It’s comfort food season, and cheese toasties never fail to soothe the soul. From Nigella Lawson to Tom Kerridge, jazz up your standard sandwich with these inspired recipes from some of the UK’s top chefs and food writers.
“I love a cheese toastie,” says guest editor Claudia Winkleman. “I bet Tom Kerridge makes an amazing one.” And so, with those words ringing in our ears, Stylist asked eight of the UK’s top chefs and food writers (Kerridge included) to share their secrets to building the ultimate toasted cheese sandwich.
The bread: as a general rule, ordinary white sliced is safest, though I do love the heft and chew of sourdough; you have to be prepared for some cheese to ooze out of any holes.
The cheese: I am open to all cheeses – a mixture of cheddar and red leicester is always a winner; taleggio or brie are also wonderful, when I’m in a milder mood. I spread the soft creamy cheeses, and tend to (try and) slice hard cheese finely. And there is something to be said for adding some mozzarella, well-drained and chopped or crumbled, too.
The filling: ham, definitely, though I’m also keen on a sour splodge of kimchi. And leftover cooked potatoes are a wondrous addition.
Cook it: in a lot of butter in a heavy-based pan, pressing down on the sandwich with a spatula as it fries.
Serve with: a glass of beer so cold it hurts. Hot sauce on the side.
The secret: butter. And I know I will upset Claudia here, but avoid the toasted sandwich maker.
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The bread: thick-sliced sourdough.
The cheese: strong cheddar and a really good melting cheese, like gruyère or emmental, grated and mixed together, then parmesan for topping at the end.
The filling: Lea & Perrins Worcestershire sauce, cherry tomatoes cut into quarters, loads of cracked black pepper and a spoonful of mayonnaise to slightly bind it all together.
Cook it: preheat a non-stick frying pan. Butter the bread on the outside, place the filling in the sandwich, then place the sandwich in the pan. Press down with a fish slice. Gently fry and cook until golden brown. Flip over and repeat. As the second side is browning, grate parmesan onto the top side. When the second side is finished cooking, flip over to cook the parmesan until crispy, then repeat. By now the middle should be gooey. Eat.
Serve with: a ginger beer, because the spiciness works really well with cheddar.
The secret: taking your time, not rushing it. Seeing it as a cooking process rather than a throwaway tea or quick snack.
Tom Kerridge is chef-owner of The Bull & Bear, Manchester and Kerridge’s Bar & Grill, London
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The bread: for the ultimate childhood toastie, you’ve got to go with your bog-standard white sliced loaf, buttered on the outside before being put in the Breville toastie machine.
The cheese: grated cheddar.
The filling: baked beans.
Cook it: in a Breville toastie machine.
Serve with: as it is! Maybe with some HP sauce.
The secret: making sure the cheese is fully melted – so many people get it wrong by not heating it properly all the way through.
Jason Atherton is chef-owner of The Betterment at at The Biltmore Mayfair
The bread: without a doubt, sourdough. You want a fairly tight crumb though. No big air holes in the loaf or you’ll lose all your cheese.
The cheese: it’s all about meltability. As a general rule, if the cheese is hard always grate it – it’ll allow the cheese to melt at the same rate as the bread crisps up.
The filling: think of your sandwich as a cheese pairing. For example, our Christmas special uses wensleydale, which we have paired with glazed ham and cranberry sauce. The cheese is rich and creamy, the ham gives you that lovely salty element and the cranberry sauce adds a touch of sweetness to balance it all out.
Cook it: in a skillet or a heavybased frying pan. You want to cook it low and slow to ensure you get the best crispy crunch on the outside, and the cheese melts perfectly on the inside.
Serve with: straight up is the best way in my eyes.
The secret: amazing British cheese, quality ingredients… and a healthy amount of butter.
Mathew Carver is the founder of The Cheese Bar, London
The bread: white sourdough, sliced finger-thick. This is not the time for wholesome seeded types – and width really matters here too. You want to slice the bread thinly enough (but not too thinly) so that the cheese melts without burning the outside.
The cheese: a deeply savoury and sharp cheese, like extra mature cheddar. I am a big fan of Lincolnshire Poacher or Black Bomber. I always grate my cheese, because it melts more evenly and you can cover the bread right to the edges: joy.
The filling: if I’m going full native (Indian) I’ll add a thin layer of mango chutney, some finely chopped red onion and an ear-tickling amount of green chilli too.
Cook it: I heat a little oil in a heavy frying pan and wait until it is shimmering hot, then I lower the sandwich in, turn the heat down and pop my stone mortar bowl on it (but you could use any clean weight). Then, I leave it for around 3 minutes, flip it and repeat until the outer edges are golden and the cheese inside is molten.
Serve with: at the very least some mango chutney or ketchup.
The secret: patience. When the mood for a cheese toastie strikes, the need is urgent and you rush, burning the bread and ending up without oozing cheese. The horror!
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The bread: freshly baked white sourdough is a must, medium sliced.
The cheese: a good sharp, strong cheddar. I love a bit of Keen’s or Black Bomber, sliced so I can fit it in perfectly.
The filling: just butter and a smidge of Dijon mustard.
Cook it: I butter the outside as well as inside, then cook it in a non-stick frying pan, with a lid on to melt the cheese to start, then take off the lid to crisp off the toasty bread, flipping it halfway through.
Serve with: red wine.
The secret: good ingredients, ideally if it’s homemade sourdough and a decent cheese, golden and crisp, it’s a winner!
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The bread: homemade sourdough. I thoroughly enjoy putting a good podcast on and making my sourdough of an evening, and a cheese toastie is a perfect way to use it.
The cheese: it obviously needs to be something that’s going to melt really well. Something like raclette, but I always use Époisses. I don’t think it really matters if it’s grated or sliced.
The filling: Marmite and a few thin slithers of cornichon.
Cook it: butter the outside of the bread then fry it in a dry pan. After, quickly pop it in the oven to make sure the cheese is ultra-gooey.
Serve with: a knife and fork, because if you use Époisses, it’s too runny to handle.
The secret: good ingredients. Making something as simple as a toasted sandwich is only going to be great if you use good quality cheese and bread.
Tommy Banks is head chef at Michelin-starred The Black Swan, Oldstead and Roots, York
The bread: we use a fig and walnut sourdough from our bakery at Darby’s.
The cheese: Baron Bigod, a brie-style British cheese that the wonderful team at Neal’s Yard Dairy introduced me to. It is one of the greatest cheeses on the planet. It melts perfectly on the fig and walnut toast.
The filling: we slice the wheel of cheese horizontally down the middle and fill it with a mixture of truffle and mascarpone. We reassemble the wheel and allow the flavours to infuse for 24 hours before slicing it.
Cook it: Place slices of the truffle cheese between bread and cook in a frying pan, turning halfway.
Serve with: a drizzle of honey and some freshly grated truffle on top.
The secret: use the most luxurious ingredients you can get.
Robin Gill is chef-restaurateur of The Yard and The Dairy, both in London.