Cheesy fiery chicken-y sandwich

Recipe: πŸ§€ + πŸ”₯ + πŸ— + 🍞


Buldak is a Korean phrase that’s interpreted to mean: fire chicken (bul = fire, dak = chicken). Buldak is a heavily sauced chicken dish including course gochugaru (Korean chili flakes) and gochujang paste (Korean chili paste) in the recipe to bring the heat and spice.

Cheese buldak action shot!

In researching buldak for this post, I found a 2015 article from CNN Travel claims that for some South Koreans, eating spicy food is a stress reliever. After the year we’ve all had, I believe we can use some stress relief so I think we should make and eat more buldak.

This week we’re making cheesy buldak sandwiches inspired by a recipe from Maangchi. If you don’t know Maangchi, she’s a YouTube personality that cooks primarily Korean based food. She’s super wholesome and fun to watch. Here’s her video for Spicy fire chicken with cheese (Cheese Buldak: μΉ˜μ¦ˆλΆˆλ‹­) – she’s great, go watch it and try her recipe.

Maangchi’s buldak recipe is super spicy, but still very flavorful. It is a bit sweet and savory all at the same time and it leaves you with a pleasant lingering spicy heat that will keep each bite interesting. My wife and I both get excited when we make the decision to cook this dish again.

I altered the recipe to be whole boneless skinless chicken thighs which I prefer in a sandwich, but you can use chicken tenderloins or thin sliced/butterflied chicken breast if you’d like. The rest of the recipe is similar to Maangchi’s but I change the proportions and instructions to better fit sandwich making.

I like the idea of a larger, whole piece of chicken in my sandwich, but if you want to make a batch of cheese buldak with the chicken chopped up into bite sized pieces and put some leftovers in in a bun for sandwiching later, that’s a fantastic idea too.

There’s hot chicken and love beneath that beautiful layer of cheesy goodness. This is Maangchi’s recipe, click the links above for that.

As you’ll see in the photos below, I’ve made a ton of cheesy buldak sandwiches over the past year. I like it because you can whip up the sauce and cook the chicken within just a few minutes and then broil the cheese to melt and sandwich time comes super-fast after that.

The buns

I wanted a soft bun for these sandwiches, so I fell back on my potato bun recipe that I’ve been baking and tweaking for the past year or so. I whipped up a batch and sesame seeded most of the buns. I’ve explained this before, but if you want to add sesame seeds to a bun, you simply need to apply an egg wash (one whole beaten egg mixed with a tablespoon or so of water) and then sprinkle liberally with sesame seeds right before adding the buns to the oven.

2 hours and 45 minutes
Super soft potato buns

Need six super soft perfectly sized burger buns? The kind of bun that is slightly smaller than your burger patty so that you get a solid burger to bun ratio? Try this recipe.

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Do you prefer naked buns or sesame seed dressed buns?

The special ingredients

There are three special ingredients in this recipe that you might not be able to get at your local grocery. One ingredient isn’t quite as special as the others, but I still wanted to speak about it a tiny bit here.


First you add your chicken to this very spicy paste. Course gochugaru and gochujang paste are key ingredients for success.

Gochugaru

AKA: red pepper flakes or powder

I believe that the gochugaru is the least likely ingredient that you might find at your grocery store. I get mine at our local Korean market, but it’s easily available on Amazon (link below).

Make sure you buy the COURSE grind. I bought the fine grind the first time we made cheese buldak and it does make a big difference.

Gochugaru is the magic ingredient that you can use to adjust the heat in this recipe. Add more for more heat and less for less heat.

Buy Gochugaru (Amazon affiliate link)

Gochujang comes in tubs like the one here and squeeze tubes. We use it frequently, so we buy the tub.

Gochujang

There are many brands of gochujang, the one pictured is the one available at our local grocery and we enjoy it, but we have tried a few others. Gochujang is a great addition to marinades, stir frys and even things like mayonnaise for an extra flavor kick.

In our house we add gochujang to a few of our steak marinades and it has become something we just add a small or large spoonful to a lot of sauces and even soups if we want to add depth of flavor or spice.

Buy Gochujang (Amazon affiliate link)

If you’re making the main Cheesy Buldak dish, dice up a lot of low moisture mozzarella into half inch cubes. If you’re making Buldak sandwiches, you will want slices of cheese not cubes.

