Sunday, March 3, 2013

Buffalo Grilled Cheese

It's been quite a while since I last visited my mild obsession with grilled cheese. What would be better than combining elements of two classic comfort foods into one? Here I take the distinctive flavors of a buffalo wing, and present them as a grilled cheese sandwich.

The flavors I wanted to capture was that combination of hot sauce and bleu cheese. The easy way would be to simply mix some hot sauce into some bleu cheese dressing and call it a day, but that would be too obvious.

The trick to making something a little more original is in the sauce. A typical hot sauce usually consists of hot pepper in a vinegar base. Transforming this into your typical buffalo wing sauce means adding a fat- usually butter or margarine. You can confirm this by reading the ingredients on a jar of a typical brand name buffalo sauce you can find in your local supermarket.

Now let's think about what makes that nice crust on the outside of a grilled cheese- it isn't just the bread itself, it's bread with butter- the fats in the butter break down into sugars, which begin to carmelize under heat. The idea here is that we can replace the butter with the buffalo sauce, since it is basically a butter/margarine with some potent flavoring, and you'll get the same kind of crust you'd expect from a typical grilled cheese.

It's also important not to overdo it. A dollop of buffalo sauce the size of a quarter should do it- just enough to spread over the whole slice of bread. I went with a rye bread just because it seemed like the stronger flavor of the bread would hold up well against the hot sauce. That, and I happen to like rye bread.

You'll want to spread out your hot sauce to get nice coverage. Repeat the process for your second piece of bread, and drop them, sauce side down, on a hot grill or pan. Lay on a slice or two of your favorite cheese on each slice of bread (I'm using american cheese, swiss cheese will also work). Now, we'll add the rest of the "buffalo" part- drop a glob of your favorite bleu cheese dressing on each side- just enough to coat the inside. If you don't have bleu cheese dressing, you could always just crumble a little bleu cheese on top instead.

When both sides have had a chance to brown, and the cheese is melted, bring them together into a sandwich, and serve with a few fresh celery sticks. You'll note that the crust will come out very dark, but will obviously not be burnt- this is from the pigmentation in the pepper sauce. The crust actually seems to turn out better than if you used plain butter or margarine. The inside is quite gooey, and super-hot, so you may want to let your sandwich rest for a minute or two before cutting it and diving in.

In the end, you get the crunch of a crusty grilled cheese, combined with the tangy heat of a buffalo wing. You also get the rich gooey feel of the melted cheese, along with that distinctive tang of the bleu cheese. The acidic quality of the vinegar in the buffalo sauce is a great foil not only for the heat, but for the richness of the cheeses as well, making this a decadent, yet well, balanced bite.

An obvious way to enhance this sandwich would be to add a little leftover shredded chicken- which would be great- although the sandwich works just fine without the meat. Either way, if you like buffalo wings, you'll get a kick out of this twist on the classic sandwich.

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