Friday, October 21, 2011

Chicago-Style Italian Beef Sandwich

Before I moved to Colorado, I lived in, near, and around Chicago. So every once in a while, I crave the kinds of food that was readily available everywhere in Chicago, but is less available here. High on that list is the Italian Beef Sandwich. And yes, the sandwich sometimes needs capital letters.

There are a few places around here that sell Italian beef sandwiches, but in the Chicago area, they're so ubiquitous that the name of the sandwich is recognizable even when it's shortened. Tell someone you want to go out for some beef sandwiches - or even just beefs, and they'll know what you mean. You're not looking for a roast beef sandwich, and you're not looking for a French dip.

Well, okay, a French dip is similar to an Italian beef sandwich. But it's not the same. If you're craving an Italian beef, a French dip isn't going to satisfy that craving.

There are six critical components in the proper beef sandwich. First is the beef. You can use different cuts of meat. I've even been known to use left over rib roasts. But an Italian beef is cheap eats. A rump roast or top or bottom round is perfect. They key, though, is thin slices. I use an electric meat slicer to make sure the slices are thin enough. If you don't have one, then it takes some care to slice it as thinly as you possibly can.

The second important component is the bread. You need something sturdy. A baguette or French bread is what you need. A soft, squishy loaf won't work.

Third is the sweet peppers. Here, we're talking about green bell peppers. It's a classic addition to a classic beef sandwich. Not everyone asks for them on their sandwich, but they are a standard item.

Fourth is the hot peppers. If you ask for an Italian beef sandwich in Chicago, hot giardiniera peppers are always an option. Again, not everyone asks for them, but a beef with "sweet and hot" is a typical order. Unfortunately, the brand of peppers served in Chicago is hard to come by in Colorado. But that's okay, I found an acceptable substitute.

Fifth is the juice. Or gravy. Or whatever you want to call it. The slices of beef swim in a flavorful broth, and it's as important as the beef or the bread or the peppers. I've made beef sandwiches from left over roast beef, but then I need to come up with a broth or stock to use. If you're starting from scratch with the intention of making beefs, braising a tough cut of meat gives you tender meat and plentiful broth as well.

Sixth and last is the assembly. A beef sandwich is not a dainty sandwich. It's a messy thing. There shouldn't be slices of beef laid flat in the bread - you should have pillows and piles of thinly slices beef stuffed into the sandwich, with as much of the peppers as you like.

The last step is to ladle juice onto the sandwich so the bread soaks up the juice. Or you can dip the whole sandwich into the broth. And that's why you need a sturdy bread - something that starts off soft will simply disintegrate.

I made my own bread, but if you prefer, you can simply buy crusty baguettes or French bread

Beefs are usually substantial enough that they don't require any side dishes, but when there is one, it's usually French fries. I decided to make something a little healthier.

This whole recipe is a two-day process. The beef cooks ahead of time and gets chilled and refrigerated before slicing and the dough gets made ahead and baked the next day. The giardiniera is better if it's made ahead of time. The sweet peppers can be made ahead of time or the same day - whatever works best for you.

Italian Beef Sandwiches

1 beef rump, bottom round, or top round roast, 2-3 pounds
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon oregano
Salt, to taste
4 cloves garlic, peeled
2 tablespoon olive oil, divided
4 green peppers
1 jar Mmlocal hot high desert peppers
1/2 pint giardiniera (from the olive bar)

For the beef:
The easiest way to cook the beef is in a crockpot, and it even better if you've got a crock pot that has a browning feature, it's even better. You can also cook it in a dutch oven, but it requires a little more attention.

Heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a heavy bottomed pot or in your crock pot, if it has a browning function. Salt the meat lightly, then brown it on all sides. Add 1 tablespoon of oregano and the garlic cloves. Add water to just under the top of the meat - in my pot it was about a quart.

Turn the heat to low - or turn the crock pot to a low cooking setting, cover the pot, and cook until the meat is fork-tender - from 4-8 hours, depending on the shape and size of the meat, and your particular crockpot.

