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April 16, 2014

Start grilling season off right with the classic patty melt

One of my favorite big-city comfort foods is a staple of the diner scene — the patty melt.

According to lore, the patty melt originated in California as a burger topped with fried onions and melted cheese served on grilled rye bread. Of course, today, the patty melt comes in all manner of variations, including many grilled cheese-style versions done indoors on a griddle. But now that the weather is warming up, it’s the perfect time to try my version of the original — the grilled patty melt.

The first step in making a perfect patty melt is to shape your patty to fit the size of your bread. This results in an oval-shaped patty, but ensures that every bite has all the good stuff — grilled beef, caramelized onions, melted cheese and toasty rye bread. I like to use lightly seasoned ground sirloin for a lean but rich, beefy flavor.

The classic patty melt calls for Swiss cheese, but I have noticed that many diners are opting for American cheese to get that ooey-gooey melted texture. I prefer the flavor of Swiss cheese, but if you really want that wet, melty experience, I suggest a combination of Swiss cheese for flavor and American cheese for texture.

Finally, I up the ante on the onions by accenting them with tangy balsamic vinegar. I find the vinegar adds a depth of flavor and cuts through the richness of all the other layers of the sandwich. It also eliminates the need for a tangy condiment, like the Thousand Island dressing that sometimes is served alongside the sandwich.

Use the best-quality rye bread you can find, one with a slightly chewy crust and a dense crumb. The lighter the bread, the more difficult it will be to contain all the layers of the sandwich. And it is all the layers that make the patty melt so delicious. It is the classic example of the whole being so much greater than the sum of its parts.

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