Even though I grew up in New York, I’d never had a patty melt until just a few years ago. The classic version (a thin ground beef patty topped with either Swiss or cheddar cheese and grilled onions on rye bread, pan fried in butter) was said to have originated in Southern California in the restaurant chain of William “Tiny” Naylor in the 1940s or 1950s. It’s become a staple of diners, bars and dives all over the U.S.
Basically a happy, messy mashup of a grilled onion-topped burger and a grilled cheese sandwich, as soon as we made our first batch of Kimchi Pimento Cheese, we knew what we wanted to do with it.
Honoring Anthony Bourdain
We want to take a moment to honor the passing of Anthony Bourdain.
I find it very hard to express how sad I am about Anthony Bourdain’s passing. The outpouring of tributes, both by people who knew him personally and fans like me who felt like they did, prove just how wide his reach was. It’s heartbreaking to think he was in so much pain that he didn’t know how much we valued him, and needed him. Not just to entertain us, but to teach us.
He taught us how to cook, yes, but also so much more than that. He taught us how to make a lot with a little, and how not to waste. He taught us that cost does not always equal value, and that the best dishes are often found in the most humble of places.
And most importantly, especially in light of today’s America, he taught us to not be afraid of the unfamiliar. That if you approach something new with an open mind and an open heart, you will find it may not be what you expected, and you will be enriched by the experience. He encouraged us to be curious, open minded and unafraid. He taught us that the best thing you can do for yourself and your community is to travel, explore and learn. Then bring back what you experienced and share it with with friends – in the form of stories, recipes, music and art.
Pimento Cheese: Our inspiration
Okay, back to the recipe. As we’ve mentioned in previous posts, Matt and I recently took a road trip down the east coast of the US, from New York to Florida. We had wonderful, interesting, inspiring food throughout the trip but one dish really stuck with me. You’re going to laugh, because it was a humble hamburger. Not just any hamburger, mind you. It was the K-Town BLT Burger from Boiler Room in Kinston, North Carolina.
Owned by the amazing chef Vivian Howard, Boiler Room is the casual, laid-back cousin to her signature restaurant, Chef and the Farmer, which we also loved. But our night at Boiler Room was perfection. Exactly what you want after an 8-hour drive through the misty, boggy swampland that is north Florida and Georgia. Cold oysters, strong cocktails and perfect, juicy hamburgers.
The K-Town (which stands for K-inston not K-orea, as I first assumed) had pimento cheese, pickled green tomato, pepper jelly, bacon and spicy sriracha mayo. It was glorious, messy and we loved it. I blame my faulty recollection on the cocktails and the very long drive, but I was absolutely sure that it had kimchi in it. It doesn’t, but the idea of a burger with Kimchi Pimento Cheese was born that night and this is the result.
Rye bread is traditional, but any good thick sandwich bread will do. Our loaf of marbled rye was on the small side, and not ideal, because the 1/4 pound burgers are formed to the shape of the bread, and thus ended up a little thicker than I would have liked them to be. A wider slice of bread = a thinner patty. Regardless, the flavor was amazing.
Cooking the Sandwich
Everything is cooked in one pan, so a good heavy 10 or 12-inch skillet is key. Cast iron is perfect here. First, caramelize some onions. This takes a little time, but not a lot of work. Add a few tablespoons of water to the pan every so often as the onions cook, which keeps the brown bits from burning, and turns the onions tender and deeply golden. Once they’re done, remove them to a plate and prepare the beef.
Flatten the patties to roughly the size and shape of your bread, season them well and cook them in the very hot pan in a little butter until one side forms a dark brown crust. Don’t move them around the pan at all. Flip, and brown the other side. This happens quickly: maybe 2 minutes for the first side, even less for the second. Then move them off to a plate, lower the heat to medium-low and wipe out the pan.
To assemble the patty melts, smear some kimchi pimento cheese on 4 slices of bread. Add some caramelized onions on top of two of the slices, then top with the burgers, and close the sandwiches up. Next, they get griddled in a little more butter on both sides until the bread is deep golden brown and the cheese is beginning to melt.
One warning: this is a supremely, gloriously messy sandwich. We suggest you revel in it whole heartedly, unapologetically, and with gusto. We like to serve them with little sour pickles and a good bitter green salad. And beer. To toast life.
Kimchi Pimento Cheese Patty Melts
- 4 tablespoons 60g unsalted butter, divided
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 1 medium 7oz, 200g onion, split in half, sliced thin from pole to pole (about 1 1/2 cups)
- 1/2 cup 120ml water
- 4 slices marbled rye or other good sandwich bread
- 1/2 pound 230g freshly ground chuck (20%), formed into two thin patties, roughly the same shape as your bread
- 1/2 to 3/4 cup kimchi pimento cheese
- Preheat a 10 or 12-inch heavy-bottomed skillet over medium-high heat. Add 1 tablespoon butter and swirl until foaming. Add onions, 1/2 teaspoon salt and a 1/4 teaspoon pepper and 2 tablespoons water to skillet. Cook onions, stirring often, until water evaporates and onions begin to brown, about 3 minutes. Add 2 more tablespoons water and scrape up any browned bits from bottom of skillet. Cook, adding a little water and stirring, until onions are soft and deep golden brown, about 20 minutes total. Remove to a plate and wipe out skillet with a paper towel.
- Return skillet to high heat. Season burger patties on both sides with salt and pepper. Add 1 tablespoon butter and swirl until melted. Add burger patties and cook, without moving them, until a dark brown crust forms on the first side, about 2 minutes. You can reduce the heat a little if butter begins to smoke excessively. Flip burgers and cook on the second side until crust develops, 1 1/2 minutes longer. Transfer the patties to a plate and wipe out the skillet again.
- Spread 2 generous tablespoons of the kimchi pimento cheese onto one side of each of the 4 slices of bread. Divide the caramelized onions on top of the cheese. Add burger patties to two of the slices and close sandwiches.
- Add 1 tablespoon of butter to the skillet. Return heat to medium and swirl the pan until the butter melts. Add the sandwiches and cook, moving them around the pan, until deep golden brown on the bottom, about 5 minutes. Remove sandwiches from skillet, melt remaining tablespoon butter in pan. Return sandwiches to skillet and cook until second side is golden brown and cheese is melted. Serve immediately.