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As a life-long SoCal resident, I've always been lucky enough to have an In-N-Out within a 10-minute drive (at most) from wherever I've lived. And although I've been privy to much of the burger joint's legendary secret menu, my usual burger order routinely consists of a Double-Double Animal-Style, medium-rare, topped with a whole grilled onion, and a bag (or two) of chilis on the side.
And when that particular burger is flanked by fries and a soda, I'm usually good to go. But every now and then, when I'm feeling a bit more ravenous, I'll add an Animal-Style Grilled Cheese to my order—you know, as an appetizer.
For the uninitiated, a grilled cheese at In-N-Out not only features two slices of American cheese melted and sandwiched in a toasted hamburger bun (though you can get it that way), but it also comes stock with lettuce, tomatoes, raw onions, and a thousand island-like spread.
In other words, an In-N-Out grilled cheese is more or less a Double-Double sans meat. An "Animal-Style" grilled cheese, however, calls for the addition of pickles, extra spread, and grilled onions to the mix. Yes, even devoid of any meat, a grilled cheese at In-N-Out can be a hearty endeavor. And while noshing on this hearty grilled cheese recently, I realized how much better it would be if it were only paired with a chilly alcoholic beverage.
Really, anything at In-N-Out would be that much better when washed down with alcohol, but I felt particularly compelled to re-imagine the Animal-Style grilled cheese as a tipple-friendly appetizer at home. So that's what I did. I developed a homemade version of In-N-Out's Animal-Style Grilled Cheese. But in bruschetta form.
To make my beast of a bruschetta, I knew I had to start with the "spread." Anything "Animal-Style" at In-N-Out is lashed with a healthy dose of their thousand island dressing, so I wanted to replicate those same tangy-sweet flavors to spread onto my toast. Luckily for me, and for everyone really, Kenji already unlocked the mysteries of In-N-Out's spread within this recipe here. Since Kenji's spread recipe is so amazingly spot-on with the original incarnate, I used it as is for my bruschetta (if it ain't broke...).
With the spread conundrum conveniently solved for me, I moved on to the next Animal-Style benchmark—the grilled onions. Traditionally, Animal-Style grilled onions are of the chopped, slow-cooked, and caramelized variety. But because I didn't want to spend too much time caramelizing onions on the stovetop, I decided to go the whole grilled onion route by simply grilling slices of unseparated onion rings on my barbecue grill. I also decided that the tomatoes would benefit from a quick char on the grill as well. And while huge slices of ripe hot-house tomatoes are the norm on any In-N-Out burger, I went with sliced plum tomatoes because their small size fit perfectly on a sliced piece of baguette.
After quickly grilling the veg, I brushed one side of the baguette slices with olive oil, and slathered the other side with the homemade spread. Then on top of the spread I placed two dill pickle chips, as well as a folded slice of good American cheese. When each slice of bread was given the spread, pickle, cheese treatment, I then placed a grilled tomato slice, along with some grilled onion rings, atop each of them. Finally, I placed the bruschetta over indirect heat on my grill just until the bottom of the bread toasted and the cheese melted. All that was missing was the lettuce. But believe me, grilled lettuce is limp, and fresh lettuce distracted from the overall gooeyness and char of the finished bruschetta.
The resultant bruschetta was gloriously Animal-Style-ized. I mean, what's better than a grilled cheese that's actually grilled on the barbecue? An Animal-Style grilled cheese, that's what! And when served in the guise of bruschetta, it's perfect for your next dinner party or backyard barbecue. It's also a great way to dress up a grilled cheese, or to make casual a bruschetta, depending on your viewpoint. Either way, this Animal-Style bruschetta nicely echoes its inspiration with toasted bread, gooey cheese, grilled onions, and homemade spread. And it's especially good with a cold beer, a glass of chilled white wine, or even a rosé if that's how you roll.
About the author: Marvin Gapultos is the author of the Filipino food blog, Burnt Lumpia. His first cookbook is due out in 2013. When he isn't cooking or writing about Filipino food, Marvin is usually enjoying a beer or cocktail, and thinking about what to eat with said beer or cocktail. You can follow him on Twitter @BurntLumpia.