I think of a patty melt as a cross between a hamburger and a grilled cheese sandwich. The hamburger patty can be cooked on a griddle, grill or cast-iron skillet. The onions must be caramelized — this is a very important part of the sandwich. Rather than a hamburger bun, sliced rye bread is used. Swiss is the traditional type of cheese, but you can use cheddar, smoked Gouda, or whatever tickles your taste buds.
To assemble a patty melt, simply put together:
Slice of rye bread
Slice of cheese
Another slice of cheese
Another slice of rye bread
I like to spread the bread with a little mayonnaise and Dijon mustard, but you can use only yellow mustard if that’s your preference.
I am particular about the caramelized onions, though, and this is the method I recommend for making them beautifully sweet and deep golden brown. I learned this from a Bon Appetit piece several years ago, and find it to be the best technique. Before you get started, these are my pro-tips:
- Use a large sauté pan rather than a skillet.
The difference between a sauté pan and a skillet is a subtle but important one, and it all comes down to shape. A sauté pan, from the French verb meaning “to jump” (sauter) has a wide flat bottom, and relatively tall, vertical sides. A skillet, on the other hand, has sides that flare outward at an angle. By using a large sauté pan, you have a wide base to allow the onions to cook without crowding so the liquid that is released can easily evaporate.
- Slice the onions along their natural grain.
When you cut end to end, or with the grain, you cause less damage and release fewer compounds than when you slice through the middle. Slicing through the middle, or against the grain, causes a greater disruption and leaves you with a stronger, more pungent taste. Also, remove the root end before you begin slicing.