When the meat is tender, remove it from the pot and put it in a storage container that will hold the meat and the cooking liquid. Strain the cooking liquid to remove the spent oregano and garlic and add the liquid to the storage container. Refrigerate until the meat is fully chilled - over night is ideal.

The next day, remove the meat from the container and slice as thinly as you can. Add it to the cooking liquid, add 1 teaspoon of oregano, and heat gently. Taste for seasoning, and add salt as needed.

For the sweet peppers:
Cut the peppers in half, remove the stem, core and seeds, and slice them into thick slices. Heat the remaining tablespoon of oil in a frying pan and cook the peppers until they begin to soften - but you don't want them to brown. Add some of the beef cooking liquid - about 1/2 cup - and cover the pan. Simmer until the peppers are fully cooked - they should be soft and a little floppy.

For the hot giardiniera:
The giardiniera from the olive bar will likely have very large pieces of cauliflower along with smaller pieces of vegetables. Cut them all into smaller pieces, to match the size of the peppers from Mmlocal.

Combine the deli giardiniera with the hot pepper (and all their liquid) and stir to combine. This should fit nicely in a pint jar. Refrigerate until needed.

This is fine right after it's combined, but will be better after the flavors meld, so make it a day or two in advance, if you have time.

To assemble the sandwich:
Cut the French bread into sandwich-sized lengths, the slit lengthwise, but not all the way through. Pile on the hot meat, top with peppers, and then ladle on some extra broth until it's as soggy as you like it.

Italian-Style Bread
This isn't exactly the same as the bread in Chicago, but it's close enough.

1 cup water
1 teaspoon instant yeast
1 teaspoon sugar
1/2 cup (3 ounces) semolina flour
2 cups (9 ounces) all purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon butter, softened
Olive oil, for drizzling

Combine all of the ingredients, except the olive pil. Mix until combined, then knead until the dough begins to get elastic - you can do your kneading in a stand mixer, bread machine, by hand, or with a food processor.

Drizzle a bit of olive oil in a plastic bag and transfer the dough to the plastic bag. Squeeze the air out of the bad and refrigerate overnight.

The next day, remove the dough from the refrigerator, let the air out and reseal the bag, and let the dough rest on the counter for an hour to warm up a bit.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees and line a baking sheet with parchment paper or sprinkle with cornmeal.

Flour your work surface and divide the dough into 2 pieces. Form each piece into a rope about 12 inches long. Place the logs on the prepared baking sheet, leaving space between them for rising. Cover with plastic wrap and set aside to rise until doubled, about 45 minutes.

Remove the plastic wrap, slash the top of the loaves as desired, and bake at 375 degrees until nicely browned, about 30 minutes.

Let the loaves cool completely on racks before cutting.

Check the next post for the pasta salad.

This has been submitted to Yeastspotting.


Marnely Rodriguez-Murray said...

Mmhm, I'm headed to Chicago next month, so musst have one of these! Any suggestions, tips on Chicago?

Donna Currie said...

Go to Portillos for the beef. It's a small local chain, but there's enough of them around that you'll be able to find one fairly easily.

Tupper Cooks! said...

Nice DB, very nice.

Anonymous said...

Got it, Loud and Clear. You have Chicago "Beefs" just right, including both kinds of peppers, the cut, the jus and the un-mentioned WARM part. Yup, I bake, too! So help me, I cannot make a sasmmich roll just right for a beef and Damn It, close is not good enough. Even with a good wetting, a baugette is still too crisp and hurts the top of my mouth. Anything less becomes slop, so for sammies, I still by super-fresh rolls. This annoys me, but the end product, The Beef is what is is all about. I practice a lot. Someday? -Craig

Donna Currie said...

Craig, getting exactly the same bread as what's used at most beef stands in Chicago is impossible at home because in truth it's not an artisan bread - it's an industrially-made loaf. I've been inside the factory and I've seen how it's made, and you can't duplicate it at home any more than you could duplicate Wonder Bread. This is pretty close. Maybe better ;-) Depends on who you ask.

Anonymous said...

My husband, kids, and I love this bread! Great recipe and thank you for posting it and the sandwich recipe.

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