When I want a panini—or its simpler cousin, the grilled cheese—I want it now. That means no waiting around for butter to soften. In the past, that involved hacking away at a fridge-cold stick of butter and then mutilating a couple slices of sourdough as I attempted to “spread” it across the bread slices. But thanks to a tip I discovered in ATK Kids’ The Complete Cookbook for Young Scientists, I don’t even need butter to make a panini anymore. I just need one of my favorite condiments: mayonnaise.
The Complete Cookbook for Young ScientistsThe latest book in the New York Times best-selling cookbook series for young chefs answers all the big food questions that kids have through fun and accessible experiments and doable, delicious recipes.
I know. We’ve been using mayo in some . . . unconventional ways lately (chocolate cake, anyone?). But when it comes to panini, mayo is simply better than softened butter. For one, there’s no putzing around while the butter softens. And two, the browning is so much better.
Why? Butter is a fat, and fats help foods get brown and crispy as they cook. But mayo contains fat (from oil) plus sugar plus protein from egg yolks. All the ingredients in this trifecta boost browning in foods, giving a mayo-smeared panini a real toasty one-two punch. Plus, most mayonnaise has a bit of acid added to it (typically vinegar or lemon juice), imparting a nice subtle tang that butter doesn’t have. And if you’re averse to mayo’s texture, don’t worry—that won’t even be a factor once your panini is all griddled up. Your cozy lunch is served.
Ham and Cheese Panini
We use cheddar cheese, deli ham, and pickle chips in our panini, but feel free to substitute other cheeses and/or fillings.
- Place 2 (½-inch-thick) slices crusty bread or hearty sandwich bread on cutting board. Spread 1 tablespoon mayonnaise evenly over 1 side of each slice.
- Flip 1 slice (mayonnaise side down) and place in 10-inch nonstick skillet. Sprinkle evenly with ¼ cup shredded cheddar cheese. Place 1 slice deli ham and 4–6 pickle chips (optional) on top of cheese. Sprinkle evenly with ¼ cup shredded cheddar cheese. Place second slice of bread on top (mayonnaise on the outside).
- Heat skillet over medium heat and cook until bread is golden brown on bottom, about 4 minutes.
- Use spatula to flip sandwich. Place saucepan lid on sandwich and press down firmly, then leave lid in place. Cook until second side is golden brown and cheese is melted, 1 to 2 minutes.
- Transfer panini to cutting board, let cool for 2 minutes, and serve.
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