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Archive for March 18th, 2008

A Beer Drinker’s Disappointment–Hamburger No Longer America’s #1 Sandwich

Posted by Bob Skilnik on March 18, 2008

italian-beef.jpgYeah, I know. Everyone’s worried about their health, their heart, balancing their HDL vs. their LDL and all that rot. But me, I’m a beef man; give me steak, or on a warm summer night, a hamburger off the grill.

But I just ran across this article and it makes me wonder what has happened to American cuisine? As this article in Restaurants and Institutions notes, the grilled chicken-breast sandwich now is the most-often menued item.

In the same sense, the article also points out that what’s old is new again.

Club sandwich: The classic layered look is back in vogue. Among commercial operators that menu sandwiches, the venerable club trails only hamburgers and cheeseburgers as a top seller and also is No. 3 on the list of sandwiches commercial operations say are increasing in sales.

Turkey sandwich: As I like to think of it…a Club Sandwich without the bacon. Simple yet elegant, turkey sandwiches appear among the top sellers for both commercial and noncommercial operations. Turkey reappears on the list of sandwiches that are increasing in sales for both industry segments as well.

Dismissing culinary globalism (paninis, focaccias, wraps, etc.), the Philly cheesesteak sandwich is also hot, and since it’s beef, I’m on it. The chopped-beef-and-cheese concoction is among the top 10 on both the top-seller and thinking-about-adding lists for commercial operators.

My only objection with a cheesesteak is…the cheese. Who the hell puts cheese goo on beef?

Come to Chicago. We’ll show you how to make a beef sandwich, a hot Italian beef sandwich, the Italian bread dipped in a jus (“gravy”) and topped with giardiniera, a condiment made with serrano peppers (called “sport” peppers in Chicago), with other assorted vegetables, such as bell peppers, olives, celery, pimentos, carrots and cauliflower and sometimes crushed red pepper flakes, all marinated in vegetable oil, olive oil, soybean oil or any combination of the three oils.

Since there’s so much going on in your mouth with this delight, a simple American pilsner works just fine as a wash. Anything else would distract from the mess of one of these monsters.

Grilled chicken sandwiches? You’re gonna die anyway. I’d rather go with a belly full of beef than a scraggly “range chicken” sandwich.

I went through dozens of pages looking for an “authentic” Chicago-style beef sandwich recipe and discarded everyone of them that used something other than a top inside round. You could get away with a top round too, but anything else means the recipe preparer doesn’t know what he/she is talking about. This one, supposedly from Buona Beef looks pretty good and if your last name is Buonavolanto, who am I to argue?

Three tips;

1. If you or a friend or neighbor has an electric meat slicer, like at a deli, make a deal with them to slice the beef as thin as possible and then give them some of the action. Like most Chicagoans, I don’t have one of these slicers laying around the house…but I gotta guy.

2. Warm the juice (“the gravy”) and add just enough of the sliced beef for the serving. Don’t dump all the beef into the gravy or overheat the beef, otherwise it’ll curl up and get tough. If somebody wants another sandwich, heat up some more gravy and add a single serving of beef.

3. Slice 8 to 10 green peppers and 2 red peppers (for color contrast) into 1/4 inch slices, longways. In a frying pan, pour in 1/4 cup of olive oil and heat until shimmering. Throw in the sliced peppers and cook until somewhat soft, but still with a little crispness in them. Add 2 tablespoons of dried oregano and 2 tablespoons of dried basil and 2 teaspoons of sugar. Stir, add 1/4 cup of water, place a lid on the frying pan and slow simmer for 10 minutes, taking the lid off after 5 minutes or until the water cooks off.

How do you put this all together? Open up a crisp bun, like a French roll, or cut a 6 inch wedge from a long piece of Italian bread, either dip one side in the gravy or spoon some gravy over the inside of the bread until it’s wet, take some tongs and throw on too many slices of beef, add some cooked sweet peppers and top it all off with giardiniera, the hotter, the better.

Chicago Style Italian Beef Sandwich, provided by Joe Buonavolanto Jr., co-owner of Buona Beef Restaurants.

* 9-10 lbs top inside beef round
* 3 garlic cloves, crushed
* 2 qt. water
* 1/2 cup chopped oregano
* 1/4 C. salt
* 1/4 C. black pepper
* 1 tsp. red pepper flakes
* 35 freshly baked French rolls (for smaller portions reduce ingredients portionally)

For roasting times, figure on 10-12 minutes per pound for medium. Check with a meat thermometer for an internal temperature of 130 degree Fahrenheit for rare, 140 degrees Fahrenheit for medium

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Place sirloin in roasting pan and dry roast for 15-20 minutes.

2. Remove pan from oven and add water, oregano, garlic, salt, pepper and pepper flakes. Return to oven and roast at 350 degrees for 2 to 2 1/2 hours.

3. Remove from oven. Allow to rest for 15 minutes. Internal temperature will rise 5-10 degrees.

4. Slice the beef as thinly as possible.

5. Pour juice from the roasting pan into a smaller pot and heat, but don’t boil. If you have to stretch the juice a bit, add some ready-made beef broth. I like Wolfgang Puck’s beef stock. Add a pinch or two of dried oregano and basil to the juice. You should have about a good-sized quart, maybe a quart-and-a-half of beef gravy ready.

6. Add thinly sliced beef to some heated juice and warm meat through, but don’t let the meat sit long.

7. Dip bread in juice and pile beef high on freshly baked French rolls or Italian bread.

8. Garnish with sliced sweet bell peppers and hot giardinara. Makes 30-40 sandwiches depending on portion size. If you make them right, you’ll be lucky to get 25 sandwiches.

9. Grab a beer. Rinse; repeat.

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