When my Grilled Pimento Cheese, Ham, and Homemade Pickles recipe was published earlier this year, there was a lot of enthusiasm, but also, some skepticism. The Southern spread, whose recipe (often safeguarded more than great-great-great-grandma's silver punch bowl) varies from household to household, is a topic of much debate.
Is it good? Is it "awful gunk" as one Serious Eater described it? If gunk you think it is, move along, because this here is a twist on the original. And, if you're a purist, you may want to avert your eyes as well.
One of the appeals of the original pimento cheese is the number of condiments and seasonings it packs in: dry mustard, Worcestershire, cayenne, hot sauce, etc. When judiciously added, they create a properly balanced, no-nonsense cheese spread that invigorates crackers and celery sticks, and of course, makes a unique sandwich filling.
Since the base of pimento cheese spread (at least my recipe) is a simple cream cheese, cheddar cheese, and mayonnaise mixture that's whipped up by hand, it does provide wiggle room for the addition of more or less ingredients, according to taste. For a twist on the classic, this recipe adds charred jalapeño and poblano peppers, as well as a warm hint of ground cumin. The soft, spreadable texture remains the same as always, but the flavors are bit more assertive and spicy. Still appropriate to serve as an appetizer with crudités and crackers, this chili cheese is clearly the perfect thing to thickly slather between two pieces of good chewy bread, then grilled until golden and crisp.
Note: Chili cheese may be made up to 1 week ahead and stored, refrigerated, in a covered container. Bring the spread to room temperature prior to using in this recipe or serving.
- 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
- 2 jalapeño peppers, split in half, stems, seeds, and ribs removed
- 2 poblano peppers, split in half, stems, seeds, and ribs removed
- 6 tablespoons mayonnaise
- 2 tablespoons finely grated yellow or white onion
- 2 medium cloves garlic, minced (about 2 teaspoons)
- 2 teaspoons dry mustard
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
- 2 cups (8 ounces) grated extra-sharp white cheddar cheese
- 4 ounces cream cheese, softened
- 1/3 cup drained jarred or canned piquillo peppers, finely chopped
- 2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 8 (1/2-inch thick) slices country-style bread
Heat oil in large skillet over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add chilies and cook, covered and turning once halfway through cooking, reducing heat if threatening to burn, until spotty black and softened, about 10 minutes. Transfer to cutting board. When cool enough to handle, finely chop chilies and place in large bowl. Wipe out skillet with paper towel.
Melt 2 tablespoons mayonnaise in now empty skillet over medium heat. Add onion and cook, stirring, until onion is softened, about 2 minutes. Add garlic, dry mustard, and cumin and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Transfer to bowl with chilies and let cool to room temperature, about 5 minutes.
Stir cheddar, cream cheese, piquillo peppers, Worcestershire, and additional 2 tablespoons mayonnaise into chili mixture. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Brush one side of each slice of bread with remaining 2 tablespoons mayonnaise, then flip. Spread a heaping 1/4 cup chili cheese on 4 slices bread and cover with remaining 4 slices, mayonnaise-spread sides facing up.
Heat now empty skillet over medium heat. Cook sandwiches (in batches if necessary) until golden and beginning to ooze cheese, 2 to 3 minutes per side. Transfer sandwiches to cooling rack and allow to rest 2 minutes before cutting. Cut in half and serve.
large skillet with lid, cutting board, large bowl, cooling rack