Chicago Italian Beef Sandwiches
Created on the South Side of Chicago in the Italian neighborhoods around the now defunct Stockyards, the classic Chicago Italian Beef Sandwich is a unique, drippy, messy variation on the French Dip Sandwich. It is available in hundreds of places around the city but rarely found outside of Chicago. The exact origin is unknown, but the sandwich was probably created by Italian immigrants in the early 1900s as they rose from poverty and were able to afford beef for roasting.
No one knows for sure who invented the sandwich, but the recipe was popularized by Pasquale Scala, a South Side butcher and sausage maker. During the Depression food was scarce and Scala’s thinly sliced roast beef on a bun with gravy and fried peppers took off. Today, beef sandwiches are a staple at Italian weddings, funerals, parties, political fundraisers and luncheons and Scala’s Original still supplies hundreds of restaurants and Italian Beef Stands with the raw ingredients.
Italian Beef is made by slowly roasting lean beef in a pan filled with seasoned beef-based stock. Some folks call it gravy, but in most Chicago Italian households gravy is a term reserved for tomato sauces. Others call it au jus or “juice” for short. Then it is sliced paper-thin, soaked in the juice for a few minutes and layered generously, dripping wet, onto sections of Italian bread loaves, sliced lengthwise. According to Allen Kelson, former restaurant critic for Chicago Magazine and now a restaurant consultant, it is important that the bread has “wet strength”. The meat is topped with sautéed green bell pepper slices, Pepperoncini and Giardiniera, which is usually a spicy hot blend of chopped Serrano peppers, carrots, cauliflower florets, celery, olives, herbs, salt & pepper, packed in oil and vinegar. Finally juice is spooned over the toppings, making the bread wet and chewy.
- 1 boneless beef chuck roast (about 3 1/2 pounds)
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 medium onion, roughly chopped
- 1 tablespoon dried Italian seasoning
- 2 teaspoons crushed red pepper flakes
- 6 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
- 1/2 cup dry red wine
- 3 cups beef broth
- Sprigs fresh thyme
- 1 medium sweet red pepper, julienned
- 1 medium green pepper, julienned
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
- 16 ounces sliced or whole pepperoncinis
- 2 (1-pound) loaves hearty Italian bread, cut into halves lengthwise
For the Pot Roast:
Preheat the oven to 300 degrees F and position a rack in the middle position of the oven. Liberally sprinkle the entire roast with salt and pepper. Heat the oil in a Dutch Oven over medium-high heat. Brown the roast on all sides until golden and caramelized; reduce the heat if the fat begins to smoke.
Transfer the roast to a plate and reduce the heat to medium. Add in onions and saute, stirring occasionally until just beginning to brown, 8 to 10 minutes. Add the Italian seasoning and crushed red pepper and saute until fragrant. Add the garlic and saute until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Deglaze with the red wine and cook until the alcohol smell is diminished. Add in the stock and thyme and bring to a simmer. Place the roast back into the pot with any accumulated juices, cover and place in the oven.
Cook the roast, turning every 30 minutes, until very tender, 3 1/2 to 4 hours. Transfer the roast to a cutting board and tent with foil. Strain the juices in the pan through a fine mesh strainer into a bowl. Once cooled a bit, pull the meat into smaller chunks, add to bowl with pan juices and reserve for the sandwiches.
For the Peppers:
Increase the oven heat to 350 degrees F. Toss the pepper strips with the oil, garlic, Worcestershire sauce and salt and pepper on a baking sheet. Bake, stirring halfway through, until lighter in color and soft, about 20 minutes.
To assemble the sandwich: Spoon some juice directly onto the bread. Get it very wet. Then layer the beef generously and spoon on more juice. Top it with bell pepper, Giardiniera and Pepperoncini.
Italian Subs – New York Restaurant Style
“This is a classic Italian sub sandwich with three kinds of meat and provolone cheese. The kind you get in a mom and pop pizza restaurant.
|1 head leaf lettuce, rinsed and torn
2 medium fresh tomatoes, sliced very thin
1 medium red onion, sliced very thin
6 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 teaspoon dried basil
|1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 pinch dried oregano
1/2 pound sliced hot Capacola
1/2 pound thinly sliced Genoa Salami
1/4 pound thinly sliced Prosciutto
1/2 pound sliced Provolone Cheese
4 submarine rolls, split
1 cup Pepperoncini, sliced to fit sandwich
|1.||In a large bowl, toss together the lettuce, tomatoes and onion. In a separate bowl, whisk together the olive oil, wine vinegar, parsley, garlic, basil, red pepper flakes and oregano. Pour over the salad, and toss to coat evenly. Refrigerate for about 1 hour.|
|2.||Spread the submarine rolls open, and layer the Capacola, Salami, Prosciutto, and Provolone Cheese evenly on each roll. Top with some of the salad, and as many Pepperoncini pepper slices as desired. Close the rolls and serve.|
Pepper and Egg Sandwich
Since the 1950′s, and possibly earlier, the “pepper ‘n egg” sandwich has been a popular lunch for Italian American families. When I was a child, my mother would pack a pepper and egg sandwich for my school lunch box. I can remember some of my school mates, saying, “EWW – what is that….” I just shrugged because it tasted yummy. As an adult, I make pepper and egg sandwiches regularly. I introduced them to my Irish husband long ago and it is still one of his favorite sandwiches.
