April 12, 2017 by Gennefer Gross
Everyone knows that cheeseburgers are my main passion, but when it comes to savory blankets of cheese seeping into butter-soaked bread, grilled cheese is a close second. So, when The Oaks Gourmet asked me to create a special sandwich for one of their Wednesday Grilled Cheese nights, I was more than up for the challenge — especially since it gave me an excuse to sample endless combinations of carbs and cheese without regret. I suffer tirelessly for my craft. It’s just who I am.
First off, I knew I wanted to incorporate a meat. No, not a burger. That’s been done already with the Patty Melt, and it’s pretty damn close to perfection. (I highly recommend the one at Cassell’s Hamburgers if you have a hankering for griddled, diner-style goodness.) But, I was thinking more along the lines of ham à la a Croque Monsieur or tender roast beef like you’d find in a French Dip. But again, both of those have already been tried, deconstructed and perfected countless times over.
I wanted to break out and create something truly unique. Something all my own. Something rooted in traditional flavors but with a twist. So, I decided to stick with a French foundation because let’s face it, they make the best cheeses and when it comes to grilled cheese, you want decadent, gluttonous flavors. At least I do. I consume food like I’m sexually attracted to calories.
My favorite French dish is Coq au Vin, so I knew I wanted to incorporate those flavors but in sandwich form. And pretty much anything cooked in red wine amps up the savoriness and warms the soul. Voilà. That would be my base meat. Pulled red wine chicken, slow cooked for hours in a bold Bordeaux.
Next, I opted for caramelized onions and sautéed mushrooms to impart those hearty, rustic elements reminiscent of the French countryside. Magnifique! Now, to find the right blend of cheeses to ensconce these rich, earthy elements.
I love (like full-on, lust for) French Onion Soup so gruyère was a definite. There’s nothing better than that pungent pop of piquancy as it stretches seductively with every bite. But I wanted to add two more as well because if you’re not using a minimum of three cheeses on your grilled cheese, how can you even live with yourself?
After much (much) experimentation, I went with raclette for my second cheese, which melts like silk and is commonly used for fondue because it has the perfect viscosity for blanketing a baguette, and would give me that unctuous-ness I was seeking. Please forgive this flagrantly overused foodie term but nothing else would do (plus, it sounds better than greasiness, which it essentially is).
Alright, I had stretchy and silky covered. Now what? I thought another French cheese would be overkill in the decadence department (even for me) so I traversed Europe (aka ate my way through the cheese section at Bristol Farms) and arrived in the heart of Italy, where the fruity tang of Taleggio paved the way for my final inspiration to give this trio some bite against all the fat.
But, wait. Something was missing. I quickly scanned my ingredients and recalled the numerous times I’ve languished over a robust bowl of Coq au Vin in some chic Parisian bistro and it hit me — carrots!
Those who know me well, also know I don’t typically gravitate toward foods of the vegetable variety but carrots and Coq au Vin go together like rosé and pretty much anything. Yeah, I drink a lot of wine but before you judge me, just try a glass of Pow Blop Wizz and Cookie Crisp.
Okay, so how could I get this sweet orange veggie into the mix? I definitely wasn’t going to add actual cooked carrots, which would just end up a pile of mush against my carefully constructed accoutrements. And raw carrots would be way too crunchy BUT I NEEDED THAT FLAVOR.
Another fun fact about me would be the key. I’m a total condiment whore. I love dipping sauces and gravies and can often be found drinking (yes, drinking) ramekins full of everything from ranch to melted garlic butter. Mmm… garlic… butter. So, it had to be an aioli. But the only thing that would taste like carrot aioli would be carrot aioli, which doesn’t exist. So, guess what? I invented it. I. Invented. It. And this may very well be my greatest life achievement.
The last item to be considered was the bread. I hate crunchy, rip-the-crap-out-of-the-roof-of-your-mouth type breads, so I wanted something soft that would toast up nicely without tearing up your gums. I usually opt for salt over sweet but sourdough was too one note, ciabatta was too chewy and brioche was a little too ‘on-the-nose’ (my fellow TV writers know what I mean here. ‘A Coq Au Vin grilled cheese on Brioche? Groundbreaking.’ – said in a Meryl Streep voice like when someone pitched her florals for Spring in THE DEVIL WEARS PRADA).
After carb overload (I never believed it before but there is such a thing as too much bread. I. KNOW. RIGHT?!), honey wheat came out the winner. With the acidity of the red wine chicken and all the fattiness of the fromage, I needed the balance of that subtle sweetness to cut through it all. And it was a sublime addition as it swaddled every strand of cheese, smothering the saltiness in its soft, saccharin embrace.
So, there you have it. My new signature sandwich I’m calling the ‘Coq Au Vin-wich.’ Sure, the name’s a little on the nose but the taste is off the charts. And I’m not saying I’m THĒ sandwich swami, but I’m definitely one of them.