One very special cheeseburger in my repertoire is a California creation—a big, juicy cheeseburger, warmed in a pan inside bread, like a grilled cheese sandwich. The only other element that defines it, in my opinion, is rye bread—though you see the Patty Melt at diners across the country now, sometimes with rye bread, sometimes without. The following version includes Swiss cheese (which I love on it), and fried onions. The cooking of the whole package in butter makes the homemade Patty Melt taste more like a diner burger than any other burger you’re likely to make at home. Ketchup? Of course. French fries and pickles too, on the side.
yields 4 classic patty melts
6 tablespoons butter at room temperature
2 large onions, peeled and thinly sliced
8 large slices rye bread
1 1/2 pounds ground beef
8 thin slices Swiss cheese
1. Melt 3 of the tablespoons of butter in a large skillet, preferably cast-iron, over medium heat. Add onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until caramelized, about 20 minutes. Remove onions from pan and set aside.
2. Lay rye bread flat on wax paper on a baking sheet. Butter each slice of bread on the top side, dividing a tablespoon of butter among the 8 slices. Flip them over, and butter the other sides of the 8 slices, once again dividing a tablespoon of butter among them.
3. Re-heat the skillet that cooked the onions over medium heat. Toast bread on both sides in the skillet, until the bread is light gold, about 1 minute per side. Set aside.
4. Divide beef into 4 evenly-sized pieces. Shape each piece into an oval patty, about 1/2-inch thick. Season both sides of the patties with salt and pepper. In the same skillet as above, over medium-high heat, cook patties about 2 1/2 to 3 minutes per side for medium-rare doneness. Remove from skillet and assemble sandwiches.
5. Lay out 4 slices of toasted bread. Top each with 1/4 of the onion mixture, then a slice of cheese, a beef patty and a second slice of cheese. Top with the remaining 4 toast slices.
6. Melt remaining 1 tablespoon butter in pan. Toast sandwiches on both sides, about 1 minute per side, until bread is toasty-brown and cheese is melted. Serve immediately.
photo: Robyn Lee