Great Grilled Cheese: Grown-Up Recipes for a Childhood Classic” by Eric Greenspan, copyright © 2018. Published by Ten Speed Press, an imprint of Penguin Random House.
“Great Grilled Cheese: Grown-Up Recipes for a Childhood Classic” by Eric Greenspan ($16.99).
“Great Grilled Cheese: Grown-Up Recipes for a Childhood Classic” by Eric Greenspan ($16.99).
Crystal Shi is the food editor for The Epoch Times. She is a journalist based in New York City.