For a few years, I worked as a nightlife reporter in New York, interviewing celebrities on red carpets and at after-parties around the city. I often left for work at 4:30pm and returned home after midnight, having spent hours waiting for Chloë Sevigny to say something funny, or Lindsay Lohan to do something rash. A handful of crucial elements made the job possible: a Sony voice recorder, a modest-but-attractive black dress of hammered silk, and countless grilled peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches.
Yes, grilled peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches. Even during the time in my life when groceries were not, let’s say, a priority, I could usually be relied upon to have a jar of peanut butter, a jar of jam, a loaf of wheat bread, and a stick of butter—the makings of a protein-rich meal that would stick to my ribs and keep me from getting hangry mid-shift.
Ask any NBA player: PB&Js are a path to nirvana. The sandwich boosts dopamine and serotonin release—happiness-creating chemicals that make it a perfect pre-game snack, especially if you’re feeling nervous. As ESPN NBA reporter Baxter Holmes wrote in his 2017 opus on the PB&J: “At first bite… receptors detect the food’s chemical composition and report back to the brain—fats! sugars! starches! proteins! salts!—where reward centers release opioids and, after a few minutes, endorphins, which briefly reduce stress.”
If it’s energy you’re going for, dropping some butter into a skillet and plopping the PB&J on top once the butter starts to bubble can add a few extra calories. This is also my recommended approach if you’re looking for an extra layer of comfort, a cozy snack on a cold day, the smell of browning butter in your kitchen, or just a reason for living.
The bread absorbs the butter, giving it the sort of greasy toastiness usually reserved for a Reuben or a grilled cheese. And the crisp texture saves the sandwich from getting soggy—a great feature if you need to wrap it in a paper towel and take it on the road.
And that’s just the bread—the fillings, too, only benefit from that added heat. Peanut butter that might otherwise be stiff and gluey from the refrigerator softens into goo, and jelly melts into the bread, infusing it with fruitiness.
As with any PB&J, the varieties are endless, especially in this age of alternative nut butters. This morning, I slathered Solstice Canyon’s Cardamom & Clove Almond Butter and Bonne Maman raspberry jam onto two slices of wheat bread from a local bakery and dropped it into a pool of butter that was browning in a skillet. The bread was a little past its prime—groceries are still not always my top priority—but thanks to the toasty, buttery skillet, the resulting sandwich was nothing short of sublime.