When you tell people you live in Los Angeles, one of the first things they often say is something in the realm of “well you can’t beat the weather!” Well, okay, but you can get sick of it. As I drove home from work the day we had these sandwiches for dinner, one of the local radio DJs said something akin to “is it still summer? I won’t let it be fall yet.” Cue snarling and angry words from me. How could she?! I mean, I like the sun. I love summer. But here’s the thing: I miss my jeans. When I get home from work and evict myself from my teacher clothes, I miss sliding into the worn embrace of my soft, familiar denim. Not to mention spending a day without the hair plastered to the back of my neck. Appetizing, I know.
So maybe out of resentment at the season (or lack thereof, since it just slid from mid- to late September and we spent the last two weeks ping-ponging between mid-80s and near 100 degree temperatures), I came up with a dish that screams fall at the top of its lovely, melty little lungs. Apples. Cheddar cheese, as sharp as possible. Dense, moist sourdough. Sage, that most autumnal of herbs. Maple syrup. It’s a bit of a breakfast sandwich, but since when have I ever been opposed to that sort of thing as an evening meal?
In its preparation, this sandwich takes the Monte Cristo as its font of inspiration. Though I’m using cheddar instead of swiss, and replacing ham with apples that have been gently sautéed in brown butter with a liberal dosing of maple syrup (are you hungry yet?), the whole assembled sandwich gets dunked in an egg batter and then fried until delicately crisp on the outside and limp with melted goo on the inside.
In an effort to be responsible diners, we ate this with a wilted kale salad-ish concoction, but it honestly didn’t need any accompaniment. In fact, the second time I made it in as many weeks, I didn’t prepare any side dish at all, and that and the relatively petite slices of bread I used made me feel completely justified in demolishing two sandwiches all by my lonesome. Well, minus the apple slice or two that I shared with Miss Lucy. It’s tough to refuse those velvet brown eyes.
Your fingertips will get greasy as you eat this. But despite the richness of the cheese and the eggy coating and the caramelized, syrupy apples, the sage keeps the whole thing from being overwhelming. Its sharp, herbaceous note cuts through the cheese, and it somehow miraculously maintains a bit of crunch even buried between the layers of filling. For me, it’s sandwich nirvana.
Apple Cheddar Monte Cristo sandwiches
Quantities for 2 sandwiches
1 tart apple, quartered, cored, and cut into thin slices – I like granny smith
6 tablespoons butter, divided
3-4 tablespoons maple syrup
¼ teaspoon salt
8 whole sage leaves
4 slices sourdough sandwich bread
⅔ cups extra sharp cheddar cheese
1 egg, lightly beaten
½ cup milk
2 tablespoons flour
- Heat 4 tablespoons of the butter, the maple syrup, and the salt over medium heat in a 10-12 inch skillet. When the butter has melted and is bubbling with the syrup, add the apple slices in a single layer, and scatter the sage leaves on top.
- Cook on medium heat until the underside of the apples is brown, about 5 minutes. Flip the slices over, and cook again to brown the other side, about 2-3 minutes more. Try to keep the sage leaves on top of the apples so they get crisp from the heat but don’t burn. The apples will show that they are almost ready by puffing up and looking swollen just before they begin to get golden, and the butter and maple syrup mixture will get deep, deep toffee colored and become a thick caramel.
- Remove the pan from the heat and cool while you ready the other ingredients.
- Shred the cheddar cheese and set it aside.
- In a shallow bowl, combine the egg, milk, and flour, mixing well to eradicate flour lumps. The addition of the flour will help the exterior of the sandwiches stay crisp – I use the same trick with French toast.
- To assemble the sandwiches, layer cheese, then half the apples and half the sage, then a bit more cheese onto one slice of bread. You should aim to use ⅓ cup of cheese per sandwich, but we want to have some on both sides of the apple slices to hold the whole thing together better. Top with the second slice of bread, and repeat for the second sandwich.
- In a skillet, heat the remaining 2 tablespoons butter over medium-low heat. While it melts, set the first sandwich into the egg and milk mixture and leave it for 30 seconds or so to allow some of the batter to penetrate the bread. Then flip it over and let it sit another 30 seconds or so. Repeat with the second sandwich.
- To cook, raise the heat on the skillet to medium and carefully add the sandwich (or sandwiches, if your skillet is large enough to accommodate both). Cook over medium heat, flipping halfway through, until both sides are golden and crisp and the cheese is melted. This should take about 5 minutes per side.
- Slice as desired, and consume hot.