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July 05, 2006

Grilled Cheese Sticks v2.0

A little late, but tasty nonetheless!

A couple of weeks back, I decided to play around with an old Iron Chef idea that was never realized. It was a makeshift version utilizing the items I had lying around the house at the time, so in the subsequent error analysis, I decided to go shopping and try it again, this time the way it was intended. There were four items that I thought needed improvement, and I got 'em all resolved tonight. The resulting recipe pushes an already greasy sandwich into a realm that makes even me a little squeamish... but deliciousness conquers all, as usual. From a technical standpoint, it's a little more involved than the previous recipe, but even if you just follow the old recipe, omit the pecorino, add the sausage and Spanish cheese, and you'll be a happy camper.

Oh, and for anybody who's wondering what happened to the Parmesan crust, I decided to axe it. My sheep's cheese was nice and nutty, and the thinner slices of bread got plenty crispy on their own. If you really dig the crust, go nuts... but I think this revised edition has enough going on that it doesn't need it.

Dominic Armato
1 C. San Marzano tomato puree
2 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
2 Tbsp. chopped fresh basil
1/4 tsp. red pepper flakes
1 tsp. coarse sea salt
2 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
3 oz. Merguez sausage
1 garlic clove
1/2 small yellow onion
1/2 tsp. paprika
1 large loaf dense rustic bread
2 Tbsp. unsalted butter
2 slices muenster cheese
4 oz. Spanish sheep's milk cheese
Spanish Grilled Cheese Sticks
with Merguez, Caramelized
Onions and Tomato Dip

Makes 2 Sandwiches

First, a quick note on the cheese. When you choose a sheep's milk cheese, you want to try to get one with a decent amount of moisture. If it's too hard and dry, it may be delicious, but it's less likely to melt well. In any case, shredding the cheese will probably aid in the melting process.

In a small saucepan, combine the tomato sauce, 2 Tbsp. olive oil, basil, red pepper and salt. Simmer over low heat while you make the sandwiches. You want the tomato flavor to develop and get really intense. It'll be fairly salty. That's by design. However, if you're using a fine grain salt, cut down on the amount or it'll end up even more salty than intended.

In a large sauté pan with a cover, heat 2 Tbsp. olive oil over medium heat. Peel and finely mince the garlic, and once the oil is hot, add the garlic and sauté for 10-15 seconds. Remove the sausage from its casings and add to the pan, breaking up as it cooks. Sauté the sausage until it is cooked and slightly crispy. Then, using a slotted spoon, remove the cooked sausage and set aside, leaving as much of the oil and sausage fat in the pan as possible. Slice the onion very, very thin... perhaps not quite paper thin, but very thin... and toss it in the hot pan with the greasy stuff left behind. Sauté the onion for a minute or two, then reduce the heat to low and cook the onions until they take on a deep golden color, about 15 minutes or so. If they fully caramelize and turn brown they'll still be quite tasty, but I think a bit of non-caramelized onion flavor suits this dish rather well. Remove the onions from the pan and set aside, once again leaving as much oil and sausage fat in the pan as possible.

Meanwhile, slice up the loaf of bread. You won't use very much of it, but it needs to be big so you can get a good-sized chunk of the insides to make sandwich slices. There are plenty of uses for the rest of the loaf. You'll think of something. Trim the bread down so that you end up with four slices about the size of sandwich bread, but half the thickness. Once you remove the onions from the pan, raise the heat to medium-low and add 1 Tbsp. unsalted butter, swirling it around the pan. Add the four slices of bread and cook on one side until crispy and toasted, then remove them to assemble the sandwiches. While assembling the sandwiches, take the pan off the heat so that the butter doesn't burn.

Assemble the sandwiches, with the toasted side of the bread facing in. Fill each sandwich with a slice of muenster, the shredded sheep's milk cheese, half of the Merguez and half of the onions. Return the pan to medium-low heat, and add another tablespoon of butter. When the butter is melted, swirl it around the pan and add the two sandwiches. Cover the pan (to help melt the cheese) and cook until the bottom of the sandwich is nice and crispy, about 2-3 minutes. Give the butter another swirl and flip the sandwiches, again covering the pan and cooking until the other sides of the sandwiches are crispy and the cheese is fully melted. Remove the sandwiches from the pan and slice each into three sticks.

Before serving, strain the tomato mixture (which has been happily bubbling away this whole time) through a chinois or other fine-meshed strainer, pressing against the sides to push through as much of the tomato liquid as possible, and discarding the solids left behind. Give the tomato mixture a quick whisk to thoroughly combine the tomato and oil.

Plate the sandwich sticks alongside a small dish of the tomato sauce, dip and eat. And tell your arteries that I just write the recipes.


These are cheese sticks taken to a completely different level, I love it!

Well, that's what I thought would make it a fun Iron Chef dish. Too bad these most recent challengers beat me to it :-)

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