Richard Blais's Pimento Jack Cheese Sandwiches


[Photograph: John Lee]

Pimento cheese is one of my favorites from the Southern canon, and I find it's best when sandwiched between buttered white bread and grilled until crisp on the outside, gooey on the inside. So when I run into a pimento grilled cheese recipe in a cookbook, it's one of the first things I bookmark. That said, the Pimento Jack Cheese Sandwich in Richard Blais's new cookbook, Try This at Home, is nothing like a pimento cheese sandwich you'd see down South. There is pepper jack where there should be sharp cheddar. There are homemade roasted poblanos instead of jarred red pimentos. There is cilantro and lime zest.

Surprisingly, these apparent foibles turn out to be assets once the sandwich takes shape, and I immediately regretted scoffing at the ingredients once taking a bite.

The spicy pimento spread is matched perfectly with a sweet-tart tomato-peach chutney and a handful of bitter arugula. Both sides of the thick white bread turn extra crisp (and slightly tangy) because of a creme fraiche and egg yolk mixture spread on the outside right before cooking. And the melted butter soaks into every available pore of the bread, adding the final touch to this first-rate grilled cheese.

I just wouldn't recommend calling it pimento cheese if you're anywhere south of the Mason-Dixon line.

Why I picked this recipe: I was curious if a seriously restyled version of pimento cheese could even hold a candle to the classic.

What worked: I was skeptical of the many modifications to tradition in this sandwich but, frankly, each element worked in perfect harmony. This is an excellent sandwich.

What didn't: The chutney recipe doesn't specify tomato size, and my larger specimens made for a higher yield and longer cook time than the recipe dictates. I also ended up using a little extra mayonnaise (a tablespoon or so) to the cheese mixture because it seemed a little dry as written.

Suggested tweaks: You could tweak the pimento cheese portion of the recipe to suit your particular opinion on what pimento cheese should be; however, I'd encourage trying this as written first. You may be surprised.

As always with our Cook the Book feature, we have five (5) copies of Try This at Home to give away this week.