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Crab Grilled Cheese

Spring has finally sprung, at least as far as the calendar is concerned anyway. Here in the Pacific Northwest, that means we are transitioning from the gray and rain of winter into the gray and heavy rain of spring.

4-8-2012

Spring fishing in the Pacific Northwest

Yeah, we’re not seeing shorts & t-shirt weather for some time yet around here. Still, Spring is rolling in, and that turns a young man’s (that would be me, by the way) fancy to thoughts of … making room in his freezer for this season’s catch.

I’ve still got quite a few vacuum pouches to work through before I start restocking with my 2013 catch. So I closed my eyes and did a raffle drawing pull from my freezer, and came out with a pouch of dungeness crab meat. All right, I can work with that; and as we’ve been getting a good dose of April showers around here, I was in the mood for something cozy and comforting for dinner.

That’s when I remembered that my sister had asked me months ago for my crab grilled cheese recipe. I figured I better get that written up and posted before I visit home in a few months.
You see, while I got the looks in the family, she got the mean streak. The woman has an evil eye that can melt sand into glass.
So let’s get this recipe posted before she has one too many Bushmills and decides to go all Chris Brown on me.

Before I get into the meat and potatoes of this dish that has neither meat nor potatoes; let’s talk equipment. I have an electric griddle here at home. Mainly I use it for pancakes on those weekend mornings when I’m not out fishing. Nothing soaks up a hangover like a stack of fluffy pancakes.
Hey, my sister isn’t the only one in the family that enjoys a glass or three of whiskey now and again.
But I digress.

I have a Broil King that I bought after Cook’s Illustrated ranked it top among home electric griddles they tested. It’s a great appliance, and does an awesome job on grilled sandwiches. However you don’t need a griddle for this dish. A frying pan will work fine. I recommend one with a heavy bottom, cast iron is best. A heavy bottomed pan means the heat will be distributed more evenly and that makes for a better sandwich.

crab resized 1-3I used dungeness crab meat in my sandwiches, because that’s what I catch here, but blue crab will work just as well.
I covered my basic method for cooking crab in this post.
After it’s picked and free of shells, you can use the crab meat just as it is, or if you are a died-in-the-wool Cheasepeaker, you can give it a light dusting of Old Bay seasoning. Just go easy on it if you do. You don’t want to cover up that great, natural crab flavor.

Moving on: it’s no secret that the key to any grilled cheese sandwich is the cheese. Using good quality cheeses in a grilled cheese sandwich is what separates college dorm grub from fine food.
So sure, you can make this with American “cheese” slices if you want … I guess.
I wouldn’t recommend it though.

When it comes to making gourmet grilled cheese, yeah I just said that, I like to use two types of cheese. That gives the sandwich some contrast & complexity without muddling the flavors too much.
For this sandwich, you want cheeses that will compliment and carry the flavor of the crab, not fight against it. For that reason, we’re going to steer clear of the sharper cheeses as well the more pungent varieties, and of course we’re not even considering the processed “cheese food” stuff.

The first cheese I was going to use was an absolute no-brainer. Fontina has a mild, slightly nutty flavor and a rich, creamy texture; and when it melts, well, look at the pictures. If you are unable to find Fontina at your local store, muenster is a passable substitute.
For the second cheese I wanted a variety with a bit more of a pronounced flavor, and a slightly firmer texture. Gouda fits that bill perfectly. Just avoid the aged Goudas, they are delicious but a little too hard for this dish. The red wax coated variety is what you want to use. Other options I considered were Jarlsberg and even Saint Nectaire, which is a brie style cheese. Feel free to play with options and see what you like best. There are so many great and varied types of cheeses, I think it’s a good idea to try at least one new cheese every month, just to keep your horizons constantly expanding.

crab grilled cheese-3

Alright, so you’ve got a few slices each of Fontina and Gouda, now you need some bread to put it on. I wanted a thick but neutral bread, so I chose Texas Toast bread. It’s basically a french toast bread, thick cut and usually made with more egg than standard white bread.
The thicker slices make it more likely to hold up to the soft, gooey filling. As far as using a white bread goes, I like whole grain and multi-grain breads a lot, but white bread toasts up in golden and buttery fashion that is just perfect for a sandwich like this.

Just about any good seafood dish has an acidic component to accent the flavor.   In this case I added a couple slices of lightly grilled tomato to add that touch of sharpness. And finally, I also grilled up some thinly sliced onions, because it’s such a damned delicious touch.

All right, now that we know the “whats” and the “whys”, let’s make a sandwich.

Crab Grilled Cheesecrab grilled cheese-8Ingredients

yield: 1 sandwich

  • 2 slices of Texas Toast bread
  • 2 oz. Fontina cheese, sliced thin
  • 2 oz. Gouda cheese, sliced thin
  • 2 – 3 slices of tomato
  • 1 – 2 very thin slices of onion
  • 2 oz.  crab meat
  • 3 Tbs of butter, divided

Grill the tomato & onion slices in 1 Tbs of butter. The onion should be allowed to brown slightly. Let the tomato get hot, but don’t cook them so much that they fall apart.crab grilled cheese-2

Cover one slice of bread with the sliced Fontina cheese and the other slice of bread with the Gouda.
Lay the grilled tomato and onions on top of the bread & cheese, each on one slice.crab grilled cheese-4

Then place the crab meat on top of the onions. The crab will tend to fall off more easily if you put it on top of the tomato.crab grilled cheese-5

Set your griddle or stove top temperature on low to medium-low.
Melt the remaining 2 Tbs of butter in the pan, or on the griddle. Place the bread slices in the pan on the melted butter.

The most common mistake people make when preparing a grilled cheese like this, is to try to cook it too hot and fast. This is well, maybe not a marathon, but it’s certainly not a sprint either.  Keep the heat moderate and let the bread toast slowly and give the fillings time to heat up.

One benefit of using a pan over a griddle is that you can move a pan into the oven to finish off the sandwich.  That makes it easier to ensure the fillings are hot, but it does increase the risk of drying out the crab and/or over melting the cheese so that it pours out of the sandwich.
Whether you cook your sandwich on a griddle, in a pan on the stove, or finish it in the oven, you want to keep an eye on it. Make sure it’s cooking evenly and of course, don’t let it burn.

Once it’s done, just remove the sandwich from the pan, carefully put the two halves together, and it’s lunch time!crab grilled cheese-7

And yes, this version of grilled cheese goes great with a bowl of tomato soup.  Although, you better have a big appetite ready if you are going to include a side dish with this.  That’s a whole lot of sandwich right there.

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