I don't think I had a Patty Melt until I was in my 20s. I was only vaguely aware of their existence, and thought it was a little bit of an aberration, like eating a cold hot dog on a slice of Wonder bread. If you want a burger, shouldn't you place the patty within a bun? Are you eating it on sliced bread because you ran out of buns?
Stupidly, blindly, I ignored the Patty Melt until I saw a fellow patron eating one at All Star Sandwich Bar in Cambridge, MA. It dawned on me that you ate a Patty Melt because it was ahhh-mazing and not because buns were being rationed. It's genius! A grilled cheese sandwich with caramelized onions and a burger patty. Beat that.
I'm not attempting to beat the original beef Patty Melt, but for starters, we have a recipe for it, courtesy of Kenji, and, I made an amazing pork and fennel ragù for a shoot the other day and was in the mood for some other iteration of those ingredients.
Start with ground pork; I prefer a fatty cut like country-style pork ribs or pork shoulder, which I grind at home (a butcher can grind it for you for, too). I like the more intense flavor and the absence of that rubbery texture you'll get from overly lean meats. The pork is simply seasoned with salt and pepper then shaped into thin, rectangular patties: since you're using sandwich bread here it makes no sense to shape the pork into a round patty, no? The patties are cooked until crisp, then set aside while a pile of sliced onions and fennel are sautéed in butter until tender and caramelized. Red pepper flakes add heat while a few tablespoons of malt vinegar add sharp acidity that will balance out the sweetness of the vegetables, and cut through the fattiness of the pork and the cheese.
Finally, for the assembly: bread slices are fried in butter, topped with cheese, the fennel and onion mixture, and the patty, then grilled until golden. Buttery outside, cheesy inside, dripping with soft and sweet onions and fennel, this pork patty melt is almost too good.
Note: Prepackaged ground pork is fine in this recipe, but I like to use a fattier cut, like shoulder or boneless country-style pork ribs. Grind the pork at home, or have your butcher do it for you.
- 1 pound ground pork (see note)
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 2 teaspoons olive or vegetable oil
- 8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter
- 1 large yellow onion, split in half and thinly sliced from pole to pole (about 2 cups)
- 1 fennel bulb, trimmed, cored, and thinly sliced (about 2 cups)
- 1 1/2 teaspoons red pepper flakes
- 3 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
- 2 tablespoons malt vinegar
- 8 slices sturdy white sandwich bread
- 12 slices Swiss cheese, torn in half
Season pork with 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper and work into pork using hands. Divide pork into 4 equal portions and form each into a thin patty the shape of a slice of bread.
Heat oil in large skillet over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add patties and cook until golden brown on both sides, about 6 minutes total. Transfer to plate.
Melt 3 tablespoons butter in now empty skillet. Add onion, fennel, red pepper flakes, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper and cook, stirring occasionally, until tender and beginning to char, about 8 minutes. Add garlic and vinegar and cook an additional 2 minutes. Season to taste and transfer mixture to bowl.
Reduce heat to medium. Melt additional 2 1/2 tablespoons butter in now empty skillet, swirling pan to evenly distribute butter. Place 4 bread slices in skillet. Top each slice with 1 1/2 slices cheese. Top 2 of the slices with 1/4 onion-fennel mixture, then a pork patty. Once cheese starts to melt, flip cheese-topped bread slices onto pork patties and press down gently with spatula. Cook, turning once, until bread is golden and crisp, about 3 minutes per side. Transfer to cutting board and repeat procedure with remaining butter, cheese, onion-fennel mixture, and pork patties. Serve immediately.
large skillet, spatula