(Published in the Sacramento Bee on April 11, 2012)
Prep time: 10 minutes
Cook time: 5 minutes
Andrew Blaskovich slings some of the most sought-after grilled cheese sandwiches in Sacramento via his food truck, Drew-ski’s Hot Rod Kitchen. Here’s his recipe showing off the sweeter side of his sandwiches.
2 slices of nine-grain wheat bread (he favors Sacramento Baking Co. bread)
1 1/2 tablespoon clarified butter, melted
5 cored 1/8-inch-thick slices of Granny Smith apple (grilled and slightly caramelized)
Four 1-ounce pieces of brie cheese cut 1/8 inch thick
1 tablespoon wildflower honey
Palm-sized amount of smoke- flavored almonds, chopped
Heat a medium-sized sauté pan at medium heat. Brush clarified butter on one side of each piece of bread. Layer on the unbuttered side of one slice half of the brie cheese, the apple slices, honey and almonds. Top with the last half of the brie and the other slice of bread.
Cook in pan until crispy and dark brown, maybe 2 1/2 minutes on each side (it might be a little bit harder to see how brown it truly is since you’re using a darker bread to start with.)
Cut in half and then get your grub on.
Say ‘cheese’ — as in a delicious grilled cheese sandwich
Let’s set the fussy foods aside for now and get down with something simpler. We’re talking about the gooey goodness that is a grilled cheese sandwich, the comfort-food staple that can be whipped up in minutes.
All it takes is a little cheese, if you please, with some bread, butter and a medium-hot pan.
But let’s think of ways to gussy up that grilled cheese. With the availability of artisan breads and gourmet cheeses in our area, plus thoughtful fillings, it’s easy to elevate that sandwich into something especially scrumptious. Even Thomas Keller of the famed French Laundry in the Napa Valley has a favorite grilled cheese recipe, and the sandwiches have been found on some of the swankier lunch menus in Sacramento, including Ella Dining Room & Bar and Grange Restaurant & Bar.
What better time to delve into grilled cheese than April, which has been designated as National Grilled Cheese Month. You’ll even find some heated competition at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena on April 28 for the 10th Annual Grilled Cheese Invitational. More than 10,000 attendees are expected, showing the near universal love for this sandwich.
“Grilled cheese connects you to that time when you’re a kid, when it’s raining out or you’ve got chicken pox, and Mom made a grilled cheese and tomato soup that made everything better,” said Tim Walker, founder of the Grilled Cheese Invitational. “Every time you take a bite, you get to that innocent, perfect moment. Even though the economy’s terrible, at least there’s grilled cheese.”
The grilled cheese business has been a boon for Drewski’s Hot Rod Kitchen, the Sacramento mobile food vendor that specializes in various grilled sandwiches. Drewski’s cranks out hundreds of sandwiches at some events, with such fillings as Korean braised beef and mac ‘n’ cheese, and will soon add a second truck to its fleet.
“There’s so many things you can do with grilled cheese,” said Andrew “Drewski” Blaskovich. “There’s hundreds of cheeses to use, different breads, fresh, local produce and different proteins.”
So what are some strategies to make that grilled cheese sandwich sing?
Before we get to cheese and bread, let’s get to some butter basics. Using a brush to liberally paint some melted butter on the bread helps brown the sandwich to a crispy and toasty perfection, while adding a rich flavor, too.
Blaskovich recommends using clarified butter, which has all of its milk fat removed to leave pure butterfat. Clarified butter tends to cost more than typical butters – a 10-ounce tub of Odell’s Clarified Butter costs about $9 – but it has a higher smoke point, which lends itself well to sautéing and good ol’ grilled cheese sandwiches.
“What I typically do is melt the butter in a saucepan,” said Blaskovich. “Once it separates, skim the top layer and pour ‘the gold’ into a separate container. It’s like the same butter you’d use for dipping lobster.”