Low moisture mozzarella

Blocks of low moisture mozzarella should be at most large grocery store chains, but just remember, we’re not talking about the balls of fresh mozzarella here.

In a pinch you can use the shredded stuff for pizza, but I don’t really like pre-shredded cheese when you’re hoping for a good melt. Pre-shredded mozzarella has starches tossed in with the cheese to keep it from clumping.

If you can find a block of low moisture mozzarella, buy that.

Reheating leftovers

This recipe is quick to whip up once you have all your ingredients together. You could get it on some buns in half an hour or so. If you don’t eat all your sandwiches the first meal, you can easily reheat these for future sandwiches.

For reheating, I place a piece of chicken with a little scoop of sauce on a foil lined sheet pan and I bake it for about 7 or 8 minutes at 350 degrees F (175 C). After 7 or 8 minutes I remove the sheet pan, flip the chicken pieces (add more sauce if you have some) and cover it with cheese and return it to the oven. You can cook it another 3 minutes to melt the cheese or if you like your cheese to brown you could set it under the broiler for a minute or two.

In my experience with chicken thighs, the leftover sandwich is just as tasty as the first day.

Cheese buldak sandwiches

Here’s the recipe to try:

Cheese buldak sandwiches view printable page for this recipe

This is a spicy sandwich. The cheese and bun both help to cool things off a little, but you can adjust the heat by changing the amount of Gochugaru chili flakes. Inspired by Maangchi's Cheese Buldak recipe.

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Ingredients:

  • 1 lb boneless skinless chicken thighs or breast pieces
  • 14 cup gochugaru (course pepper flakes)
  • 2 tablespoons gochujang
  • 2 teaspoons soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable or canola oil
  • 14 teaspoon black pepper
  • 3 tablespoons corn syrup (or honey)
  • 4 large garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 teaspoon fresh ginger, minced
  • 14 cup water
  • 12 lb low moisture mozzarella cheese cut into slices
  • sliced green onion (garnish)
  • 6 soft hamburger buns or rolls

Directions:

In a medium bowl add gochugaru, gochujang, soy sauce, canola oil, black pepper, corn syrup, garlic and ginger. Stir well to combine. 

Add your six chicken thighs and mix everything up very well. You want all the chicken coated in the marinade. 

Place a large skillet over medium high heat and add 1 tablespoon of canola oil. Swirl the pan around to coat the bottom of the pan with oil as much as possible. 

When pan is hot, use tongs or a fork to place each chicken thigh in the hot pan. If your pan isn't large enough to cook all six thighs, you can cook in batches. 

DO NOT get rid of the bowl that has any leftover marinade in it. We will be using that to make our sauce

Cook each chicken thigh 3 minutes on the first side, flip and then cook 3 more minutes on the second side. Remove all chicken to a plate. 

Once all the chicken is done, add a quarter cup of water to the bowl where you marinaded your chicken. Mix the water around to loosen the marinade from the bowl. This will allow you to get it all into the pan. 

Pour all the leftover marinade with the water back into the pan where you cooked the chicken. Reduce the heat to medium. 

Add all of your chicken to the pan with the cooking marinade and nestle everything in together. 

Cover the pan and cook for 5 minutes. 

Remove pan from heat. 

Line a sheet pan with aluminum foil and add your pieces of chicken. If you're using large pieces make sure they're separated from the other pieces, if you're using small bite sized pieces make sure you place them in sandwich sized piles. If you're only making one or two sandwiches you can just add one or two pieces or chicken piles and use the rest for leftover sandwiches. 

On top of each piece of chicken add slices of mozzarella. Place sheet pan under the broiler and broil for 3 to 5 minutes. Pay very close attention though, everyone's broiler is different and things can burn very quickly. 

Once the cheese is broiled and melted to your satisfaction, remove the sheet pan. Allow the chicken to cool for a minute or so and then add each piece to a bottom bun. Add a little extra sauce if you want and garnish with the sliced green onion. 

Top with the bun top, serve and enjoy. 

Some cheese buldak sandwiches to stare at

Here are four more examples of cheesy fire chicken sandwiches I’ve made over the past year or so.

