I’ve been reading the new cookbook learning about panini and the other variations, trying to decide which one to try first. Meanwhile my two panini bread grillers arrived and I was dying to try them out. So I decided to break them in with some sandwiches of my own creation. The panini bread grillers feature two flat open grids attached to long metal shafts connected to a wooden handle. The shafts are like the letter V, spreading farther apart the farther away from the handle you are. There is a sliding ring clamp that slides up the shafts. The further away from the handle they are, the tighter they clamp the items in the heads.
The panini bread griller
A lot of the panini in the cookbook are simple creations with one or two toppings and simple condiments. For my first panini I decided to try a version of the Italian submarine sandwich. A ham, cheese and salami sandwich to be specific. I used imported ham and fresh salami. For toppings I would use red onion, freshly chopped cilantro, garlic, salt and fresh ground black pepper.
The makings of my first grilled panini
I started with a loaf of crispy Italian bread, which was a little smallish. To get the required surface area for my sandwich I sliced the bread on the diagonal. Instead of a round cross section, I was left with an elongated oval. I brushed Extra Virgin Olive Oil (EVOO) onto both sides of the bread. The trick is to get enough on to help protect the bread while it toasts, but not some much that the bread is mushy or won’t toast at all. By the way if you haven’t tried silicon brushes, they are wonderful for applying melted butter or olive oil.. They are very easy to clean and they don’t shed bristles like a regular pastry brush. On the inner half of the slices I sprinkled some Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper.
Both sides of the bread received EVOO and the insides received Kosher salt and black pepper
While I was at at it, I brushed the grids that hold the bread with the EVOO to help keep the finished sandwiches from sticking when I was done grilling them. I have since switched to spraying with Pam for grilling, as it seems to stand up to the heat a little better. It was now time to start building the sandwich.
Next came the imported ham
I placed three thin slices of the imported ham on the bottom slice of bread, followed by the salami then the diced red onion. The cheese was applied over the onion, my idea being the melted cheese would act as a binder helping to hold the red onion in place, The cilantro went on the upper slice of bread. Holding the cheese down with my fingers, I picked up the bottom slice of bread and flipped it onto the upper slice with the cilantro. The cheese served to trap the diced onion in place.
Salami is next followed by diced red onion, freshly chopped cilantro and cheddar cheese
It can be a little tricky spreading the two halves of the panini bread holder apart with one hand, while inserting the thick sandwich in with the other The sandwich tries to twist, squeeze or slip apart. If there is someone around, have them help you the first few times until you get the hang of it. Remember to support the sides of the sandwich while you slide the ring down the handle to add more pressure. Once again the sandwich will try to slip apart.
The panini are placed in the griller and the clamps are tightened down squeezing the sandwich tightly
It was now time to grill the panini, The trick is getting the right temperature for the grill. You want the bread to toast not burn. You also want the toppings to heat up and the cheese to melt in the time it takes the bread to toast. You also want to make sure your grill grates are well lubricated so the bread won’t stick to them when you go to pull the paninis off. I found for my grill if I heated it so the gauge on the lid read 400 degrees 9205 C), this was just slightly too hot. The bread would go from warming to burned in the blink of an eye. When the gauge read 350 degrees (175 C) this was perfect. The bread would start to toast and you still had enough time to react. The bread would start to toast, but not burn right away. About 4 minutes to 5 minutes a side was enough to toast up the bread, heat the inside and melt the cheese.
The sandwiches are placed on a medium grill (350 degrees / 175 C)
They were grilled for 4 minutes per side with the grill lid closed
I typically don’t light all of the burners on my 6 burner grill when toasting the paninis, which gives me some additional temperature control. To help the cheese melt and the insides heat up I keep the lid closed as much a possible. What I typically do is check the progress at the midway point, about 2 minutes along. If the bread is not toasting up evenly you can move that side to a warmer or cooler area of the grill. Every grill is different, so you will have to find the right temperature setting for your grill. I would suggest erring on the low side to start. You can always keep the sandwich on the grill longer to let it toast up. If it is too hot and you burn it there is no going back. If the temperature was too low the first time, try increasing it 25 (14 Kg) degrees the next time out.
You actually get reverse grille marks as the sandwich isn’t toasted where the grill grids are in contact with the bread
Getting the sandwiches out of the hot panini holder can be tricky. Make sure to wear some grilling gloves or use an oven mitt to release the clamp and open the two halves of the panini holder. If you are tempted to forgo the gloves: Think branding iron-enough said. I usually release the clamp and spread the metal shafts apart a bit with my gloved finger. I press down on the bread with the handle end of a butter knife. This usually releases the bread from the diamond shaped grid pattern. The bread sometimes grips this tightly, but the Pam for grilling helps in this area. Once I have one side of the bread free I flip the holder over and free the bread on the other side. Then you can completely open the panini holder up and slide the bread out of the clamps.
My first paninis were very tasty. The freshly chopped toppings were very good. Plus the pressed, grilled and toasted bread with the EVOO is much better than a plain old sandwich. The proof of this for me was after my first attempt, I was authorized to buy two more panini holders so I could make these for guests. If you want to try these for yourself you can get these panini griller at stores that sell Steven Raichlen’s grill accessories. Bed Bath and Beyond carries his tools around here, but they are seasonal items in new England, meaning they are already being pulled of the shelves in early July. You can also get them at Steven Raichlen’s online store. See related links below.
As you can see by my newly added panini section, this is something I plan to experiment with frequently. The only question is: Can I get enough heat out of my gas grill to enjoy these all through the winter?
In 2010 I started using an alternate method for grilling paninis. Refer to this link for the alternate method: GRATE TECHNIQUE