Vilifying this tasty classic ingredient in the name of “elevated comfort food” is a national tragedy.
I have a deep passion for cooking with high-quality ingredients. I do not necessarily hold to the “all organic/farm-to-table/locavore” school of thought as I believe to some extent that’s just a marketing ploy justifying higher prices. I once had my own 2-acre farm (actually someone farmed 2-acres I owned) and have high respect for the work that goes into harvesting. I love farmer’s markets and spent the early years of my professional cooking career buying quite a bit from local farmers. During those early years, I developed a deep passion (some would say obsession) for brilliantly crafted cheese. I became a fanboy for several amazing Catskill area cheesemakers and brought that love with me when I returned to Brooklyn. If you are going to use cheese in a dish, you owe it to yourself to use really great cheese.
That is unless you are talking about burgers or grilled cheese.
I could go on at length about my hatred for “chef elevated” burgers but I won’t. The best burgers keep it simple: 80/20 ground beef smashed on cast iron and topped with cheese, mayo, mustard, and pickles. In my opinion, the only choice here is American cheese. It’s also a key element in the perfect grilled cheese (use others but start with American). Sadly, in this current InstaFoodieArtisnalYaddaYadda World, the humble slice of American Cheese is a culinary outcast.
My question is: “Why?” This is the cheese a vast majority of us grew up eating. It tastes like childhood. It melts like heaven. Sure, it’s not really cheese as the package states “cheese food product”, but does that matter? I tend to be Team White American Cheese because why add any more chemicals to an already processed food? Want something less processed and closer to real cheese? Hit the deli counter. Deli American tends to have more actual cheese (as in less “product”) and also tastes fresher.
Regardless of orange or white, deli or wrapped slices, American cheese a delicious boost of flavor. Food critic Ryan Sutton calls it “Yellow Salt” and I couldn’t agree more. Used in moderation and with the proper recipe, it’s a culinary killer. Burgers, hot dogs, egg sandwich, grilled cheese? Fuck Yes! Tacos, mac & cheese, pizza? Fuck No!
Consider my favorite nachos in Brooklyn: The Commodore’s Cadillac Nachos. Beyond nailing the delicate balance of nacho elements, flavors, and edibility, this drunk food perfect storm uses the following as it’s gooey decadent cheese sauce:
1 cup whole milk
1/3 cup pickled jalapeños, roughly chopped
2 (12-oz.) packages white American cheese or 32 slices
Heat milk, jalapeños, and cheese in a 4-qt. saucepan over medium-low until cheese has melted and the sauce has thickened about 30 minutes.
As someone who has had to make a fancy artisan cheese sauce at midnight after a 10-hour day, I can attest to the genius-level culinary choice for this sauce. The American cheese acts as both flavoring and stabilizer/thickener. I mean, I was so DAMN ANGRY I didn’t think of it first. I tend to add a bit of hot sauce to the mix, but that does not change my unwavering admiration for the brilliance of this simple recipe.
It’s time to embrace our childhood. Drop your elevated artisanal baggage and get back to one of the pure food truths. Buy a pack of Kraft American Singles. Make a grilled cheese or a burger. Melt a slice or two on top. I dare you to tell me it’s not fucking awesome.
(Seriously – email firstname.lastname@example.org if you think I’m wrong)
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