Pimento Grilled Cheese
In the South, pimento cheese is a staple, beloved for its tangy flavor, light, airy texture, and lovely orange hue. It’s as likely to turn up on a banquet table as on a school-day sandwich, and wherever it goes it disappears the moment it hits the table. In fact, once or twice, we’ve taken it to parties, only to have the host run off with it. It’s that good. And like all classics, it’s one of those recipes that changes slightly from home to home, and this one was inspired by a friend of the test kitchen — a Texan and a pimento cheese connoisseur.
So where does it get that orange color? Most pimento cheeses seem to start with some combination of sharp cheddar cheese, pimentos or fresh red peppers, and mayonnaise. Some, like ours, have cream cheese too. We like heat, so we whirl all that up with a fresh red jalapeño and Louisiana-style hot sauce for a pleasantly mild kick. We also feel strongly about the texture: It should feel airy, like whipped cream almost, so we use powdered garlic and onion, which integrates with the cheeses like a dream. We also grate our own cheddar cheese, so it’s light and fluffy, and doesn’t lump up when we whirl it into the cream cheese.
You can serve pimento cheese with a bowl of ruffled potato chips or buttery Ritz crackers. It’s a great addition to a cheese or charcuterie board too. And of course, you have to put a dollop in your omelet or on top of a burger. But our favorite by far is this grilled cheese sandwich.
Part of the magic is that the pimento cheese melts very quickly, so the bread is on the heat just long enough to toast to perfection — without burning or absorbing a lot of grease. We use fat slabs of white bread, and we skim the outside of the sandwich with mayo, so it fries up on the skillet, creating a delightfully crispy, perfectly crunchy crust. It’s lighter than the average grilled cheese, and yet deeply satisfying.
In Texas, we are told, pimento grilled cheese is often eaten as a savory brunch and served with some kind of pickle and a crisp green salad. We might also throw in a bottle of cold white wine for good measure.
4 tsp mayonnaise, divided
4 slices thick-cut bread
⅔ cup pimento cheese, divided (see recipe below)
2 Tbsp sliced green onions
Heat a large nonstick skillet to medium heat.
Spread 1 teaspoon of the mayonnaise on one side of a piece of bread and place it mayonnaise-side down in the pan. Repeat with another slice of bread.
In the skillet, top each slice of bread with half of the pimento cheese, spread evenly, and sprinkle with green onions.
Spread 1 teaspoon of mayonnaise on each of the remaining slices of bread and top the sandwiches with the mayonnaise side up.
Gently press down on the sandwich with the back of a spatula.
Cook until golden brown, about 3 minutes, flip, and cook the other side for 3 minutes more, or until golden brown.
Transfer the sandwiches to a cutting board and allow them to cool for a minute or two. Serve hot.
8 oz Gelson’s sharp cheddar cheese, grated
6 oz cream cheese, softened
⅓ cup mayonnaise
½ cup drained pimentos or roasted red peppers, minced
1 red jalapeño, seeded and minced
½ tsp Louisiana-style hot sauce
¼ tsp garlic powder
⅛ tsp onion powder
Kosher salt, to taste
Black pepper, to taste
Combine the cheddar cheese, cream cheese, and mayonnaise in the bowl of a food processor and pulse until combined.
Add the pimentos, jalapeños, hot sauce, garlic powder, and onion powder, and pulse to combine.
Season to taste with salt and pepper and pulse again.
Serve immediately or store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 1 week.