Cheese Frenchee: The Nebraska Staple You Should Be Making At Home

It is a truth universally known that everything tastes better when it's deep-fried. In the lawless land of state fairs and carnivals, Oreos, pecan pie, and even peanut butter and jelly sandwiches are all improved by being dredged in batter and plunged into a cauldron of boiling oil. It's the kind of obscene decadence that's hard to resist. Still, there's a deep-fried wonder that you may not know about unless you've hit the Nebraskan fast-food restaurant circuit. It's time to meet your newest obsession: the Nebraskan Cheese Frenchee. 

This Nebraskan classic with a cute name could be described as a deep-fried grilled cheese, but the simple description doesn't seem to do the supremely crispy and cheesy dish justice. It's everything wonderful about a humble cheese sandwich — the neon orange, gooey cheese, and the mildly sweet white bread — but taken to the next level of crunch. So how did this deep-fried beauty even come about?   

A fast food Lincoln legend

Our tale of the deep-fried cheesiness begins in the '50s at a fast food restaurant in Lincoln, Nebraska. King's Food Host, the brainchild of James King and Larry Price, opened in 1955 and looked to cash in big on the deep-fried craze, creating fried pizza, hot dogs, and tuna melts. These deep-fried dishes were slapped with the moniker "Frenchie," but none would be as popular as their signature Cheese Frenchie. Their entry into the realm of grilled cheese quickly became the restaurant's top-selling item. 

What's in that name anyway? In fact, like the French origins of fried mozzarella sticks, the Cheese Frenchee mirrors a favorite cheesy sandwich of France: the Croque Monsieur. The Croque Monsieur is a ham and cheese sandwich that's bathed in a generous extra coat of cheese or béchamel sauce before being broiled to toasty perfection. The resemblance is definitely there, but there's no knowing whether this is where the "Frenchie" distinction came from.      

Alas, King's Food Host would go belly-up by the '70s, and the Cheese Frenchie seemed on the brink of extinction. Luckily, two other fast food chains decided to step in and revive the crispy classic. 

The dueling fast food frenchees

Don & Millie's and Amigos Kings Classic are both based in Nebraska and have kept the dish alive on their menus. The main difference is in the title, which now goes by the phonetically revamped Cheese Frenchee. 

Originally based in Omaha but with outposts in Lincoln and Bellevue, Don & Millie's offers a truly authentic taste of the Cheese Frenchee. How authentic? Well, the owner of Don & Millie's bought the original recipe catalog from the defunct King's Food Host shortly after it closed, so it's as close as you can get to a blast of the Frenchee past. Here, you can order their Cheese Frenchee meal — four crisp triangles that come complete with fries, a drink, and a dipping sauce if you so chose. 

At Amigos Kings Classic, a chain scattered all over Nebraska, there's a slight departure from the tried-and-true formula. Instead of using cornflakes to bread the sandwich, Amigos Kings Classic opts for cracker crumbs. Also, the restaurant uses salad dressing instead of mayonnaise as the spread, although it's unclear what salad dressing they're referring to. An order of the Cheese Frenchee at their restaurant includes three triangles of Frenchee plus two sliced pickles — a decadent snack if there ever was one. 

The corny secret to Cheese Frenchee

The Cheese Frenchee formula is fairly simple. The bread should be thick and white while the cheese is American, but there's plenty of wiggle room on ingredients after that. Texas toast-style bread is a recommended choice, as it has the thickness to withstand the deep-frying step. Most recipes recommend you slather your white bread with mayo before adding the cheese, but some opt for the sweeter Miracle Whip. The recipe may call for pre-grilling your cheese sandwich before the dredge, but most recipes recommend you keep it untoasted. No need to gild the lily.  

The wet step of the dredging is usually made up of a batter of egg, milk, flour, and salt, but for that signature crunch, most Nebraskans opt for crushed cornflakes. After all, Nebraska is the cornhusker state. The only spot for disagreement is the size of the crushed cornflakes, as some people recommend keeping it large, and others recommend it be reduced to a fine powder. It usually comes down to crunch preference. 

The finishing feature of all Cheese Frenchees is that last dip in bubbling oil. Although some recipes have called for pan-frying the sandwich in butter if you don't have a proper deep fryer, a true Cheese Frenchee needs to be submerged in the good stuff to be considered authentic. 

How to make your own Cheese Frenchee

The first step to making your own Cheese Frenchee? Make a divinely delicious grilled cheese out of thick white bread, two to three slices of American cheese each, and a little bit of mayonnaise. Once you've made the standard cheese sandwich building block, you'll trim your crusts (if you have any), and then, depending on the size of your deep frying setup, you'll cut the sandwich into smaller, even triangles. The original was served in triangles, but you can keep it in one jumbo piece if you've got room for it. 

Next, you'll assemble your dredging station with a bowl of whisked-together egg, milk, flour, and salt and a bowl of crushed cornflakes sitting side-by-side. As you dip your sandwich in the wet mix, remember to let the excess drip off before plunging it into the cornflake crumbs. Now comes the Kentucky-fried free-for-all. 

In your deep fryer or in a large Dutch oven, get your oil up to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. You'll lower your dredged Frenchee into the boiling oil and fry for 3 to 4 minutes or until golden and crispy on all sides. The next step is one of the most important: the cooldown. Place your freshly-fried Cheese Frenchees on a wire rack arranged over a paper towel-lined baking sheet. This will help keep your sandwiches from getting soggy with excess oil. And there you have it, you're very own Cheese Frenchee, no trip to Nebraska necessary.