I am terrible at following recipes. I possess shelf upon shelf of cookbooks and they roll their beautiful eyes at me, knowing I’ll reach for them as inspiration at best, most nights. It’s a personal weakness that makes me a shoddy baker but a fairly decent cook, at least when it comes to dishes like this glammed-up grilled cheese from Three Owls Market in New York City.

When I purchased a copy of Kristin Tice Studeman’s “Serving New York” (ed. note: it’s no longer available) during that frenzied part of the pandemic where we were all throwing money at restaurant merchandise, gift cards, and hospitality charities, I wasn’t expecting to come across this repeat hit of a recipe. A year and change later, I continue to wax poetic about this sandwich, which is by no stretch of the imagination a low-lift endeavor (read: Do not attempt to cook this with less than 100 percent full attention. Your smoke detector will go off during the lengthy shallot caramelization process, scaring the metaphorical pants off your dog).

What shocks me, however, is that the absolute best ingredient — and the one that makes the whole shebang boozy — is listed as merely optional, according to the recipe. I strongly disagree, and feel that the grilled cheese lacks gumption without two full teaspoons of Dolin’s dry vermouth, more of which you can use afterwards to whip up a little spritz.

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I also have opinions about some of the ingredients — rich, coming from a confessed recipe messer- upper, but here we are. I rarely have fresh thyme on hand, but Burlap and Barrel’s Flowering Hyssop Thyme is a fragrant treat that will make you forget about the real deal. For vinegar, I can’t get past the perfect punch of tartness that Flamingo Estate’s Winter Harvest Persimmon Vinegar imparts. I’ve swapped Gruyère for my Manchengo of choice in the past and haven’t regretted it — feel free to play around with pepper jack or gouda, and let me know how it goes. Last, but certainly not least: Kewpie mayo. This is a richer, creamier alternative to regular mayonnaise that uses a blend of vinegars for tang, making it a perfect fit for this grilled cheese.

the classic grilled cheese is elevated with shallots caramelized with dry vermouth

Vermouth and Shallot Jam Grilled Cheese

Recipe from Three Owls Market

INGREDIENTS

  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 3 large shallots, peeled and sliced crosswise into thin rings
  • 1 ½ teaspoons fresh thyme or ½ teaspoon dried thyme
  • Kosher salt
  • 2 tablespoons white wine vinegar, Champagne vinegar, or red wine vinegar
  • A splash of dry, white vermouth
  • 2 tablespoons mayonnaise, divided
  • 2 slices bread (marbled rye, wheat, challah)
  • ¼ cup grated Gruyère cheese
  • ¼ cup grated cheddar cheese
  • Flaky sea salt, for serving

DIRECTIONS

  1. Melt butter in a small frying pan over medium heat. Add shallots and thyme and season lightly with salt.
  2. Cook, stirring often, until shallots begin to soften and the bottom of the pot is almost dry, about 5 to 6 minutes. Add a splash of water (about a tablespoon). Continue stirring shallots occasionally, adding splashes of water whenever the bottom of the pan starts to look like it has burnt bits, scraping the bottom and stirring to incorporate.
  3. Continue until the shallots are soft and deeply colored and caramelized, about 20 to 25 minutes. Add vinegar and vermouth, scraping and stirring to pick up browned bits. Make sure liquid is absorbed. Remove from heat.
  4. Heat a nonstick pan over medium heat. Spread 1 tablespoon of mayonnaise on one side of one slice of bread and place it face down on the pan. You do not need to add anything else to the pan; mayonnaise will be sufficient.
  5. Combine the cheese together in a small bowl and spread it on the slice of bread in a thick, even layer.
  6. Slather one side of the second piece of bread with the remaining tablespoon of mayonnaise. On the other side, spread the shallot jam and place face down (mayo side up on the melting cheese).
  7. Cook until the bread on the bottom side is golden brown and then flip carefully. Press down with a spatula until the cheese is melted.
  8. Slice on a diagonal and serve with flaky salt.