DO NOT BE SHOCKED by the downscale nature of the ingredients called for here. “Dave,” I can hear you saying…”You’re asking me to sprinkle garlic powder and onion powder on a roast beef?” Yes I am. Yes I definitely am. This is the kind of thing that upscale home chefs usually avoid—therefore depriving themselves of a shot at something recognizably “street”!
Makes 6 whompin’ sandwiches
2 teaspoons garlic powder
1 teaspoon onion powder
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon dried basil
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper
1 boneless beef roast, about 3 to 3 1/2 lbs. (see commentary below)
6 cups beef stock (see commentary below)
6 Italian hero rolls, each about 8″ long (see commentary below)
1 tablespoon olive oil
3 medium green bell peppers, seeded and cut into 1/4″ strips
about 1 1/2 cups giardiniera, optional (see commentary below)
1. Place the garlic powder, onion powder, dried oregano, dried basil, salt, black pepper and crushed red pepper on a platter large enough to hold the meat. Mix spices together well. Roll the beef roast in the spices, coating as evenly as possible on all sides. Let the meat stand on the platter, at room temperature, for 30 minutes.
2. Pre-heat oven to 400°F.
3. Prepare a roasting pan for the meat. You will need to have a rack that fits in this pan, but the pan shouldn’t be too large–about 12″ by 8″ by 2 1/2″ is perfect. Pour the beef stock into the pan, then place the rack in it. When the meat has marinated, place it on the rack, allowing any non-clinging spices to drop into the beef stock. If there are any spices left on the platter, scatter those as well into the beef stock.
4. Place the meat in the oven—rack, pan, stock and all. Roast, uncovered, until the meat is medium-rare, registering 125 to 130°F on a meat thermometer (the meat should take about 24 minutes per lb.—approximately 72 minutes for a 3-lb. roast). When the meat is done, place the roast in a fresh pan and hold in the refrigerator for 30 minutes.
5. Meanwhile, remove the rack from the roasting pan, and position the roasting pan—with its hot juice—over a turned-off burner on your cooktop. Season, and let rest.
6. Place the tablespoon of olive oil in a sauté pan over medium-high heat. Add the green bell pepper strips. Sauté, stirring occasionally, until the peppers are starting to brown and just past crunchy (about 15-20 minutes). Season with salt, and remove from heat. You should have about 2 cups of sautéed peppers.
7. After you’ve held the meat in the fridge for 30 minutes, slice it extremely thinly—preferably on an electric meat slicer. You should have about 3 lbs. of rosy, thinly sliced roast beef. Add any drippings from the refrigerator pan or the cutting board to the hot juice in the roasting pan.
8. Bring the hot juice in the roasting pan to a very gentle simmer over low heat.
9. Make the sandwiches one at a time. Using a bread knife, cut a roll open the long way, but leave it hinged along one long side. Place one-sixth of the meat (about half a pound) in the simmering meat juice; turn it around so all parts of the slices are exposed to the juice. You don’t want the meat to stay in the warm bath for more than 30 seconds. Quickly spoon 1/3 cup of the hot beef juice evenly over the exposed inner part of the roll on both sides. Place the roast beef slices inside the roll, then spoon another 1/3 cup of juice over the beef. Top evenly with 1/3 cup of sautéed green pepper slices. Add 1/4 cup of giardiniera, if using. Serve immediately, providing plenty of napkins.
10. Repeat step #9 five times more.
BEEF NOTE: I was apprehensive, initially, about the call in all Chicago Italian Beef recipes for “lean” roast beef; I am allergic to that word. However, I did go ahead with a relatively lean eye round roast—and found that if you cook it to the proper degree of doneness, and slice it very, very thinly, the result is tender, velvety and flavorful. Perfect. Just like the street. However, I couldn’t resist a little side test: Chicago Italian Beef made with a much fattier boneless chuck roast. The result was amazing—something like a Kobe Chicago Italian Beef sandwich by comparison. Almost too buttery, even for me. If you like this kind of thing…you will love it. Me, I finally came down on the side of “lean” beef.
BEEF STOCK NOTE: No need to get too fancy here. Certainly your own beef stock would be a wonderful thing—but it might not yield the trailer-park taste that canned beef stock does. My only caveat involves salt: lots of it drips into the pan juice from the beef, so starting with a low-sodium canned beef stock might be a good idea. But don’t forget: you want that jus to be salty!
BREAD NOTE: Most of America’s great street sandwiches are made on the same kind of bread, roughly speaking. Philly Cheesesteak, the Cubano and New Orleans Po’ Boys all feature Italian hero bread that’s lightly crackling on the outside, fluffy-pillowy-light on the inside. The cool thing about Chicago Italian Beef at home is that it’s not as bread-sensitive as the others, due to the soak that’s about to go down. I could never make a real Philly Cheesesteak at home without the bread from Amaroso’s, or a damned good substitute for Amaroso’s. But for Chicago Italian Beef any reasonable Italian hero roll will do well (either a free-standing roll, or an 8″ section of a longer Italian bread). Just remember to avoid the extremes: a bread that’s too light and insipid might fall apart from the juice; a bread that’s too serious and dense may not get soaked enough. In Chicago, Gonnella and Turano are the two bakers of choice.
GIARDINIERA NOTE: Some places call this kind of pickled, vinegared Italian vegetable mix—always with cauliflower—”giardiniera,” as they do in Chicago. But you can also find variations on your supermarket shelf under other names. In the recipe, I list it as optional because it really changes the sandwich. There’s no question that it detracts from the pure beefiness of it all. On the other hand—the cut-through lightening it provides can be taken as a relief from beef. And…I’ve had it enough times in Chicago so that it seems part of the nostalgic picture to me. Try it both ways before committing yourself.
Photos: clarkmaxwell/Flickr Creative Commons and Paul Howey