For YEARS, I ate at Waffle House and NEVER strayed from the breakfast menu. I'd always get a sausage, egg & cheese sandwich, with a side of hash browns or, occasionally, a pecan waffle. Finally, I decided to branch out a little bit, and, not wanting a burger, but still feeling "sandwich-y", opted on "Lib's Patty Melt". It was simple and delicious; a griddle-cooked hamburger patty, served on white toast and sandwiched between melty, gooey cheese and a healthy scoop of caramelized onions. It's now known as the "Texas Angus Patty Melt" and is served on Texas Toast, and with Angus beef. Steak 'N Shake has a pretty damn fine patty melt as well, too.
Traditionally, a patty melt is served on rye bread, though sourdough is pretty common as well. The cheese is usually Swiss cheese, and the caramelized onions are a MUST. The entire sandwich is then grilled in butter, making the patty melt basically a hamburger/grilled cheese hybrid.
If you don't like rye bread, feel free to use sourdough. The key is to use a chewy and dense bread, and white rye fits that bill perfectly. The Swiss cheese has a great mild flavor, but adding American cheese seriously turns up the melty factor. For the onions, anything will do (well, except red onions), but I like to go with a sweet yellow onion, or, occasionally, the classic Southern Vidalia. Most importantly, the meat needs to have a good amount of fat, since fat equals flavor. Ground chuck works GREAT - it's very reasonably priced and has a great fat percentage without being TOO fatty, which allows for a great crusty sear without shrinking up too much.
One of the secrets to this sandwich? Cooking the onions AFTER you cook the patties; the onions will absorb all of the great pan flavors from the beef, and will cook MUCH more quickly as well.
Patty Melt Sandwiches
adapted from Serious Eats
1/2 lb ground chuck
3/4 stick (6 Tbsp) unsalted butter
4 slices rye bread
4 slices Swiss cheese
4 slices American cheese
1 sweet onion, halved & thinly sliced
Form the ground chuck into 2 patties, with each patty about the size/shape of one of the slices of rye bread. Set aside.
Melt 1 Tbsp of butter in a skillet over medium heat. Add a spinkle of kosher salt to the butter. Add 2 slices of rye bread and cook for about 2-3 minutes (without flipping) or until the bread is golden and lightly toasted. Remove from heat.
Place the Swiss cheese slices atop the cooked side of the bread, leaving a small gap around the edges and tearing the cheese into pieces if necessary.
Melt another 1 Tbsp of butter in the same skillet, add salt, and cook the remaining 2 slices of rye bread until golden and lightly toasted. Remove from heat. I used a LARGE skillet, so I was able to do both sandwiches at once.
Place the American cheese slices atop the cooked side of the bread, leaving a small gap around the edges and tearing the cheese into pieces if necessary. You should now have 4 slices of buttered, toasted bread; 2 slices topped with Swiss cheese, and 2 slices topped with American cheese.
Season the ground chuck patties with salt and pepper on both sides. Melt 1 Tbsp of butter in the skillet over high heat. Add the patties and cook for 30 seconds without touching or moving the patties. Reduce the heat to medium-high and cook an additional minute, without moving or touching the patties, in order to form a good sear and crust.
Flip the patties and cook the other side for another 1 1/2 minutes without moving. Remove from heat and cover with foil to keep warm.
Add 1 Tbsp of butter to the skillet and reduce the heat to medium. Add the sliced onion and 2 Tbsp of water. Season with salt and pepper, then cook, stirring constantly & scraping up any browned fond from the bottom of the skillet. Once the water evaporates and the onions begin to fry and brown, add another 2 Tbsp of water and continue cooking and stirring.
Once the water evaporates and the onions begin to fry and brown, add another 2 Tbsp of water and continue cooking and stirring. Once the water evaporates and the onions begin to fry and brown, add another 2 Tbsp of water and continue cooking and stirring.
At this point, you should have used 8 Tbsp (1/2 cup) of water, and the onions should be soft and a deep golden brown. Add any juices from the plate holding the cooked patties and cook for about 30 seconds.
Divide the onions evenly onto the 4 slices of cheese-topped rye. Place the cooked patties atop the American cheese-topped slices, then flip the Swiss cheese-topped slices on top and close the sandwich.
Melt 1 Tbsp of butter in the skillet over medium heat. Once melted, sprinkle with a bit of kosher salt and add the sandwiches. Cook for about 3-5 minutes or until golden brown. Remove from skillet, melt another 1 Tbsp of butter, sprinkle with salt, and return the sandwiches to the skillet to cook the OTHER side for about 3-5 minutes or until golden brown.