Watershed’s Zeb Stevenson shares the complex art of the simple grilled cheese
A grilled cheese is just three ingredients: cheese, bread, and butter. A good one is bread gone gold, with a subtle crunch and cheese that pulls apart at first bite. It should be savory but not a salt bomb, satisfying but not so rich that a whole sandwich would be impossible to finish. Chefs seem to have forgotten this, and while surveying the city, we crossed a number of crimes: stacking five cheeses when only two actually melt well; using excessive amounts of butter, which leaks out with each greasy bite; cutting bread slices as thick as dictionaries; and worst of all, relying on a bowl of tomato soup for flavor.
In fact, we found only one chef who knew what he was doing, Zeb Stevenson at Watershed on Peachtree. He favors a cast-iron skillet for its even, consistent heat, H&F’s Southern Sandwich Bread, Banner Butter, and a semi-firm cheese like fontina. But the key ingredient is patience, says Stevenson, who cooks his sandwiches open-face so that both slices of bread and cheese toast evenly.
1 Warm a cast-iron skillet over medium heat for three minutes. Slather two slices of bread with room-temperature butter (leave it out on the counter for at least two hours), coating slices from edge to edge. Cut two 1/8-inch-thick slices of cheese.
2 Once skillet is hot but not smoking, place each slice of bread on the pan, butter-side down, and top with one piece of cheese. The butter should melt around the sides of the bread, and the cheese should start to sweat and become transparent at the edges.
3 The sandwich is almost done when the bread is golden-brown (lift up a piece to check when you think you’re close) and the cheese is melted around the edges and glossy in the middle. Put the two slices together and grill for 20 seconds more on each side.
4 Remove sandwich from stove and slice diagonally to serve.