I usually don’t enter recipe contests but when my friend Nick from DudeFoods.com said he was contacted by Sargento to hold an Ultimate Grilled Cheese Contest I decided to give it a shot, though I had no idea what I was going to do. I thought about the classic grilled cheese and tomato soup pairing and used that as my starting point. People have been trying to capture that tomato essence in their grilled cheese by adding slices of fresh tomato or tomato jams or chutney but I wanted the true essence of tomato soup and not some homemade kind but the kind that 99 percent us enjoyed as kids, concentrated tomato soup from a can.
I decided that the best approach would be to use some Agar, which is a gelification agent included in a Texturas kit I received as a gift last year. This kit contains a bunch of food grade chemicals that are used by cutting edge chefs like Ferran Adria (who owns the world-famous El Bulli restaurant in Spain and the company that sells the Texturas kit), Grant Achatz (of Chicago’s Alinea) and Marcel Vigneron who introduced molecular gastronomy to wider TV audiences on Top Chef.
Agar (sometimes labeled as Agar Agar) powder is derived from seaweed and will turn any liquid into a gel but unlike regular gelatin, which melts when heated, Agar can withstand heat up to around 170 degrees and still hold its shape so you can serve it hot – perfect for grilled cheese. The best part is that you can usually find Agar powder or flakes at natural food stores like Outpost or Good Harvest since vegans use it in place of gelatin, which contains animal products.
I took 1 teaspoon of the Agar powder and added it to 1 cup of hot tomato soup (I used Dei Fratelli Zesty Tomato because that is what we had in the cabinet but Campbell’s would work just as well) then spread it out on a plate which I put in the fridge.
Within less than 30 minutes it was set up and I had myself some tomato soup gel which I then cut into a square that would fit on a sandwich.
I wanted to keep it as close to a classic grilled cheese as possible so I used white bread, 2 slices of Sargento medium cheddar cheese, and butter. Nothing fancy. I put the tomato soup gel in between the two slices of cheese and grilled it over medium high heat until the cheese was melted.
When I cut into the sandwich the gel had slightly melted. The sandwich was really good, much better than I had anticipated, probably because the tomato consistency was perfect (I was afraid it would be too much like tomato jello). The Agar is flavorless so you got the regular taste of a grilled cheese but you had this awesome tomato soup in every bite without having to actually dip it in a bowl of soup. The success of this sandwich has me thinking about what to do next. I think making a beer gel and making beer cheese sandwiches on rye with mustard might be next.
Recipe (enough for 2 sandwiches)
1 cup of prepared canned tomato soup
1 teaspoon of agar powder
4 slices of White bread
4 slices of Sargento Medium Cheddar Cheese
Add 1 teaspoon of the Agar powder to 1 cup of hot tomato soup made according to the directions on the can (some require adding water) and bring it back to a boil, stirring until the powder is dissolved.
Spread it out on a plate or any container with a flat bottom. You may want to spray some non-stick cooking oil spray just in case.
Chill in fridge for at least 30 min or until it sets up.
Using a knife and a slice of cheese as your template, cut the tomato soup gel into a squares that would fit on a sandwich.
Butter the bread on one side then add one slice of cheese, the tomato soup gel, another slice of cheese and then the other slice of buttered bread. Cook as you would a traditional grilled cheese.
I encourage you to vote for me on the Dudefoods.com facebook page so I can win some cool shit!!