Cherry BBQ Chicken Grilled Cheese / by Chelsea Zwieg

You guys, today is such a good day! Not only is it May (finally!) but I get to share this sandwich recipe with you. And it is SO good. Like wake up in the middle of the night thinking about it good. Ramble on and on to people that really don't care about the grilled cheese you made last week good. But now I get to ramble to you and, since I know you enjoy a good grilled cheese (otherwise, why would you be here), I know I'm in good company. 

What I love so much about grilled cheese is that there are pretty much endless possibilities for what you can do with it. The fact that slices of american cheese on plain bread seems to be the standard when people think grilled cheese is really a sign of the great disservice we have done to it over the years. Don't get me wrong, I would never turn down a classic, american cheesy grilled cheese with some tomato soup, and I went through a serious grilled cheese Uncrustables phase in middle school. But when there are things like pretzel bread (!) and cherry bbq sauce (!) and pepper jack cheese (!) being thrown around, I will be leaving that microwaveable, yellow-y cheese thing faster than you can say i-love-grilled-cheese-so-very-much-and-all-i-want-is-cherry-bbq-sauce (It's hard to move fast and eat a grilled cheese at the same time, ok?).

There is a grilled cheese restaurant in Chicago called Cheesie's (it's the greatest thing in the world) and the sandwich that I always get there has bbq chicken tenders on it. I know it sounds odd, but there is something about the melty cheese, and tangy sauce all together that just makes my heart sing. Actually it makes me so happy that I've probably sang out loud about it a little too. 

But, in the name of getting our summer on, I made a cherry bbq sauce. It is sweet, tangy and so seriously delicious. Now if you are thinking that making bbq sauce from scratch sounds like a a pretty big commitment for a grilled cheese, hold it right there. Making bbq sauce (when you do it the shortcut ketchup way that I live by) is actually a very easy process. And it only takes 15 minutes. So in the time that you get your chicken situated, your cheese shredded and your bread sliced the sauce will be simmering away and ready to be slathered all up in that sandwich. Add to that some pickled red onions, spicy giardiniera and mozzarella cheese (because one kind would not nearly be enough) in between some salty, crispy pretzel bread and you are looking at one stone cold killer of a grilled cheese. 

Oh, and those fries hanging out in the background? Oven baked, crispy, salty goodness coming to you in the next post! 

Cherry BBQ Chicken Grilled Cheese

Serves 4

| Ingredients

For the BBQ Chicken: 

  • 2 boneless chicken breasts (you could also save major time and use shredded rotisserie chicken) 
  • 1 cup ketchup
  • 1 cup frozen, pitted cherries 
  • 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 1 tbsp. molasses
  • 2 tbsp worcestershire sauce
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1 tsp. paprika
  • 1 tsp. onion powder
  • 1/2 tsp. salt

For the pickled red onions: 

  • 1 small red onion, thinly sliced
  • 1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 2 tsp. sugar
  • 1 tsp. salt

For the sandwiches: 

  • 1 cup giardiniera 
  • 1 cup shredded pepper jack cheese
  • 2 cups shredded mozzarella
  • 8 slices pretzel bread or 4 pretzel rolls, split
  • 4 tbsp. butter, softened

| Instructions

Preheat oven to 400. Place chicken breasts in a shallow baking dish and drizzle with a little olive oil. Bake 30-35 minutes, until cooked through. After chicken has cooled slightly, shred using your fingertips or two forks. Set aside. 

Meanwhile, place sliced red onion in a medium bowl. Bring vinegar, sugar, salt and 1 cup water to a simmer in a saucepan. Pour hot vinegar mixture over onions. Let sit for at least 30 minutes. Drain and rinse under cold water before using. 

In a medium saucepan, combine all ingredients for bbq sauce. Bring to a boil over high heat then reduce heat and let simmer 15-20 minutes, until the sauce has thickened. As it cooks, stir occasionally, mashing the cherries as they begin to cook down. 

Once the sauce has finished cooking, add 1 1/2 cups to the shredded chicken and stir to coat. Depending on how long the sauce has cooked, you may have a little extra. You can always add it to the sandwich later if you like it really saucy, or save it for dipping. 

To assemble the sandwiches, heat 2 tbsp. butter in  a large skillet over high heat. Spread the remaining butter on one side of each bread slice. Place 4 slices butter side down in the skillet. Add 1/2 cup mozzarella to each slice. Divide the chicken between the 4 sandwiches. Add 1/4 cup giardiniera, pickled red onions and pepper jack cheese to each. Top with the remaining slices of bread, butter side up. Cook, flipping once, until the cheese is melty and the bread is crisp and golden brown, 1-2 minutes per side.