Paninis remind me of Europe. They seemed to be everywhere. All the sandwich stands offer some sort of grilled sandwich. They were perfect for people on the go. Smashed together, thin, and usually contained in a small, narrow bag. I ate quite a few of them.
Upon returning, I wanted to figure how to make good paninis at home. After much trial and error, we’ve figured out a few different things that make for better sandwiches.
Tips for a good panini:
- A George Foreman Grill is one of the best panini grills out there. The lid is heavy and the max heat seems to be perfect.
- Cheese melting out the side is a very good thing.
- Olive oil on the outside is essential to a nice crunch.
- The way you cut the panini at the end is extremely important (just kidding, but cutting it on the diagonal is better).
- Don’t fiddle with the sandwich when it’s on the grill.
- Don’t add more than a meat, a cheese, and a vegetable (and the vegetable has to stand up to heat, lettuce won’t). Less is more.
- Only put the sandwich on the cooking surface if it’s preheated.
This recipe is highly adjustable and multipliable. I happen to like chicken and red peppers, but we often use whatever we have leftover. Be sure to make the mayonnaise before everything else, unless you’re fast.
Red Pepper and Chicken Paninis with Garlic Basil Mayonnaise:
- 1 red pepper, sliced into strips
- 1 chicken breast (trim them so they are boneless and skinless if they aren’t already)
- 4 slices of good sourdough bread (we used a loaf from Gourmandises Bakery)
- Olive oil
- Muenster cheese, sliced (the more the better in my opinion)
Plug in a George Foreman Grill or preheat a panini grill or grill pan with a weight over medium heat. Sauté the red pepper strips in another pan over medium heat with some oil until they are cooked to your liking. I like mine slightly crunchy but not raw. Cut the chicken breast in half horizontally by placing your hand firmly on the top of the chicken breast and with a very sharp knife positioned parallel to the cutting board, use a sawing motion to cut the entire length of the breast so that you end up with 2 pieces each half as thick as the original. Next, place of a sheet of plastic wrap on each piece and pound with a meat tenderizer. Just don’t be too over zealous. Season each side with salt and pepper.
With a pan on medium heat, add a bit of oil, and pan-sear the chicken until the bottom is browned and the top just starts to become opaque. This lets you know that the chicken is cooked in center. Flip the chicken over for a bit of color on the other side. You know it’s already pretty much cooked because you saw the cooking come up through the bottom of the chicken so don’t let it spend too much time on the other side. Just enough for some color. This should lead to juicy, well cooked chicken, not dry.
Garlic Basil Mayo:
- 1/2 cup packed torn fresh basil leaves
- 1/2 large clove of garlic, chopped roughly
- 1/2 tablespoon of red wine vinegar (or any vinegar of your choice)
- 1/2 cup of mayonnaise (homemade is the best)
All 1/2′s. Easy to remember.
Add basil, garlic, and vinegar to a food processor. We have a small little chopper/food processor that we use for this and love and also a full-size KitchenAid food processor that has a blade that doesn’t quite reach the bottom so small amounts food (like this recipe) sometimes get stuck there (it’s really annoying, next time we’ll get a Cuisinart, their blades are flush with the bottom). If you don’t have a small food processor just do everything by hand. Mince the basil and the garlic and mix in the vinegar. Whatever method you use to make your the ingredients smaller, stir in the mayo at the end.
Final assembly and cooking. Layer the ingredients and assemble the sandwiches.
The order of the ingredients on the sandwich doesn’t really matter. After all the ingredients…actually that reminds me. Don’t load on the ingredients. Panini purists would probably tell you that this sandwich has too much on it. Less is more. It becomes difficult to smash and handle properly if everything is oozing out the sides (with the exception of the cheese).
Drizzle oil on top of the bread and spread it out with a brush if you like. Gently lift the sandwiches and place them oiled side down onto the grill. Drizzle oil on the other side of the sandwiches while on the grill and lower the lid or place a weight on the top. Compress the sandwiches as much as you like (I usually put all my weight on them). I like my panini fairly condensed. I’m not going list times. Just watch it. If you’re using a grill pan, flip the sandwich after it’s been browned nicely and replace the weight.
Any cheese that melts out the sides is delicious, almost heavenly. For this reason, I like to put a lot of cheese on mine and I like to smash my sandwich during the cooking process so that more cheese comes out the sides and hits the grill. When the garlic basil mayo gets smashed into the cheese it only improves matters. If you’ve ever had cheese fondue, then you understand. The crusty, chewy, browned cheese that sits right on the bottom of the pot, over the heat, is always the best.
Take the sandwiches off, make sure that everyone gets an equal amount of grilled cheese, and cut the sandwiches in half however you like (diagonal is better). Give the sandwich a minute to cool. The innards will be molten hot.
Enjoy with a huge salad
If you have any tips for making a great panini, that I didn’t mention, leave a comment. I would love to try it out.