Thanks to the whims of the 4th Earl of Sandwich, John Montagu, who wanted to continue playing cards with one hand and successfully enjoying sustenance with the other, the sandwich was popularized. From its humble beginnings as a couple slices of cured meat between crusty bread to today's myriad of choices, can you think of a week or even a day when you did not enjoy a sandwich?
Most sandwiches take very little effort and time for a great return on taste, but if you would like to go to a little bit of extra effort, try making a panini. Once you have experienced the blending of flavors, the melting cheese, and the warming goodness of this sandwich, your tastebuds will beg for more.
So now you are thinking... who wants to spend money on a panini press? Well, you can if you love gadgets, but you don't have to. If you have ever watched Alton Brown on the Food Channel, he has a great philosophy on never having “uni-taskers” in the kitchen. If you can't use it for at least two cooking processes, it probably is not worth the money you spend on it. By not spending money on a Panini press, splurge a little on the ingredients.
- Non-stick griddle
- Tin foil
- Cast-iron skillet or a brick! If you are using a brick, clean thoroughly, then wrap securely in tin foil.
- Bread. A hearty, full-body, thick-sliced bread works the best. Do not use thin-sliced bread as it will collapse to wafer-thin. Savory breads will add additional flavor to the sandwich. These kinds of craft breads usually come as a whole loaf, then you can cut slices to desired thickness – 1/2” to 3/4” slices work great.
- Sliced meat of choice. Pre-packaged, thin-sliced chicken, beef, turkey, and ham are easily available. For added flavor, salami, pastrami, and/or pepperoni will add a kick with whatever meat you choose.
- Sliced cheese of choice. Cheeses that tend to melt easier – such as mozzarella, Havarti, Provolone, and Muenster – will help bind the sandwich as it is cooking.
- Desired spreads, spices and herbs.
- Butter. Butter, as opposed to margarine, will add a flavorful dimension and crisp up beautifully when cooked.
Assemble and Cook:
- Butter one side of one slice of bread, and place on griddle.
- Build your sandwich by starting with a thin layer of spread, then a layer of cheese. Sprinkle any desired spices and/or herbs, layer three or four pieces of sliced meat, and add another layer of cheese.
- If desired, add a thin layer of spread on second piece of bread, then place on top of sandwich.
- Butter outside of sandwich.
- If you are using a cast-iron skillet, place a piece of tin foil, which is larger than the sandwich, on top of your constructed sandwich. Place skillet on top of foil. If you are using a tin foil-wrapped brick, place that on top of the sandwich. Press slightly to start to flatten the sandwich.
- Turn on burner to medium and grill first side of sandwich. Keep close watch on the sandwich so it does not burn – usually will only take a few minutes.
- When ready to turn, remove skillet or brick and carefully flip sandwich so nothing falls out.
- Replace skillet or brick and press slightly.
- Grill second side to desired doneness.
- As the sandwich is grilling, the bread will flatten slightly and the cheese will melt, helping the sandwich to hold together.
Voila – you have made a panini!
So now you are wondering about the grilling lines that are so commonly seen on paninis. If that is what you are looking for, pull out your outdoor grill and have some fun. There are a few things to remember though when making a panini on a grill:
- The firmer the bread, the better it will hold up. Remember you won't be using the griddle and you really don't want the sandwich to ooze down through the grate.
- Forget the skillet or brick. With a piece of tin-foil and the pressure of your own hands, press the sandwich down carefully, but not too hard.
- When flipping the sandwich, two spatulas might work better than one. Place one on top of the sandwich, slide the second one under the sandwich, then flip, holding the sandwich firmly between the spatulas.
- You like cross-hatch marks on your sandwich? Halfway through grilling each side, gently lift and turn sandwich 45 degrees and continuing grilling.
Serve your panini with various dipping sauces and spreads for an added dimension to the sandwich.
Paninis are easy to make, delicious, and a fun spin on the traditional sandwich. So enjoy, experiment, and report back your favorite combinations and successes.