The grilled cheese is often identified with American cuisine even though the concept was around back in Ancient Rome and the French have been known for their croque monsieurs since the early 20th century. Many people grew up eating grilled cheeses and have carried their love of them into adulthood. Grilled cheese sandwiches don’t have to be plain; the sandwich is an excellent blank canvas for spices. Here are some of the best spices for use with grilled cheese:
Garlic and bread were meant to be together and with the addition of cheese, what you get is one of the most popular flavor profiles in culinary history. You get a strong savory quality from the garlic, a nutty and buttery one from the bread along with richness from the cheese. For the best results, make garlic butter and use that to toast your bread.
If you want to turn up the umami note in your grilled cheese, opt for parmesan cheese in addition to the main cheese or cheeses. Parmesan is rich in the glutamate responsible for the umami flavor. It contains a natural version of the monosodium glutamate that enhances savory foods and that is the main source of umami. You can place thin slices of parmesan inside your grilled cheese or you can sprinkle the powdered type inside or on the outside to make your grilled cheese more flavorful.
Add jalapeños to your grilled cheese for a version that might remind you of jalapeño poppers. Instead of jalapeños stuffed with cream cheese, you get a sandwich stuffed with the cheese of your choice and the mildly spicy chili pepper. For a good example, see this jalapeño popper grilled cheese recipe.
Fresh jalapeños will add a little bulk and thickness to a grilled cheese; What if you want something that looks a little more like a traditional grilled cheese but don’t want to lose the heat? You have three options for turning up the heat level without making a thick sandwich: red pepper flakes, cayenne pepper, or chipotle powder. All three will make the grilled cheese spicy without making it inedible as long as you use them in moderation.
As anyone who has ever tried a margherita pizza (A.K.A. pizza margherita) knows, basil goes very well with cheese. The same combination of flavor profiles that works in Italy’s most beloved pizza can work in a grilled cheese sandwich as well. Leave your basil leaves whole or julienne them, it’s all up to you. In either case, the minty citrus notes of basil combined with the herb’s licorice fragrance will blend with the richness of cheese to make a delightful snack.
The combination of onion and cheese in a sandwich with nothing else is not quite as common on the North American side of the Atlantic as it is in the United Kingdom. The sandwich served in traditional pubs and known as the ploughman’s lunch typically consists of a big slice of cheese (usually cheddar) and onion served with bread. The combination works equally well when heated up to make a grilled cheese.
The addition of mustard to grilled cheese is a favorite with celebrity chefs like Alton Brown and Martha Stewart who include the spice in their recipes. Whichever mustard you choose, it brings a strong and sharp tanginess that offsets the cheese’s richness. Mustard will also work with any other spices you choose to include in your grilled cheese, including all of those listed above.