Glorious spicy, melty goodness
Boneless chicken thigh cheesy buldak on a toasted sesame seeded bun.
A batch of chicken thighs or chicken breast pieces can be cooked in buldak over the weekend and reheated to create quick sandwiches during the week. I do this often.
If you like spice and cheese, I have the sandwich for you.

Try Maangchi’s recipe. Buy gochujang and gochugaru and keep them in the fridge for longer shelf life and you can make this recipe very quickly whenever you crave it. And believe me, you’ll start to crave this dish and sandwich.

Check back next week when you can Sea more of my Food!


It would be a misteak to skip the cheese.

Do you ever sit and wonder why they were named cheesesteaks instead of steakcheeses?


The website for the Philadelphia area’s official tourism agency, visitphilly.com, claims that Pat Olivieri invented what would become the Philly Cheesesteak in 1930. Olivieri founded Pat’s King of Steaks, which is across street from their cheesesteak rival Geno’s Steaks. Around the city you can find places like Jim’s Steaks, Philip’s Steaks, Max’s Steaks, Joe’s Steaks and Soda Shop and other creatively named joints.

In my house we have cheesesteak nights a couple times a year. We mostly eat the traditional type of Philly cheesesteaks, but sometimes we switch things up.

I’m not claiming that what I’m making here is 100% authentic. I’m not from Philly. I never worked in a Philly cheesesteak restaurant, but I have watched a lot of cheesesteak youtube videos and stayed in a Holiday Inn Express once.

Follow along as I show you how I make my cheesesteak sandwiches.

The rolls

For this sort of sandwich I use my Sandwich sub roll. This isn’t especially traditional for a Philly style cheesesteak, but it works really well for a sub/hoagie/cheesesteak sort of sandwich. If you’re a beginner baker, you should be able to handle this recipe fairly well.

Typically I make this recipe with three 11 or 12 inch rolls, but this time I tried going to 14 just to see how that worked out and we really enjoyed the size and shape. They were a bit thinner than my usual sub roll, but that just means you can have a slightly smaller sandwich.

3 hours
Sub sandwich rolls

This is sort of a French style sandwich roll. Not too crusty but with a good chew for a sub sandwich or po-boy.

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Three 14 inch sub rolls.
The seam on the bottom.

The steak

Sliced ribeye for bulgogi. The butcher freezes the steaks and then is able to slice it super thin.

We have a local Korean market nearby and they prepare ribeye steak for people to use when cooking bulgogi (sometimes spelled bulgoki). They take a ribeye steak and freeze it and then put the frozen steak onto their deli slicer and slice full sized super thin slices that we can buy whenever we’re craving cheesesteaks.

If you do have a Korean market nearby, check them out. Hopefully they will have something like this available. Otherwise you’ll have to slice your own steak. I’ve done the slice yourself technique too.

You do this by buying a ribeye, freezing it for 3 hours or so and then using a serrated knife, make slices as thin as you can. If you’re making cheesesteaks in a pan and not a large griddle, you can use your knife while the meat is raw and chop through it a little. Usually the meat is chopped on the griddle, but if you’re using a smaller pan, pre-chopping the meat a little will help you with the process.

The cheese

You can use any cheese for a cheesesteak. The traditional choices are Cheez Whiz, provolone or white American cheese. But honestly, any sliced or spreadable cheese will work here. The sliced varieties need to be placed on the meat that is still cooking on the griddle/pan and the spreadable cheeses should be spread onto the cut side of your roll, ready to be filled with steak.

I’m guessing that people would want me to chose a favorite cheese here and I just can’t do it. Both Cheez Whiz and sliced provolone are great and it’s fun to switch things up from cheesesteak to cheesesteak.

The vegetables

I typically use onions and maybe mushrooms for my cheesesteaks. Some folks will put green or red bell peppers in there too. Regardless of which vegetables I am using, I cook them all the same way. Before you start the steak, you should thinly slice your veggies and cook them in a skillet or on your griddle to get them soft.

Note: if you’re ordering in Philly you don’t say, “please sir, may I have onions in my cheesesteak.” You just say “wit” or “wit-out” and that will let them know if you want onions or not.

Put the pieces together

Whiz wit with fries.

