How to Make Paninis Like a Pro
At its simplest, a panini is a sandwich of cheese, meat and vegetables, toasted on both sides. But it is SO much more. Warm and gooey, crispy and crunchy, flavours working together for the ultimate bite.
Like all great cooking, using quality ingredients makes a difference. However, it only takes small amounts of each to put together a truly magnificent panini. The only limit is your flavour imagination.
Paninis can be assembled then grilled right away. Or use your time more efficiently by prepping some in advance, wrapping and storing in the fridge, then grill to order. If there is an ingredient or two that wouldn't fare well being stored that way (greens and herbs, sliced tomato), leave it out and add it in right before grilling.
A panini grill is the perfect piece of equipment for the ultimate grilled sandwich. If you don't own a panini grill, don’t despair, there are other ways to replicate toasting sandwiches from both sides. The Italians managed without one for years until the panini grill was invented. Thomas Edison designed a precursor to the modern panini grill but it wasn't until many decades later that panini grills became mainstream (even in Italy).
Building a great panini sandwich is simple, seriously. It won't be long until you are making paninis like a pro.
Begin with Bread
Panini begins and ends with the bread. It is the building block and sets the stage for the sandwich. A soft white bread or a rustic multigrain peasant bread both make a great panini, the secret is matching it to the texture of the filling. Bite into a panini that has a crusty bread and a soft filling will squeeze out.
Think beyond the loaf. Naan, tortilla, flatbreads, pita or even buns are a great beginning.
Spread the Flavour
Condiments are that little something that can leave your guests wondering why your paninis are so delicious. Your spreads can either compliment or contrast with the other ingredients in your sandwiches.
Nothing is off limits: mayonnaise, salad dressing, BBQ sauce, gochujang, orange marmalade, pesto, tapenade, caponata, hummus or guacamole.
A mango chutney adds sweet, savoury and tangy flavours to a simple Honey Crisp Apple and Smoked Cheddar Panini. A maple mustard elevates a Ham and Swiss Panini.
Getting Cheesy (or Not Cheesy)
The element that holds all the glorious goodness together, cheese adds flavour, texture and envelopes all of the other ingredients for a perfect bite.
Typically you want to choose a cheese with some melting properties. They can be warm and relaxed or stringy and gooey.
Slices are great, pre-portioned and ready to go, however, depending on the size of your bread slices, they may not quite fit. Slicing your own cheese gives you more control on the size and is typically more cost effective. But using shredded cheese (or crumbled) is an option so you can put it exactly where it needs to go no matter the shape of your sandwich.
Against Italian protocol, there are a variety of plant-based cheese products available that can fill the dairy-free void. Now available in a range of cheese flavour and styles.
Filling in Flavour
Sliced deli meat is traditional - simple, quick and a flavourful addition to any panini. But really, any protein is fair game. Roasted chicken, salmon, pulled pork, paper-thin grilled flank steak, eggs and even mashed beans.
Just be careful of texture; you want to be able to take a bite into the panini without the protein making it difficult.
Raw, roasted or grilled, sliced or shredded, pile on the vegetables (and fruits). Remember the greens - spinach, arugula, beet greens, cilantro, cress, parsley all bring a bright fresh component to paninis.
Bring on the Heat
Panini grills are a simple and effective way to grill sandwiches from both sides, removing the need to flip and cutting down on the cook time. There is a wide range of styles and price range. For details on what to consider when buying a commercial panini grill our guide can help.
A preheated grill is imperative.
If you want a quick clean up or don't want to transfer flavours between different kind of sandwiches, grab some parchment paper. Assemble sandwiches on small rectangles of parchment then transfer paper and all to the preheated grill. Add another small piece to the top, close and grill.
CHEF TIP: Want some extra cheese (who doesn't?) on the outside of your panini, too? Place your panini on the preheated grill. Sprinkle on some shredded cheese, cover with parchment, close and grill.
No panini grill? A grill pan (cast iron works best) plus another heavy pan can work together to make an excellently pressed panini. Heat the empty grill pan on high until searing hot, add the prepared sandwich and place the bottom of the heavy pan on top (add weight to the top pot if you need it heavier). Flip the sandwich over after about 3 minutes. You can also use a foil wrapped brick instead of a heavy pan on top or "borrow" the steak weight from the BBQ.
If you want to speed up cooking, use two pans - again, cast iron works best. Heat both empty pans on high until searing hot. Add the sandwich to one and place the bottom of the other on top to press and heat. You might still need to flip the sandwich depending on how well your top pan retains heat,
If you want to make multiple sandwiches at once, use two grill pan sheets. Preheat both sheets in the oven, place the sandwiches on one sheet and top with the other and return to the oven for 3-4 minutes. Full size sheets (12 x 20) can grill about six paninis at a time, depending on the panini size.
No matter the time of day, there's a panini on the menu.
Bombay Chicken Panini
Kitchen staples come together in this sweet and savoury panini bursting with Indian flavours. Assemble these sandwiches in advance (keep them refrigerated) and grill to order.
Makes 1 sandwich
2 slices bread
1-2 tsp butter/margarine/oil
1 tbsp mango chutney
1 tsp mayonnaise
1/4 cup shredded cheddar
1 thin slice red onion, separated
4 thin slices of tomato
fresh cilantro leaves
1/2 cup cooked chicken
garam masala seasoning
Kitchen Equipment & Tools
1. Preheat panini grill to high. Thinly spread butter on one side of each bread slice. Flip bread over. On one slice spread mayonnaise and spread mango chutney on the other.
2. On the slice with mango chutney, sprinkle half of the cheese. Evenly top with onion, tomato, spinach, cilantro and chicken. Sprinkle with garam masala seasoning then remaining cheese. Place slice of bread over top with the mayonnaise side onto the cheese.
3. Place prepared sandwich onto preheated grill. Close the lid, pressing slightly. Allow to grill for 3-5 minutes or until lightly browned and heated through. Carefully lift from panini grill using a larger turner and place on cutting board. Cut in half on the diagonal. Enjoy!
Chef Tips• No panini grill? Read our Panini: Recipe and Tips for how to grill a panini without a panini grill
• Naan bread, garlic or plain is a delicious option
• Vegetarian? Switch chicken for mashed chickpeas
• Swap the spinach for arugula or beet greens
• You can use margarine or oil instead of butter