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 clove garlic, finely minced
- 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
- 1 medium onion, thinly sliced
- 1 red bell pepper, thinly sliced
- 1 green bell pepper, thinly sliced
- 3 eggs, beaten
- Salt & freshly ground black pepper
- 1 loaf Italian bread or rolls
Heat a sauté pan over medium heat then add olive oil. Add the garlic and the crushed red pepper and sauté for a minute or two. Add the onion and peppers, regulating the heat so the onions don’t burn. Sauté until the peppers have softened.
Raise the heat to medium-high and add the beaten eggs. Stir to combine with the onions and peppers and season with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the eggs are set.
Slice the bread lengthwise without cutting all the way through. When the eggs are done, gently slide them onto the bread to make a sandwich and cut the loaf into four portions.
Open-Face Grilled Eggplant Sandwiches
- Four large 1/2-inch-thick slices of Italian peasant bread
- Extra-virgin olive oil, for brushing
- One 1 1/4-pound eggplant, sliced crosswise into 8 slices 1 inch thick
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 4 plum tomatoes, sliced crosswise 1/4 inch thick
- 1/2 pound fresh mozzarella, sliced 1/4 inch thick
- 8 large basil leaves, torn
- Coarse sea salt
- Light a grill. Brush the bread on both sides with olive oil and grill over high heat until crisp on the outside but still soft inside, about 30 seconds per side. Transfer to a platter.
- Brush the eggplant slices with olive oil and season generously with salt and pepper. Grill over moderate heat until browned on the bottom, about 5 minutes. Turn and grill until tender, about 3 minutes longer.
- Top the eggplant with the tomato, mozzarella and basil. Cover the grill and cook until the cheese just begins to melt, 1-2 minutes. Transfer 2 eggplant slices onto each slice of bread, sprinkle with sea salt and serve.
New Orleans Muffuletta Sandwich
- 1 round loaf Italian bread, 10-inches in diameter
- Olive Salad (see recipe below)
- Extra-virgin olive oil
- 2 ounces salami, thinly sliced
- 2 ounces Italian ham (Proscuitto), thinly sliced
- 2 ounces Provolone cheese, thinly sliced
Cut bread in half crosswise and scoop out about half of the soft dough from top and bottom pieces (this is to provide more room for the sandwich ingredients). Brush the inside bottom of loaf with olive oil or juice from the Olive Salad marinade.
Layer salami, Italian ham and Provolone cheese on the bottom piece.
Top with as much Olive Salad as will fit without spilling out. Add top of loaf and press down slightly. Slice in quarters or sixths and serve at room temperature.
Makes 4-6 servings, depending on the appetite.
- 2/3 cup pitted and coarsely chopped green olives
- 2/3 cup pitted and coarsely chopped Kalamata olives
- 1/2 cup chopped pimiento
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 anchovy fillet, mashed
- 1 tablespoon capers, drained and rinsed
- 1/2 cup finely-chopped fresh parsley leaves
- 1 teaspoon finely-chopped fresh oregano leaves
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly-ground pepper
- 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
In a medium bowl, combine all the ingredients and then allow the flavors to mingle for at least 1 hour prior to serving.
Store, covered, in the refrigerator until ready to use.
Italian Meatball Sub
Dominic Conti (1874-1954) claims he was the first to use the name, submarine sandwich. Angela Zuccaro, granddaughter of Dominic, related the following information:
“My grandfather came to this country in 1895 from Montella, Italy. Around 1910, he started his grocery store, called Dominic Conti’s Grocery Store, on Mill Street in Paterson, New Jersey where he was selling the traditional Italian sandwiches. His sandwiches were made from a recipe he brought with him from Italy which consisted of a long crusty roll, filled with cold cuts, topped with lettuce, tomatoes, peppers, onions, oil, vinegar, Italian spices, salt, and pepper. The sandwich started with a layer of cheese and ended with a layer was cheese (this was so the bread wouldn’t get soggy).”
Angela continued,”My mother often told me about how my grandfather came to name his sandwich the Submarine.” She remembered the incident very well, as she was 16 years old at the time. She related that “when grandfather went to see the Holland I in 1927, the raised submarine hull that was put on display in Westside Park, he said, ‘It looks like the sandwich I sell at my store.’ From that day on, he called his sandwich the ‘submarine.’ People came from miles around to buy one of my Grandfather’s subs.”
- 2 hoagie rolls, toasted lightly and split lengthwise, but not all the way through
- 1/2 cup shredded Mozzarella cheese
- 1/2 cup shredded Provolone cheese
- 6 cooked meatballs, heated, see recipe post; https://jovinacooksitalian.com/2012/04/20/how-to-prepare-meatballs-and-sausage-3/
- 1 cup homemade Marinara sauce, heated through ( or bottled Italian pasta sauce) see recipe post: https://jovinacooksitalian.com/2012/04/19/hello-world/
- 1 teaspoon grated Parmesan cheese
- 1/4 teaspoon dried oregano
- 1/4 teaspoon dried basil
- Preheat oven to 350 F and lightly toast rolls.
- Sprinkle both cheeses in the bottom of the rolls, holding back about 2 tablespoons for the top of the rolls.
- Place the meatballs down the centre of the roll and ladle hot Marinara sauce on top.
- Sprinkle a tablespoonful of reserved shredded cheese and the Parmesan cheese over top. Sprinkle some dried oregano and basil the over top.
- Put meatball sub in an oven-safe dish and return to oven for a couple of minutes to heat through and melt the cheeses. Cool for a minute before digging in and you may need a large napkin.
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