When we have cheesesteak night we typically cook our onions/vegetables in a pan before we cook the meat. We usually use two pans, but you can use the same pan/griddle if you want. The point is that you can cook your veggies first and they can be a bit lukewarm because you will mix them in with your steak when your steak is almost finished cooking. Steak and veggies do not cook at the same time so this is why we take this tactic.

When you cook your steak you should try to cook it in a cast iron pan or griddle. The reasoning for this is that you will want to chop up your meat a little if you can. If the only pan you have available is non-stick you will want to fully chop up your steak into smaller pieces prior to cooking.

When you feel that the meat is almost cooked through to your liking, line up the meat on your griddle or pan to be about the length of the bun that you want to use (check the gif below). Now is the time you want to add your vegetables and mix them in with your steak to make sure everything is warm and similar temperature.

At this point you have to make a decision based on the cheese you’re using. If you are using Cheez Whiz you would want to spread that into your sub/hoagie roll that you’ve cut 2/3rds of the way through. If you’re using provolone or white American cheese you would want to lay that on top of your meat and veggies that you have lined up to fit your bun length. Let the sliced cheese have a couple minutes to start the melting process.

Once you’ve spread your Cheez Whiz on your bread or let your sliced cheese melt you should open your sub roll up and lay it on top of the meat. I typically let the bun sit there for 30 seconds or so which helps to steam or moisten the bread a little.

Adding a whiz roll to the meat and veggies. This allows the bun to steam a little and the cheez to get a bit melty.

Once your bun has had a chance to warm up and everything has gotten all cheesy (or cheezy), take your spatula and slip it under everything and flip your sandwich off of the hot surface hopefully keeping all the meat and cheese inside the roll.

Some completed cheesesteaks

And here are a couple of the cheesesteaks I made.

A just filled steak with Whiz and wit. This is the cheesesteak from the gif above.
A provolone steak on a cheddar sub roll.

Pimento cheesesteak

If you’re a frequent visitor around here, you probably knew I was going to pimento cheese some steak. Well, guess what? I did.

This was a fantastic sandwich. You treat the pimento cheese like you treat the Cheez Whiz, which means you spread it on the bun while the steak is cooking. Then you open up the bun and place it on the steak on the griddle to steam the bread and heat up the pimento cheese.

This recipe also is using my Cheddar cheese sub roll which I have linked below.

3 hours
Cheddar sub sandwich rolls

Ever thought about putting more cheese in your sandwiches? Boy, have I got the sub recipe for you.

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Before the final proof
After the bake

Pimento cheesesteak recipe

Here’s the whole Pimento cheesesteak recipe. You can follow this recipe and substitute the pimento cheese for Cheez Whiz or even just sliced provolone. The concept of the recipe is all the same up until your choice of cheese.

Pimento cheesesteak sandwich view printable page for this recipe

Instead of Cheez Whiz we're trying something different. Spread some pimento cheese on your roll and let it get warmed up and melty with the hot steak for a great sandwich.

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Ingredients:

  • 1 lb ribeye steak thinly sliced (if you can get your butcher to do this it's best)
  • 12 thinly sliced large yellow onion
  • 4 to 8 ounces sliced mushrooms
  • 1 thinly sliced red bell pepper (optional)
  • pimento cheese spread (enough to spread on the inside of your two rolls)
  • 2 six to eight inch sub/hoagie rolls (or 1 large roll cut in two)
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil or olive oil

Directions:

In a large skillet over medium heat, cook your thinly sliced onion, red bell pepper (if using) and mushrooms until they are tender. This usually takes me between 5 and 10 minutes depending on how soft/tender I want my veggies. 

Move the cooked veggies to a plate to be used later. 

If you were able to get thinly sliced ribeye from your butcher you can skip the next step because you're ready to cook. 

If you have a whole unsliced ribeye, you will need to freeze it for an hour or two so that you can slice it thinly. After your steak has been in the freezer for 1 to 3 hours, remove it and get a very sharp knife and slice very thin pieces. 

When all your meat is sliced you can start cooking.

In a large skillet or preferably cast iron griddle over medium high heat, add a little vegetable or olive oil to your pan. When the oil is shimmering add the steak and group it into "sandwiches." So if you're making two sandwiches, group the meat into two piles. Salt and pepper your piles of meat. 

