Photo: George Dolgikh/Shutterstock

How to Cook a Gourmet(ish) Grilled Cheese in a Hostel Kitchen

by Colin Heinrich Aug 7, 2014
What you’ll need:
  • 2 slices of thick, multigrain bread
  • 1 block of soft and creamy cheese, preferably double, or even triple, cream brie
  • 1 tomato, sliced thin
  • ½ avocado, guacamole’d
  • 2 mushrooms, sliced thin
  • ¼ onion, diced
  • 1 strip of bacon
  • Butter
  • Chives
  • Basil
  • 1 can of tomato soup
  • ¼ cup milk
  • ¼ cup water
  • salt/pepper
  • 1 tbsp. olive oil

What you’ll have:
  • 2 slices of supermarket dollar loaf. What’s the difference between wholegrain and multigrain?
  • 4 slices of cheese singles, the kind that lists “cheese” as one of the actual ingredients
  • 1 tomato, slightly crushed by that French dude who dropped his groceries on yours in the fridge. Thank God for GMO sturdiness.
  • 1 avocado, secretly and shamefully rung up as brown onions at the self-checkout.
  • 2 mushrooms, but you’ve got three and what the hell are you gonna do with one mushroom? So, 3 mushrooms.
  • ¼ onions, diced (there ya go!)
  • 1 strip of bacon (we’re on a roll!)
  • Butter (wait, what is that black stuff stuck in it?)
  • Chives (brownish because you never think to use your chives)
  • 1 can of tomato soup
  • ½ cup water
  • salt/pepper
  • I dunno, just dump some olive oil on it

Step 1: Go to the kitchen. This really shouldn’t warrant a step of its own, but hitting the kitchen at the perfect time in a hostel is an art. This is your third time checking already, and for once, it’s not completely crowded. There’s nobody there but you and that one couple in the corner, the one that looks so cute cooking a restaurant-quality meal together. Silently hate their happiness. Luckily, the dude using six pans and all of the counter space just to burn a single hamburger has finally left, so take his spot before the couple decides to spread out.

Step 2: Choose your utensils. For this exercise, we’ll need a chef’s knife, two skillets, a small pot, a spatula, wooden spoon, tongs, and a cutting board. You’ll find these easily enough, though none of them will be clean. You can wash them in the sink, but all the sponges and steel wool have — what is that, cheese and egg? — stuck to them. Wipe everything down as best you can.

Step 3: Drizzle the 1 tbsp. olive oil (read: just dump some) into one of the skillets and begin heating both on medium flames. There are several burners to choose from, but because everybody forgets to turn them off, only one of them works at any given time. It’s like whack-a-mole with potential gas explosions. Watch as the oil retreats to the sides of the badly warped pans, completely defeating the purpose of putting it in there.

Step 4: While the oil and skillet is heating, wash and cut the vegetables. You’ll be much less stressed later if all the prep work is done at the beginning. Of course, the hostel knife is so dull that you’ll end up smashing the tomato to mush without even breaking the skin, so maybe the stress is just part-and-parcel. Cut using the very back heel of the knife — it’s not ideal, but it will still be sharp there. Nobody knows how to really use knives. Remember, rocking motions.

Step 5: When the oil is hot, add the diced onion. Season lightly — you’ll be salting the rest of the vegetables as you add them and you don’t want to overdo it on the first layer. Add the bacon to the second skillet. While the onions start to caramelize and the bacon starts to sizzle, put the pot on another burner (if you can find one), and add the tomato soup. If you managed to find some milk, add ¼ cup of water to the soup. If not (probably not), add a full ½ cup of water. Keep it on a low flame.

Step 6: After a few minutes, the onions should turn a nice golden color. This means it’s time to add the mushrooms. Remember that layer of seasoning. Continue to flip the bacon, and begin constructing the sandwich. At this point, it’s just a layer of cheese on the bottom bread, but when the bacon reaches your preferred crispiness, add that as well. It will begin to melt the cheese a bit — we want that. Add the tomato slices, then one more layer of cheese.

Step 7: At this point, inevitably, somebody will come up to you, point to something in your area, and ask, “Hey man, are you using that?” You think he’s referring to your cutting board, but honestly, he could very well mean your actual sandwich. Regardless, you’re still using both, so just say yes and he’ll leave. Backpackers are vultures and will grab anything in the kitchen if you let them. Cutting Board Guy will eye you for the rest of your meal.

Step 8: If you’ve timed it right, the mushrooms should start to shrink and sweat right around the time the onions finish caramelizing into a nice brown color. Scoop them onto the sandwich, then spread the mashed avocado on top. Follow it up with another layer of cheese, then the last bit of bread.

So let’s recap. Our sandwich is ready, and, if you’ve followed the instructions, should look a little something like this:


We’re ready to cook it. Before you do, suddenly remember that you’re also making tomato soup. Check it and you’ll see that you’ve reduced it too much, so add a bit of water and act like you meant to do that. Cutting Board Guy isn’t buying it.

Step 9: Add a bit of butter to the bacon skillet, which should still be on medium heat. As a poor backpacker, you may be tempted to used margarine as a substitute. It’s all most people will lend you. Don’t do it. Margarine will burn and smoke, while butter will brown into deliciousness. Once it has, toss in a bit of chives and plop that sammich right on top of them. Use the spatula to push it around and ensure even coverage (and that the chives are pushed into the bread), then put a small amount of butter on top of the sandwich as well. You’re gonna need to flip it in about two minutes, depending on how melted the cheese is and how toasted you like the outsides.

Step 10: Oh God. It’s about time to flip the sandwich. That couple is sitting over there fucking julienning carrots and getting ready to sous-vide a salmon fillet, Cutting Board Guy is watching your every move, and you have to somehow flip this big son of a bitch over in its pan without everything flying around the room like a grilled tornado. If everything has gone perfectly according to plan, the cheese will have melted sufficiently to hold the whole thing together on its glorious arc through the air. But come on. You’ve been living in hostels for a few months now. You know better than to think something’s gone according to plan.

This is it. Slide the spatula under the bread. The top slice shifts a bit, daring you. Come on, do it. Maybe if you grab another spatula, you could try to flip it over while holding it together, and then just put it back down on the other side. Try it. This is so awkward with your wrists. It’s gonna come apart if you do it this way. People are watching. People are holding their breaths. Fuck it, you’re going for it.

Flip. Plop.

Exhale. It…kinda worked. The tomato is slipping out the side a bit. Some of the cheese is now burning on the pan. But hey, it could have been worse. The world resumes turning.

Step 11: While you wait for the other side to cook, add the milk and basil (if you found any) to the tomato soup. Take it off the heat and pour it in your bowl. Of course, you’ve made entirely too much, so leave the rest in the pot. Take everything else (tongs, cutting board, etc) to the sink — you’re not going to want to clean them up after you eat, so do it while you have a bit of time. Leave the pans. Putting them in water right after using them will cause them to warp, and while they’re shitty enough as is, you can do your part to make them last a little longer.

Step 12: And you’re done! That sandwich should now be golden and delicious, crust just barely glistening with toasted grease, insides gooingly becoming outsides. Plate that beautiful bastard and carry it and your tomato soup to the table. The pan needs time to cool, so enjoy your sandwich first by dipping it into that creamy tomato soup and taking your first, big bite.

Cutting Board Guy will soon point to your pan and shout that your mother doesn’t live here. Leave your amazing meal and take your still-smoking skillet to the sink. Cringe as the water hisses against its cruelly twisting metal husk, almost as if it’s in agony.

Whatever. It was worth it.

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