Grilled cheese from Friends

The article's author prefers sharp cheddar and pepper Jack to classic American cheese. (Kate Krader/Bloomberg)

The year 2020 was supposed to be a big one for fans who had reached capacity on reruns of the hit show “Friends.”

A much-hyped live reunion was slated for March as a drum roll to help launch HBO Max. COVID-19 shut down that party. The show was rescheduled for the end of summer, but that’s been pushed back, too. “The cast of ‘Friends’ will be there for you … eventually,” reported Variety.

The show’s popularity has stayed strong since it went off the air in 2004: In 2018, Netflix spent $100 million to keep running episodes through 2019. Fans watched 54.3 million hours of the show that year, making it one of the top two on Netflix, according to Neilson ratings.

Now a book is here for those desperate to restart their relationship with Monica, Rachel, Joey, Ross, et al. “Friends: The Official Cookbook,” by Amanda Yee (Insight Editions; $30) contains 70-plus recipes and a ton of nostalgic pictures. The recipes are based on references from episodes over the course of the show’s 10 seasons. There are such cult favorites as Phoebe’s grandmother’s cookies, as well as random ones such as the G. Stephanopoulos Pizza (based on an erroneous pie delivery) and Wedding Pigs in a Blanket.

As far as pop culture cookbooks go, this one’s an outlier. The results are surprisingly solid, created by a professional chef, not Monica (actress Courteney Cox from Alabama), who plays one on TV. Author Yee, a big fan of “Friends,” started the restaurant Blues Woman in Copenhagen and cooks with James Beard-nominated chef Bryant Terry; the two are collaborating on the book Black Food, scheduled for 2021. “My hope is that people will be able to slow down and continue to nurture new and old relationships through the sharing of a meal,” she says about the “Friends” cookbook and the memories it inspires.

Yee’s recipe for a bang-up grilled cheese includes an Emmy-worthy tomato jam, something you can use to pump up a multitude of dishes, including turkey burgers and cheese plates.

Friends fans will know the grilled cheese backstory from the first season. Chandler hates Thanksgiving because it’s the day his parents told him they were getting divorced, so he prepares a “traditional holiday feast”: grilled cheese, tomato soup and the fake onion ring Funyuns. Yee hacks the meal by turning the soup into a sweet, spiced jam that’s spread on the bread; the Funyons are reconfigured as caramelized onions that are stuffed into the sandwich before it’s skillet-grilled. The choice of cheese is up to the reader.

The result is a crispy, melty sandwich studded with sweet onions, and a tomato puree that hints at ketchup. But it still evokes Chandler and Friends: “Cut the sandwiches into squares, diagonals, or whatever shape the pilgrims didn’t use,” is the recipe’s final direction.

It’s a smart, fun trick. Even as a die-hard classicist on the grilled cheese front, I will make this version again – probably before the “Friends” reunion finally comes to pass.

The following recipe is adapted from “Friends: The Official Cookbook” by Amanda Yee.

Tester’s notes: You can use a store-bought tomato jam, but this one is simple. And unless you insist on American cheese in your grilled cheese, a stronger-flavored one such as sharp cheddar or pepper Jack will work best with the sweet jam.

Chandler’s Grilled Cheese with Tomato Jam

Makes 4 sandwiches

Tomato Jam

1 tablespoon ground cumin

1 pound cherry tomatoes

1/2 teaspoon grated fresh ginger

Zest and juice of 1/2 lemon

1/2 cup brown sugar

1/2 cup water

1/2 medium onion, sliced

1/2 tablespoon vegetable oil

Grilled Cheese

1/2 tablespoon olive oil

1 yellow onion, sliced

Unsalted butter, softened

8 slices sourdough bread

8-12 slices cheese of your choice

Make the tomato jam: In a medium heavy pot, combine all the ingredients over high heat. Let the mixture to come to a boil, stirring occasionally, then reduce the heat to low. Simmer until the jam thickens, about 1 hour. Let cool completely, then transfer to the refrigerator for at least 3 hours, or overnight.

Make the grilled cheese: Heat and add the oil. Add the onion slices and cook over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until soft and golden, about 10 minutes. Transfer to a bowl. Wipe off the pan with a paper towel.

Butter one side of each slice of bread. Flip the slices so they are all butter-side down on the work surface. Smear a generous layer of tomato jam on half of the bread slices, and top with 1 to 2 tablespoons of caramelized onions. On the other bread slices, place 2 to 3 slices of cheese.

Set the pan over moderate heat. Working in batches, take the bread slices with the cheese and place butter-side down in the pan and toast for about 3 minutes, until the cheese is melted and the bread is browned. Set the toasts cheese-side down on the caramelized onion slices. Transfer the whole sandwich back to the pan, un-toasted side down, and cook until for 2 to 3 minutes, until brown. Give the sandwich a firm pat with the spatula, to make sure the cheese is sticking to the onions, and remove from heat. Repeat with remaining sandwiches.

You can pair this with the recent recipe we shared for Tomato Soup with Grilled Cheese Croutons, though you may want to skip the croutons to avoid grilled cheese overload.

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