A Bitten Word Recipe
A Bitten Word Recipe
Fried chicken barely even registers as "Southern" anymore. Pit barbecue and grits jumped the Mason-Dixon line years ago. And you'll find mint juleps and bread pudding on menus from New York to L.A.
But there's one down-home delicacy that remains steadfastly stuck in the South: pimento cheese. Ask somebody outside the Southern U.S. about pimento cheese, and you're lucky if they've even heard of it. And it's almost a certainty they've never tried it.
We think that's a shame. After all, the basic pimento cheese recipe is just sharp cheddar, red peppers and mayo -- what's not to like about that?
We suspect part of the problem might be the reputation of store-bought pimento cheese: plastic tubs of slimy, fluorescent-orange goo studded with tasteless bits of red pepper.
But it doesn't have to be that way! Zach's mom, B., has refined a recipe for pimento cheese that uses simple, good-quality ingredients to make a blend that's fresh, sharp and piquant. We asked B. for her recipe and decided to dress it up with a couple touches of our own.
So we were determined to make pimento cheese sometime soon.
But then last week, as fate would have it, we came across a grilled-cheese innovation that was so mind-blowingly simple -- so forehead-slappingly perfect -- we couldn't believe we'd never of it before: actually grilled cheese sandwiches!
We've mentioned Mark Bittman, the cookbook author and New York Times resident food guy, several times before. We love his How to Cook Everything cookbooks. His recipes are extremely straightforward and unfussy, and we really like how he sets out a basic blueprint recipe and then adds seemingly endless variations. We also love his stuff in the Times. His "Minimalist" column always offers terrific, simple recipes that are sure to please. And we really love when he does his "101 lists," as he did recently with his "101 Recipes for Fast Grilling."
But it was a video Bittman posted last week that really got us excited: Actually Grilled Cheese.
As Bittman says in the video, "Everybody talks about grilled cheese, but nobody does it. You make sauteed cheese, you make griddled cheese, you make microwaved cheese." Using an actual outdoor grill for your sandwiches -- and pressing them into the grill with a weight, such as a can of tomatoes or a brick -- gives the bread a fantastic charred smokiness. It's like a panini press on steroids.
We knew we had to try Bittman's method, so we decided to do it with our pimento cheese.
The pimento cheese recipe we got from B. is simple and delicious. It actually relies on roasted red peppers instead of pimientos. (Pimientos are just a variety of chili peppers that are slightly sweeter than red bell peppers. Essentially, though, they're interchangeable. Oh, and incidentally, the pepper may be spelled "pimiento" or "pimento," without the second "i." Typically, "pimiento" refers to the pepper itself, but if you're talking about "pimento cheese," there's no second "i." Fascinating, huh?)
Anyway, B.'s version is a pretty straightforward interpretation of the classic pimento cheese recipe, but made with high-quality ingredients. Using the roasted red peppers actually gives the cheese a deeper, smokier flavor. We amped that up even further by adding a little Worcestershire sauce, just to add even more of a savory note.
A family's pimento cheese recipe can be intensely personal, and there are infinite possibilities for tweaking and changing the basic dish. Some folks add chopped pickles, or garlic. B.'s been known to mix in diced pineapple or chopped toasted pecans. But we wanted to keep things relatively simple with ours.
Using a bona fide grill here produces marvelous results. The bread is charred and crusty, and the sharp, smoky, spicy pimento cheese warms and oozes from between the slices. Heaven!
So try your hand at this Southern classic. (And do it fast: The last time we were in New York City, we saw a pimento-cheeseburger on a menu at a new restaurant in Chelsea. Pimento cheese may not be confined to the South for much longer!)
Grilled Pimento-Cheese Sandwiches
A Bitten Word Recipe
Makes 4 sandwiches, plus some leftover pimento cheese for snacking
1 pound good-quality extra-sharp cheddar cheese
1 pound white Vermont cheddar cheese
6 large red roasted red peppers, packed in oil, drained
4 scallions, with most of the green stems removed
1 cup mayonnaise
1 1/2 tablespoons hot sauce, such as Texas Pete (more or less to taste)
3/4 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
8 slices good-quality white bread, such as country white
Using a food processor, shred cheeses until finely grated, and then pour cheese into a large bowl. Pulse peppers and scallions in the processor until diced; add them to the cheese. To the cheese mixture, add mayonnaise, hot sauce and Worcestershire. Mix to combine.
Brush one side of each piece of bread with olive oil. Assemble sandwiches: Place a scoop of pimento cheese between two slices of bread, oiled-sides out. Do not overfill, as the cheese can easily ooze out the sides while on the grill.
Heat grill to medium-high heat. Place sandwiches on grill, top with a baking sheet, and use a heavy object (such as a brick or a large canned good) to press them down. Grill 90 seconds on one side, remove can and baking sheet, flip sandwich, and press again. Grill another 90 seconds, then remove sandwiches from grill.