The combination of good, sharp Cheddar with some kind of pickle or chutney is a classic British favorite. Some people call it a Ploughman’s, or simply a Cheese and Pickle sandwich, but the concept is the same: good cheese paired with a sweet and salty condiment. We decided to make a good thing even better by making our own mango chutney, adding ham, and grilling the sandwiches until they turn crisp on the outside and gooey in the middle. Grilled cheese sandwiches, perfectly made.
It’s easy to think of grilled cheese sandwiches as kid food: a dish too simple to require a recipe. But just because something is simple, doesn’t mean that it shouldn’t be done well. The devil is always in the details. To be honest, the simplest dishes can be the trickiest to perfect: every ingredient and technique matters so much more. To that end, we thought long and hard about what is arguably the most important element: the cheese.
it’s all about The Cheese
You can’t just throw any old cheese between two slices of bread, griddle it and expect ooey, gooey grilled cheese sandwiches. You need to use a cheese that will actually melt, and not all cheeses are up to the task. Very firm aged cheeses like Pecorino or Parmesan won’t melt at all, and neither will crumbly cheeses like fresh goat cheese (chèvre). Fresh mozzarella tends to have a high moisture content, and will make bread soggy. Low moisture mozzarella (the kind found in the dairy section in the supermarket) melts well, but doesn’t have a lot of flavor.
You might assume we’d stick our noses up at good old American cheese, but you’d be wrong. It melts beautifully and is a perfectly acceptable choice. Other good options are Gruyère, Brie and Taleggio. But our top choice will always be tangy, buttery Cheddar. And Cabot Creamery Medium Cheddar is the perfect choice. It’s a younger Cheddar, so it melts perfectly, but it still has the deep tangy flavor we’re after. We like to mix it with just a little Monterey Jack (or Pepper Jack, if you like things extra spicy), to make the sandwich even gooier. You could absolutely go with an all-Cheddar line-up if you want, though.
The Bread: you knead the right stuff
Terrible puns aside, the right bread is an important factor in a perfect grilled cheese. Bread with large air holes isn’t ideal because the cheese can leak through as it melts. If the bread is sliced too thick, the cheese may not melt at all. Good, pre-sliced sandwich bread is fine in a pinch but our top choice is slicing our own hearty white Pullman-style loaf or a rustic country-style bread (whether homemade or store-bought). Whatever you choose, look for bread with a relatively tight, not too dense crumb. Or don’t listen to us at all and just use what you have (it’s still going to taste amazing).
The Extras: Mango chutney
While you don’t strictly need more flavor in grilled cheese sandwiches, a little extra something-something wouldn’t go amiss. A swipe of pesto is tasty, or some salty olive tapenade. But the combination of sweet mango chutney and tangy cheddar is just out of this world, so why not put it to use here? You could use store bought chutney but when we have time, we love to make or own. Fresh mango chutney is lively, fragrant and has so much flavor. Homemade also means we can give it as much spice and tang and sweetness as we like.
This recipe makes the Major Grey-style chutney that you might be familiar with from branded chutney from your store’s condiment aisle. Major Grey may or may not have been a real person, but wherever the recipe originated, the central elements have persisted: mangoes, extra sweetness from sugar, golden raisins, a kick of vinegar, and spice flavors from garlic, ginger and cinnamon. We like to use red pepper flakes or Aleppo chili pepper to build up a little heat, too.
The ham is optional, of course, but it adds a nice salty, smoky flavor. We like using French-style ham (Jambon de Paris) from Les Trois Petits Cochons.
The method: Low and slow
If there is one “trick” to making a grilled cheese sandwich, it’s finding the correct balance between time and heat. If your skillet or griddle is too hot, the bread will burn before the cheese has a chance to melt. Keeping the heat low to moderate allows the bread to slowly crisp in the butter, while steam rising from the moisture in the bread melts the cheese. Grating the cheese on a box grater helps speed the process as well (this is not necessary for American cheese, which begins to melt if you just look at it funny).
Lay your bread slices out on a work-surface and slather one side of each slice generously with butter. Carefully turn the slices over (yes, your kitchen counter will get a little buttery), and slather a little chutney on the unbuttered side of each slice. Divide the grated cheese between the slices and top with your sliced ham, if you’re using it. Now flip one slice over the other, so you have a sandwich with butter on the outside of both slices, and cheese, ham and chutney in the middle.
Get the sandwiches into a cast iron or other good quality skillet over low to medium heat. We like to weigh the slices down with another heavy pot or skillet with a sheet of foil over the sandwiches – you don’t have to press down too much like you’re making a panini, but just apply enough weight to ensure good contact with the pan which helps brown the sandwich. After a few minutes, carefully flip the slices and repeat for the second side. (You can lift the whole sandwich up with a spatula from time to time to make sure it’s not scorching.)
Once they’re done, cut and serve. It’s that simple, and super tasty. Homemade mango chutney, a little fresh ham, and great quality cheddar from Cabot Creamery. A grilled cheese sandwich you wouldn’t kick out of bed.
Cheddar, Ham and Homemade Mango Chutney Grilled Cheese Sandwiches
- 4 thick-cut slices good Pullman or rustic bread
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter room temperature
- 4 tablespoons homemade or good store-bought mango chutney (see recipe below)
- 4 slices good ham we like Bistro or Paris-style ham
- 1 1/2 cups grated cheddar 3 ounces (we recommend a 1:1 mix of Cabot Medium Cheddar and Cabot Pepper Jack)
- Lay the bread on a work surface and spread each slice evenly with 1/2 tablespoon butter. Turn the slices over and spread each one with a heaping tablespoon of the chutney. Divide the cheese between the 4 slices. Add the ham to 2 of the slices and place the remaining bread on top of each sandwich.
- Heat a large skillet on medium-low and add the sandwiches. Place a moderately heavy skillet on top of the sandwiches and cook until the bread is golden brown on the bottom, about 4 minutes.
- Flip the sandwiches, replace the skillet and cook until the other side is brown and the cheddar is melted, 3 to 4 minutes longer.
- Place the sandwiches on a cutting board and cut each one in half diagonally. Serve hot.
Homemade Mango Chutney
- 1 tablespoon neutral oil
- 1 small red onion finely diced (about 1/2 cup)
- 3 large garlic cloves minced or grated
- 2 inch piece ginger minced (about 1 1/2 tablespoons)
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- 3 heaping cups diced fresh or frozen mango from about 3 large mangoes
- 1/4 cup golden raisins
- 3/4 cup sugar
- 1/2 cup white wine vinegar
- 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes or more to taste
- 1 three-inch cinnamon stick
- Heat the oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. When oil is shimmering, add the onion, garlic, ginger and salt. Sauté, stirring often, until the onions are slightly translucent, about 5 minutes.
- Stir in the rest of the ingredients and bring to a gentle simmer over medium-low heat. Cook, uncovered, stirring occasionally, until the chutney is thick and mango is very tender, 30 to 45 minutes.
- Remove the cinnamon stick and discard. Mash any large mango chunks with a fork or potato masher.