I always thought grilled cheese greatness was possible with plain white bread, plastic-wrapped cheese and a boatload of butter, but when we asked Dominique Crenn to make her best version at the Test Kitchen, the Michelin-starred French chef took me to school.
Crenn, who serves modern, mind-bogglingly beautiful dishes at her fine dining restaurant Atelier Crenn in San Francisco, doesn't do boring. She showed up with blue tips on her spiky black hair and torn boyfriend jeans, talking so fast about her deep love for sweet, nutty Comté ("The best cheese in the world!") that I could barely keep up.
"When friends come over to my place to watch a soccer game, this is what I make," she said matter-of-factly, peeling heirloom tomatoes and quickly chopping them up to make a compote. Crenn softened shallots and garlic in olive oil, then added the tomatoes and cooked the whole thing down very slowly to concentrate its natural sugar and umami (see the recipe).
While the tomatoes dehydrated, she grabbed a blowtorch and lit some applewood chips on fire to infuse a smooth, lime-spiked avocado purée with smoke. "Mmm, do you smell that?" she asked as she browned the brioche in a pan, filling the Test Kitchen with the irresistible perfume of butter. (Our version involves the more simple toasting of brioche, which also smells kind of awesome.)
"Trust me, it's going to be like sex in your mouth," Crenn said with a grin, popping the bread under the broiler with a heap of Comté on top. Once it was hot and bubbling, she added some dollops of creamy avocado and sweet tomato to make the richest, most gorgeous grilled cheese I'd ever tried.
Though, technically, it wasn't a sandwich. "I prefer to serve two tartines side by side. C'est français!"
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