The Masters Tournament started yesterday (Go Tiger! ...oh, never mind.), and Bon Appétit's Adam Rapoport is chatting about Masters foods, and dammit, that's a perfectly good excuse to remind you that our pimento cheese karate-chops the shriveled, linen-suit-clad nards off the orange sludge they're serving at Augusta National. Try it for yourself! It's really great. The instructions are below.
The worst thing the Masters ever did—besides, y'know, all the other stuff—was to ruin the reputation of the pimento cheese sandwich, a wonderful Southern invention that is now known primarily as the official foodstuff of the exclusionary cracker-nostalgia amusement park known as Augusta National Golf Club. That's a shame, because pimento cheese sandwiches are goddamn scrumptious.
This is where a Yankee or two among you may find yourself asking, as you hitch up your whale pants, But food person, whatever is this pimento cheese to which you refer? Well, let me tell you, Mr. Plimpton: Pimento cheese is a sharp, punchy, spreadable, knee-bucklingly delicious cheese spread; by dint of its incidental, totally mundane association with the Masters and Augusta's putrid legacy shithole, i.e. Confederate Lourdes, it has attained a status among the low-talking golf boobs on ESPN as some sanctified relic of Old Dixie virtue or some shit, oh no, they changed the recipe, whatever will happen to the ghost of Bobby Jones, I am gonna rend my suspenders and pee my high-waisted linen pants, fetch me a lemonade, my chattel slave, for surely I shall swoon. It really does taste fucking great, when prepared well. Let's try to focus on that—on the deliciousness of this fairly simple cheese spread that is not at all responsible for the preposterously and offensively exalted status of the old-coot petting zoo in which it is most famously served. OK?
OK. Let's just do this.
Ultimately, pimento cheese is made by transmuting many different edible things into very small pieces, putting them in a big bowl, and mixing them together. This is to say that it is not the most sophisticated of recipes. However, in order to get to the dumping-a-bunch-of-chopped-up-(figurative)-shit-into-a-bowl-and-mixing-it stage of the process, one of the things you must do is acquire roasted red bell peppers.
(A note, here. You should know that, at the precise moment I hit the space bar after typing the word "bell" in the previous sentence, a volley of rifle fire and shotgun pellets spattered off the south-facing wall of my home. Yes, this preparation of "pimento" cheese includes roasted red bell peppers instead of, y'know, pimentos, and that's OK, apart from the extent to which I have signed my own death warrant by suggesting such a thing. Look. Pimentos are not always the easiest thing in the world to find in your average grocery store, especially in the quantities needed to make a big batch of "pimento" cheese, unless you want to buy 200 trillion pimento olives and extract the microscopic goddamn pimento chips from each fucking one, purely for the empty, transient ideological satisfaction of sucking up to tradition. Furthermore, when you can find pimentos in your local supermarket, they're often a bit more expensive than their familiar bell cousin. And, finally [straps on body armor] [crosses self] [by thus identifying as a dirty pagan, consigns self to further violence from het-up southern WASPs] [resigns self to fate], roasted red bell peppers friggin' taste better, OK? They just do. Shut up.)
(NASCAR is garbage, too. Thhbppthhppbbpp.)
You can decide for yourself how you want to go about acquiring these roasted red bell peppers: Whether to purchase a jar or can of roasted red peppers packed in oil or water, or to go to your supermarket's self-serve bulk salad bar (if it contains one) and scoop out some somewhat fresher roasted red peppers, or what, but allow me to advocate on behalf of roasting your own, here.
Roasting peppers is kind of a pain in the ass. The process is very simple, but nevertheless slow and a little bit messy and, in the case of a foodstuff like pimento cheese, will account for roughly 748 percent of the total preparation time. I'm generally on the avoiding-pains-in-the-ass side of any divide, but the roasted red bell pepper is one of the few instances in which the canned/jarred/scooped-out-of-a-bin-in-a-bulk-salad-bar option is wildly, outrageously inferior to the pain-in-the-ass do-it-yourself option. Home-roasted red peppers have a deep, rich sweetness that carries across your palate just the slightest, subtlest red tang; the effect is that your tastebuds and salivary glands make eyes at each other, share a drink, dance the lambada together, fuck like crazed primates, and procreate all the unseemly drool your face can possibly eject onto your shirt. Jarred red bell peppers, on the other hand, exist. That is all that can be said of them. So, please: roast your own bell peppers, just this once. Do it for your face, which has not had sex with itself in a long time.
So, yeah, the process takes too long and is messy, but, as noted above, it's very simple. Preheat your oven to 500 degrees (450 if it won't go to 500) and stick, say, three or even four big red bell peppers in there until their skins turn black. Then, remove them from the oven, stick them in a big freezer bag, seal the bag, and twiddle your thumbs for, oh, 10 minutes or so. (That may seem like a lot of twiddling to you. This is just an indication that your twiddling muscles are atrophied. Twiddle like the wind!) After 10 minutes, remove the now soft and deflated peppers from the bag, drop them on a large plate, and peel the skin off of them with your fingers. Discard the skins. You are now the proud owner of home-roasted red peppers. Try not to make sweet love to them just yet.
Now that you've acquired them, it's time to finely chop your roasted red peppers. Note that as you do so, your peppers are likely to discharge quite a bit of steaming red liquid. This is why you dropped your peppers on a large plate earlier, instead of a cutting board: you want to preserve as much of this liquid as you can, and the raised rim of the plate is going to help you with that. Yes, this makes the mincing process quite a bit more awkward than if you were doing it atop a cutting board, but it's worth the inconvenience. Here's why.