At the Grilled Cheese Invitational, Walker found some competitors scoring high by getting extra crafty with their butter. Some mixed sage leaf with melted butter in the pan to add an extra layer of aromatics and depth of flavor. Another trick is to add a little grated Parmesan cheese to the buttered pan before adding bread.
“It sticks to the grilling surface of the bread and adds a crispy outside,” Walker said. “You get a punch with the Parmesan and then another cheese inside.”
For breads, Blaskovich’s go-to loaves come from the Sacramento Baking Co., which can also be found at Costco. Also consider using fresh local breads from Davis’ Village Bakery, Grateful Bread and the Bread Store.
Sliced sweet French breads are preferred by Blaskovich for their crisping properties; the tanginess from sourdough breads also pairs well with the sharpness of cheddar cheeses.
“I also like to have wheat bread for people who like to eat on the healthier side,” Blaskovich said. “But there’s more sugar in wheat, so that lends itself to caramelizing faster. You can burn it if you don’t keep a close eye.”
And now comes the gooey heart of the sandwich: cheese. However, not all cheeses will guarantee a great sandwich. Blaskovich stays away from mozzarella, which is too stringy, along with feta and goat cheese.
“I love all those, but they don’t melt well,” said Blaskovich.
You can’t go wrong with a well-made cheddar cheese, and Blaskovich also speaks highly of havarti, a semi-soft cheese with buttery aromatics and flavor that melts especially well. Grated Parmesan cheese can also work well in conjunction with other cheeses, and is a favorite grilled cheese sandwich filling for Darrell Corti, the noted local grocer and epicurean.
Other cheeses to consider: Gruyère, Monterey jack, imported Swiss, the Spanish sheep’s milk cheese known as manchego, fontina and brie – which boasts a creaminess that works especially well with dessert-style grilled sandwiches.
Once you put it all together, be mindful of the heat and cook moderately. After all, it’s practically a sandwich sin to end up with scorched and blackened bread with slices of un-melted cheese inside.
“Go with medium heat,” Blaskovich said. “It may take a little longer, but it cooks perfectly.”
From there, it’s time to get creative. Ham, turkey, peppers, fig jam and pine nuts all make fine fillings. But at the same time, don’t forget some of the basics.
“A lot of people try and be bold in their interpretation, and for some reason, everyone thinks a ton of bacon makes a grilled cheese better,” Walker said. “A great grilled cheese has this ooey-gooey tongue of melted joy. The bread has to be crispy on the outside, but the inside has to be moist.”
The “tricycle” at Drewski’s Hot Rod Kitchen is geared for purists, with its combination of havarti, Swiss and cheddar on French bread.
For the sweeter side of grilled cheese sandwiches, Blaskovich whips up the “Prius.” It’s based on double-cream brie, with Granny Smith apple, almonds and a little honey, all smushed between slices of wheat bread. Take a bite and you’ll find a grilled sandwich that mixes a little crunchy texture with creamy brie and zing from the honey and apple.
But, the final tip in all this grilled cheese celebrating just might be the most important – especially if you’re extra hungry.
“After about five minutes they get a little soggy,” Blaskovich said. “They’re best when they’re fresh off the grill. You’ve got to eat them fast.”
Appetizers: Drewski’s to launch second truck, operate eatery at new downtown sports bar
By: By Chris Macias
Published: Thu, 12/15 @ 11:34AM
February is shaping up to be a big month for Drewski’s Hot Rod Kitchen, the popular local food truck that specializes in grilled sandwiches (think: aged Havarti cheese melted over Korean braised beef, kimchee and other goodness). Not only is Drewski’s planning to launch its second truck on Feb. 1, but a new sports bar coming to downtown will host a brick-and-mortar version of Drewski’s. Located in the former Dream Ultra Lounge, Drewski’s will operate out of The Republic (908 15th St., Sacramento) which will feature pool tables, plenty of TVs showing sports events and an expanded menu from Drewski’s. Look for it to open right around the beginning of February.
A great clip from Good Day Sacramento