I read a lot of American blogs and had come across mentions of "grilled cheese sandwiches" many times. But I assumed that they were referring to what we in Britain call cheese on toast/toasted cheese, i.e stick bread under the grill until it's done one one side, flip over, heap with cheese, tomatoes, and whatever else and then grill that side til it's all melty. According to one food historian, this was the original way to do it, and is certainly still the most common in this country. It wasn't until the 1960s that the second slice of bread was added on top in American cookbooks, but it hasn't been popular over here.
However, and quite confusingly, that which Americans call a grilled cheese sandwich is actually not grilled at all. A bit like what we call a cheese toastie (made in an electric toasting machine), "grilled cheese" is made in a frying pan on a hob by spreading the outer slices of bread with butter before putting it in on the heat. This method is far more boat friendly, as electric heating devices such as toasters are very power hungry. There's something nice about being able to hold it in your hand rather than eat it with a knife and fork too. Having solved the mystery of what exactly this American dish is, I am now a convert, and regular make them when I need something tasty and hot in a hurry. They are also great for eating whilst boating: much less messy and can be eaten one-handed by the steerer, with a mug of soup as accompaniment. Adding tomatoes, meat, sauces or herbs to the filling makes them extremely versatile. I tried one with soda bread, apple and brie the other day, it was delicious! This blog from A Beautiful Mess has some lovely ideas for variations.
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