Michelin-starred chef Dominique Crenn, of Atelier Crenn in San Francisco, came to our Test Kitchen recently and showed us that gooey, buttery grilled cheese can be so much more than an after-school snack or a mindless dinner.
Crenn's opened-face tartine replaces the standard white bread and American cheese with thick slices of buttery brioche and nutty Comté cheese. She then tops each bubbling, cheesy slice with a dollop of smoked avocado purée and garlicky tomato compote.
As you can imagine, there's nary a can of Campbell's soup in sight.
We tweaked the recipe by smoking the avocados halves rather than smoking the finished purée to cut some time.
Note: To get the delightfully gooey effect that makes grilled cheese so delicious, slice the cheese and let it stand at room temperature for a few minutes. This will help it melt more evenly.
To learn more, read "Comté Mama."
Open-Faced Grilled Cheese with Smoked Avocado and Tomato Compote
Recipe from Dominique Crenn, Atelier Crenn, San Francisco, CA
Yield: 4 servings
Prep Time: 1 hour and 20 minutes
Cook Time: 30 minutes
Total Time: 1 hour and 50 minutes
For the Tomato Compote:
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium shallot, finely diced
2 cloves garlic, finely minced
7 medium heirloom tomatoes, scored, blanched, skinned and finely chopped
Salt, to taste
For the Smoked Avocado:
2 tablespoons applewood chips
2 avocados, in their shells, halved and pitted
Juice of 1 lime
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Salt, to taste
For the Sandwich:
4 slices brioche, sliced ½-inch thick
½ pound Comté cheese, thinly sliced
½ cup tomato compote
½ cup smoked avocado
1 teaspoon roughly chopped thyme
1. Make the tomato compote: Heat the olive oil in a large sauté pan over medium heat. Add the shallot and garlic and cook until completely softened, about 5 minutes. Add the tomatoes and bring to a simmer, stirring often, until the tomatoes have broken down and the mixture has thickened, about 45 minutes. Season with salt and transfer to a non-reactive bowl. Set aside. Makes about 1 ½ cups. (Make ahead: The tomato compote can be made up to 3 days ahead if kept in the refrigerator.)
2. Make the smoked avocado: Using a stovetop smoker, place the wood chips in a small pile on one side. (You can also jury-rig a smoker by using a disposable aluminum baking pan.) Place a drip pan on top of the wood chips and a wire rack on top of the drip pan. Transfer the avocado halves to the wire rack. Transfer the smoker to a burner over medium heat. When the first sign of smoke rises, cover the smoker with its lid and allow the avocado to smoke for 20 minutes.
3. Using a spoon, scoop the avocado out of its shell and transfer to a blender with the lime and olive oil. Blend on high speed until smooth. Season with salt and set aside. Makes about 1 cup.
4. Make the sandwich: Preheat the oven to 350°. Place the brioche slices on a parchment-lined sheet tray and toast until pale golden brown, about 5 minutes. Remove the brioche, top it with the cheese and transfer it back to the oven. Bake until the cheese has melted and is lightly brown on top, about 5 minutes.
5. Transfer the toasts to a platter and top with smoked avocado, tomato compote and chopped thyme. Serve warm.