Leave the meat where it is for 4 minutes. After that time has elapsed, start moving it around, flipping and even chopping the larger pieces with your spatula. The real Philly cheesesteak joints really chop at the meat, to get it into small bite size pieces. Be careful and do not ruin your pan with a metal spatula if your pan has a non-stick coating.

Continue flipping and moving the steak around until all of the meat seems to be cooked. 

Add your veggies to your steak. Divide the cooked veggies evenly between your meat piles. 

With your spatula or tongs incorporate the meat and veggies until they are combined and mixed through. 

Slice your sub/hoagie rolls 2/3rds of the way through and spread the pimento cheese on the inside of each one. 

line the meat and veggies on the skillet/griddle up so that they are about the length of each of your buns. Open each bun and lay it on top of the still cooking meat/veggies. 

Using a spatula, get under the meat and with your other hand grab the bun and flip the sandwich out of the pan, attempting to keep all of the meat and veggies in the sandwich. Do this for your other sandwiches as well. 

Enjoy your pimento cheesesteak! 

Notes:

 You can use this recipe with Cheez Whiz or any other cheese spread as well, just spread the cheese spread inside the bun as the meat is almost cooked through. 

If you want to use sliced cheese, just lay the slices of cheese on top of the meat when it's cooked through and give it another minute or two for the cheese to start melting. 

If you’re still reading I bet you want a cheesesteak right now. Go get one and come back next week when I’ll most likely be writing about another type of cheese.


Pimento cheese sandwich untoasted

Shredded cheese is grate

This is my ode to pimento cheese, the cheese spread of summer.


The cheesy, salty, crunchy snack of my youth.

Pimento cheese reminds me of summer. When I was growing up in Eastern North Carolina, this cheddary cheese spread was a staple in our fridge in the summers. My Mom made it often and I probably didn’t have non-homemade pimento cheese until many years later when I moved to Chicago.

If you’ve never had pimento cheese, it’s typically shredded cheddar cheese, blended with diced pimento peppers and mayonnaise to create a spread or dip. Recipes will vary from chunky consistency to very smooth and spreadable. Some simple variations also come in the form of adding sugar or honey for sweetness or adding other peppers or chili powders for spice.

On many family beach or lake trips (shout out to White Lake!) during my youth we’d be presented with a lunch option of pimento cheese or tomato sandwiches. It wasn’t until I got older that I learned the correct answer when my Mom asked, was “both,” but when I was a kid, I always opted for the pimento cheese. My Mom’s recipe is smooth, creamy and sharp from the cheddar with just a touch of sweetness.

One other lasting memory for me during our family beach trips was snack time with pimento cheese and Bugles. With a built in pocket scoop, a bugle makes a great cheese spread dipping utensil. I’d be lying if I said I had never had a pimento cheese sandwich with a side of pimento cheese and bugles.

The bread

There was a time while I was in high school and/or college that my Mom inherited a sourdough starter from our across-the-street neighbor, Mrs. Newton. Mom made bread from that starter for at least four or five years and I remember it being great sandwich bread that we took with us on our yearly beach trip (we lived about 45 minutes from North Carolina’s coastline).

Jimmy Starter Jr lives again! 7:30 am was where he was after feeding and then he’s almost doubled at 11:30 am and still growing.

In thinking about approaching and writing about the pimento cheese sandwich, I chose to bake King Arthur Baking’s sourdough sandwich bread recipe. I plucked my sourdough starter, Jimmy Starter Jr., out of back-of-the-fridge retirement and started feeding him again.

My starter was born on October 1st, 2019 – President Jimmy Carter’s 94th birthday – so I was presented with the perfect name for him. He’s served me pretty well, but at some point during the early 2020 pandemic, there was a severe lack of flour in the stores and I felt it was a bit wasteful to keep feeding him. I left Jimmy in the back of the fridge for at least 10 or 11 months to chill.

It wasn’t until very recently that I pulled him out, poured off the liquor from the top and within two or three feedings he was doubling in size after every feeding. Just like his namesake, Jimmy Starter Jr. is back at work building things.

For this sandwich I wanted simple sandwich bread and not boules, so this recipe is baked in 4×8 inch bread pans. The resulting bread ends up a tiny bit dense, but I feel that helps it hold up very well to spreads and toasting. The egg wash prior to baking makes the top shiny and pretty and the tight crumb sets each slice up for some good mayo or mustard spreading.