There are many recipes for pimento cheese, and, leaving aside the ones proffered on the beachside dry-erase whiteboards of schizophrenic transients, they're all likely to yield fairly tasty results. The one thing, however, that most of them get wrong (and here we're using the word "wrong" to mean not "inauthentic to the traditional preparation," which is something about which we do not give one single damn, but rather, "less good than the best possible way to do it, and for no particular reason, and therefore stupid") is the consistency—the gloopy, soggy, hummus-like consistency—of the cheese substance they output.
Pimento cheese should (and here once again we are using the word "should" not to indicate the Dixie orthodoxy on the matter but to orient ourselves toward what tastes best and is most satisfying to eat) be spreadable, but only just; it should be at least as thick as peanut butter, and ideally a bit thicker. It should contain just enough liquid to hold it together as a coherent, spreadable paste, rather than a hash of disparate ingredients, and that liquid ought to enrich the flavor of the final product as much as possible. You're using the sweet, rich red pepper liquid because it is tastier than mayonnaise, and however much slack is left over in the binding department at the end of this process, it's going to get picked up by mayonnaise, which doesn't contribute much at all.
So. You've got your minced peppers and (hopefully) a bunch of red pepper juice; chuck the peppers and liquid into the biggest bowl you have, unless the biggest bowl you have is the Rose Bowl, I mean, I feel like I shouldn't even have to tell you that, what the hell is your deal, City of Pasadena, use your brain for once, jeez.
And now, repeat the mincing-and-chucking step with a bunch of other stuff. One medium-sized red onion, a few cloves of garlic, the green parts of a bunch of scallions, and (hang on, we have to gird ourselves against another volley from the but that ain't traditional yawl! crowd) a fistful of fresh dill. The important thing here is that all of this stuff has to be chopped small. Very small. Infuriatingly small. I'm sorry. It's going to be annoying, and, if your kitchen knife is less than ideally sharp (and especially if you are using the side of a spoon because that is your only clean item of kitchenware because you are a derelict), you are going to get onion juice in your eye and it is going to suck and you are going to curse the day I was born and I am going to deserve it. The payoff will come in the form of about four tons of consistent, vivid, outrageously delicious cheese spread that you are going to enjoy so much that you will hunch over the bowl and hiss viciously over your shoulder at anyone who comes near and the pupils of your eyes will transform into frightening vertical slits, and, just to be clear, you're meant to understand that that's a good thing.
Now you've got a bunch of vegetable dust in a big bowl, and it's time to move on to the cheese part of the pimento cheese preparation. Shred a bunch of cheese into your big bowl. Two pounds of the stuff: one pound of cheddar (decide for yourself the degree of sharpness you want to use) and one pound of pepper jack. You don't need a very fine grate on the cheese, so long as it's shredded consistently, which is nice, because shredding cheese is a fucking chore. Don't go for the bagged pre-shredded stuff, here: What you are preparing is a cheese-centric product, and if the cheese sucks, so will the product. Buy a couple of blocks of actual cheese and shred them yourself. You'll save money this way, in addition to making exponentially tastier pimento cheese that does not contain any pimentos.
Your bowl now contains two pounds of shredded cheese and the minced remains of a bunch of different plants. Using your hands (yay!), mix and toss everything together until it's all well blended and evenly distributed. As you do this, evaluate your nascent pimento cheese. It's not quite holding together as a paste yet, is it? No, it is not. Grab a big spoon, add a spoonful of real, fatty mayonnaise, and stir with the spoon. Is it holding together just yet? Not quite, right? Add another spoonful of mayonnaise, and stir again. Are we there? Probably! (This will depend somewhat on how big an onion you used, how much red pepper liquid you were able to reserve, whether you decided to add several cups of Cap'n Crunch for some texture, you fucking idiot, why do you ruin everything, and so on.) Repeat as needed, which is to say, not very many times at all, until your pimento cheese hangs together as a coherent, unified substance that could be spread on a cracker with no more effort than that required by room-temperature brie. There. You are done.
No, you fucking aren't! Squirt some sriracha in there. The Augusta National types will just love the idea of you adding some bottled foreign hot sauce to their totem of Old South bullshit gentility.
Now it's time to assemble pimento cheese sandwiches. This is pretty straightforward. Toast a slice of bread, spread some of your pimento cheese on it, top the cheese with a thick slice of a good, fresh tomato and some crunchy lettuce (romaine or iceberg, or whatever you like), top those with another slice of toast, cut the fucker into triangles, and serve. With beer. Lots of it.
Your pimento cheese tastes like … well, it tastes like lots of things, onion and garlic and dill and cheese and sweet bell peppers and hot chili peppers and so on. The flavor is all of those, but mostly it's vivid and intense and fun and very, very, criminally good. The way it plays around with the bright tang of the tomato, the smoothness it sets off against the crunch of the lettuce and the toast, the shifting, tumbling assortment of flavors that go trekking across your ecstatic palate, oh man, shit, I am gonna have like 12 of these sandwiches, aren't I, damn, it's a good thing I made eight friggin' pounds of the stuff.
Wipe the corners of your mouth with a Confederate battle flag. This pimento cheese belongs to you, hungry eater of the 21st century, and not to them.
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Albert Burneko is an eating enthusiast and father of two. His work can be found destroying everything of value in his crumbling home. Peevishly correct his foolishness at email@example.com. You can find lots more Foodspin at foodspin.deadspin.com.
Illustration by Devin Rochford.