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Grilled bread is a versatile, multi-purpose accompaniment that once you master it’s relatively simple technique, will become a crowd-pleasing stable at your table. In grilling bread, your goal is to maintain a slightly spongy interior to the bread and “wrap it” in a crunchy exterior. The charring provides a more complex flavor than simply toasting. The spongy interior enables bread to absorb liquids. Taken together, it is an altogether more compelling experience and than fully crisp cracker or oven-baked crostini.
Grilling bread is more a matter of staring with good bread and technique than it is a recipe. Good bread is critical. You want bread that has a firm crust with a spongy interior rather than a cottony interior. Sourdough is best. Ciabatta is a bread that has the sort of texture you want and is often available in supermarkets. In my experience, if you live in the Philadelphia area, the best bread comes from Metropolitan Bakery.
Here’s what you need to grill bread: Good bread, spring tongs, a bread knife — though you could use pre-sliced bread, olive oil, and, of course, a grill or grill pan. Pictured above is a Metropolitan ficelle in the foreground and a Metropolitan Country White. A ficelle is a smaller-sized baguette-style bread. Due to its smaller size, it makes for a somewhat more “mouth-friendly” sized hors d’oeuvres.
There are several ways to cut your “baguette-style” ficelle. Cutting it straight across makes more round slices.
A bias or angle cut produces longer more oval slices. The rounder sizes are on the right.
In foreground are bias cut — longer and thinner than the rounder straight cut in background.
This is a loaf of Metropolitan Bakery Country White. Larger pieces of grilled bread are better for accompaniments with dishes that have liquids that beg to be sopped up on bread.
By cutting the bread yourself rather than buying it sliced enables you to control the thickness of your bread. Cut slices about 1/2 to 1-inch thick. Cut large slices in half.
A variety of cuts. The cuts from ficelle are ideal for hors d’oeuvres or cheese. The half slices and “fingers” work best served with something that has liquid that needs something more spongy such as an amply dressed tomato salad or steamed mussels.
Pre-heat grill, or in this case, the grill pan over moderate-high heat. You may need to slightly adjust heat source if you find bread grilling too quickly or too slowly.
Place bread on grill.
Once bread is well-grilled on one side, turn it and grill on other side. Don’t hesitate to sample an occasional piece as you go to check bread’s progress — slightly crunchy exterior and lightly spongy interior. Another “tell” is bread should still be slightly pliable when you bend it rather than fully crisp. Once you do this, the “skills” and “tells” of grilling bread will become second nature for you.
Thinner bread has less room for error if you want to maintain a slightly spongy interior.
Ideally you want bread to visually “express” it’s place of cooking, ie. grill marks. The variable amounts of charring, from dark to light, produces a pleasingly complex flavor “profile.”
Once all your bread is grilled, lightly brush on both sides with olive oil. Serve immediately or within a few hours. If bread sits longer than that, it will be helpful to re-fresh in oven.
Bread can be stored for up to five days in an airtight container and refreshed before serving.
If you have stored bread, simply refresh by placing on tray and…
…place in pre-heated 350 degree oven. The smaller pieces need 3-5 minutes and larger, thicker pieces take 7-10 minutes. You goal is to restore the crunchy exterior crust while maintaining a slightly spongy interior.
Grilled bread is the ideal accompaniment to Marinated Roast Sweet & Hot Peppers. Serve a bowl of peppers along with a basket of grilled bread — including a small fork for guests to make their own.
Or make individual hors d’oeuvres and serve on a platter.