Mom’s pimento cheese recipe

Pimento cheese is a southern United States thing. It wasn’t invented in the south, but from all accounts it was perfected there. I’m working with my Mom’s recipe that I’m sharing below with you. This isn’t a gourmet pimento cheese that you might find at a fancy restaurant. This is pimento cheese spread that you should be eating on sandwiches or spreading on crackers.

To get things smooth, this recipe requires a food processor. You could probably do it without the food processor, but the blades help a lot in getting a spreadable consistency. A lot of food processors also came with a shredding blade which will shorten the time and effort you need to get the cheese shredded. Here’s the Cuisinart food processor (Amazon affiliate link) that I own and use, but you can find them cheaper if you shop around. Just try to get one that also has the shredder blade or else you’ll need to use a box grater.

20 minutes
Mom's pimento cheese

An awesome addition to a sausage biscuit sandwich. This is my Mom's recipe. Growing up, I enjoyed a lot of pimento cheese sandwiches, with just the spread and sliced bread. This recipe also works great as a snack with crackers or pretzels.

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Duke’s vs Miracle Whip

Most of the time my Mom used Miracle Whip to make her pimento cheese. I’ve used it also but I actually do not like the taste of miracle whip on its own. Because of this, I decided to do a back to back blind tasting of the same exact recipe with just Duke’s Mayonnaise vs Miracle Whip.

My wife and I each got two spoons and served the other samples without sharing which was Duke’s or which was Miracle Whip. My wife’s palate is definitely better than mine and she was able to guess correctly. She knew which was Miracle whip, but she said they were very very close. I did not accurately guess from a blind tasting and even after the blind tasting, while looking at both and knowing which one I was consuming, the differences were very slim.

I was very much expecting to immediately be able to discern the sweet tang of Miracle Whip, but it did not stand out. The Duke’s version is a slight bit more savory than Miracle Whip, but it isn’t that noticeable if you’re not specifically looking for it. I guess my main takeaway from the blind tasting and eating both batches all week is that you can use your favorite mayonnaise in this recipe and it will still turn out tasting great.

The Big Matchup: never thought I’d be blind tasting pimento cheese, but here we are.

Untoasted vs Toasted

Now we’re back to the debate about whether a specific sandwich is better toasted or untoasted. I got into it a little when I wrote about PB&J and in both cases so far I’ve definitely preferred the toasted version of the sandwich. The texture of butter toasted bread just stands out too much. Below you can find photos of both types of pimento cheese sandwiches. My vote for pimento cheese sandwich is toasted bread. BUT you shouldn’t toast/griddle the bread with the pimento cheese inside.

Griddling the sandwich with pimento cheese already inside will cause the spread to get melty and slide out of the sandwich. So if you do griddle or toast it, just pay attention and get it off the heat before you lose all your cheese.

I toast the bread with butter in a skillet with no ingredients. Once the bread gets to where I want in terms of color I let the bread rest and cool a minute before spreading pimento cheese in the middle. Toasting it and then applying the cheese later keeps everything from melting and becoming a big mess.

Untoasted sandwich. This is pretty much what I ate as a kid.
Toasted half. A butter toasted slice of bread that’s then packed with pimento cheese spread.

Cheesy upgrades

Bacon

BREAKING NEWS: add bacon to something and it will be good.

Bacon makes everything better! (your mileage may vary)

Extra cheesy biscuit option

Pimento cheese is fantastic on a biscuit (in this case my super savory cheddar cheese biscuit). I also used pimento cheese in my recreation of The Uva. I’m not sure why I even need to type all these words, you can look at the photo and see how beautiful it is for yourself!

Pimento cheese on a sausage biscuit? Yes, please!

Spicy option

The best way to add spice and heat to my Mom’s pimento cheese recipe is to add chopped up pickled jalapenos or another type of pepper into the mix. This is something that you can add into the full batch or you can chop up just a few jalapenos and add them to each individual sandwich.

Chop up and add 20 or more pickled jalapenos to your batch of pimento cheese if you want to add a little spice. Or you can just add whole pickled jalapeno slices to each sandwich if you want to change things up.

I love pimento cheese! Did I say that already? Try this recipe for your next family get together or snack night. I’ll be back next week writing about some other sort of sandwich. Sign up for my newsletter if you’re one of those email people!