Monday, March 17, 2014

Italian Beef Sandwich - Chicago Style

Italian Beef Sandwich - Chicago Style

There are things that people do when they travel. You can call them traditions or habits or even superstitions. We’ve all seen photographs of the Pope, kissing the tarmac upon descending from an airplane. For me, it’s about food. (I know, who’da figured?)

Within the first day or so of arriving in some of my favorite destinations, I have to visit certain places for specific food items or the whole trip is in danger of going all cattywhompus.  I have my place for Italian Seafood in San Francisco, Turtle Soup in New Orleans, Calamari in Grand Rapids, Oysters and Shrimps in Homosassa, Hot Dogs in Oak Park and Italian Beef in Berwyn. I won’t divulge the names of the restaurants or stands, so don’t ask unless you share your favorites first!

I’ve had adequate substitutions for most of these “road foods” in other places, even nearer to home. But I’ve never had a Chicago style Italian beef sandwich anywhere that compares favorably to those found in my hometown. (That would be Chicago.)

Our schedule doesn’t allow for as many trips to the Chicago area as we’d like, so we’ve had to recreate the Windy City’s signature roasted beef sandwich to satisfy the cravings when they strike. This is pretty dog-gone close.  For truly authentic presentation, the sandwich should be wrapped in a square of deli paper on top of a square of very thin foil and then served without enough napkins.

Plan ahead to make this dish. Start a few days in advance by making Nonna’s Italian Giardiniera to give that enough time to come together. And I always take two days to make the roast because we chill the roasted beef overnight to be sure it’s good and firm for slicing very, very thin.

Italian Beef Sandwich- Chicago Style
Yield: 10 Sandwiches     Preparation time: 40 minutes + Overnight     Cooking time: 1 Hour


• 1 Top Round Beef Roast, about 3 pounds, boneless, trimmed of exterior fat
• 1 Teaspoon Dried Oregano
• 1 Teaspoon Dried Basil
• 1 Teaspoon Onion Powder

• 2 Teaspoons Garlic Powder

• 1 Teaspoon Freshly Ground Black Pepper

• ½ Teaspoon Crushed Red Pepper Flakes
• 6 Cups Water

• 2 Tablespoons of Beef Soup Base, see Tips and Trending
• 1 Large Spanish Onion, cut stem to root in eighths
• 4 Cloves Garlic, smashed
• 10 Soft, chewy crust, Italian style sandwich rolls, about 6” long (or a loaf cut into 6” lengths)
Nonna’s Italian Giardiniera or your favorite commercial brand.

Preparation Steps

Step 1. Combine the oregano, basil, onion powder, garlic powder, black pepper and crushed pepper flakes in a bowl. Rinse the roast, pat it dry and place it in a 9”x13"x2” flame proof baking pan and rub the spices into all sides of the meat. Move the roast to a rack that will securely straddle the rim of the baking pan and set aside for 30 minutes loosely covered with aluminum foil. Do not discard the spice mixture that remains in the bottom of the baking pan.

Step 2. Preheat the oven to 400°F. Set the oven rack in the lower ⅓ position.

Step 3. Add the water, soup base, onion and garlic to the baking pan. Set over medium heat and bring to a boil. Move the baking pan to the oven and set the rack with the roast on the rim of the pan. Roast at 400°F until the interior temperature is 120°F, about 20 minutes per pound.

Step 4. Remove the roast and the au jus pan from the oven. Set the rack with the roast over a platter to catch drippings then pour the au jus from the pan into a bowl through a wire mesh strainer and discard the solids. Take the roast off the rack and place it directly in the pan, cover tightly with aluminum foil and chill it overnight on the lowest shelf of the refrigerator. Any drippings from the roast collected on the platter should be added to the strained au jus, then store the au jus covered in the refrigerator until ready to use.

Step 5. When ready to serve, remove the roast and the au jus from the refrigerator. Skim any congealed fat from the surface of the au jus and add any accumulated juices from the beef. Transfer the au jus to a medium sauce pan and bring to a simmer. Taste and adjust the intensity of the au jus by adding a bit of water or reducing (by boiling), to concentrate the flavor.

Step 6. While the au jus is heating, use a meat slicer to cut the roast into very, very thin slices and keep covered until ready to serve. Reduce the heat to keep the au jus at a low simmer and add a single serving portion (¼ pound) of the sliced beef only long enough to heat through, about 30 seconds, then serve immediately.

Step 7. To build the proper sandwich, spoon some au jus onto the roll, add the heated beef dripping with the au jus, a tablespoon of giardiniera and more au jus.

Serve with hot French Fries, a green salad, and a whole lot of napkins.

Tips and Trending

~ You can substitute Top Sirloin, Bottom or Eye of Round roasts as your wallet dictates. Just use a lightly marbled cut and trim away the surface fat.     

~ To get the real Chicago flavor in the au jus you must use soup base or bouillon cubes. I recommend L.B. Jamison’s® soup base – its beef flavor is more intense than bouillon and it has about the same amount of sodium. This ingredient does go counter to my preference for homemade ingredients, but sometimes we just have to bend the rules to get something just right.

~ If you don’t have two days to roast and chill the beef you can squeeze prep, cooking and serving all into one day. If you start preparation first thing in the morning the beef should be sufficiently cold to slice 5 or 6 hours later.

~ If you don’t have a meat slicer, use an electric knife to get the thinnest slices.

~ Adding the sliced beef to the simmering au jus just before serving warms the meat and makes it juicy. Don’t leave the meat in the hot au jus too long or it will begin to curl up and get tough. This is why we slice it so very thin – almost “shaved”.

~ When you’re in Chicago and order your sandwich “wet” (aka, a Soaker), the whole thing is quickly dunked in the au jus after assembly and before serving. This should only be consumed by professionals, or anyone not wearing a suit on the way to a job interview - unless you’re interviewing for a job at the Beef Stand.

~ For another Chicago style topping, seed and cut 3 sweet green peppers into 1” strips. 30 minutes before serving the sandwiches set a fry pan over a medium-high heat with 1 tablespoon of olive oil. Add the Green Pepper strips, skin side down, and cook until wilted. Remove from heat and set aside to cool to room temperature. Lay a couple of the cooked and cooled pepper strips on top of the beef and top with Giardiniera.

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