Ask the Chef

Dear Chef:

"What's the best way to duplicate a South Philadelphia
Cheesesteak at home?"

Philly Guys
Philadelphia, PA

Dear PhillyGuys:

Thanks for your question;

Although that's not one that I've ever gotten before, it's a good one -
albeit not easily answered.  The key component that makes this question
so challenging is regarding authenticity.  What is a "Philly Cheesesteak"?  
That's an age old debate.  Although the underlying concept remains the
same, no two cheesesteaks (from different locations) are alike - so there
is no standard.  

Your question however at least narrows it to a particular region, "South
Philladelphia", which makes it a little easier, but still arguable.  Many will
say that Gino's makes the “authentic” cheese-steak while others will say
that you have to eat at Pat's in order to get a “real” cheesesteak.  A lesser
amount will even make claim that Jim's Steaks is authentic even though
Jim's came much later than either of the other two.  Tony Luke's however
has been the reigning award winner most recently.

The most arguable element that surrounds the cheesesteak is the
cheese.  Some use Cheddar.  Others use provolone.  Usually unarguable
though, is that the firm kaiser-like roll is really what makes Philadelphia
stand alone as the king of cheese-steaks.

Regardless of the controversy regarding the north-eastern classic, most
will agree that fried onions are essential.  Green bell peppers are also a
common topping, while ketchup is optional but usually not preferred by die-
hard connoisseurs.

So assuming you decide to go the provolone, peppers, and onions route,
you'll need the following:

Ingredients
Thinly sliced steak
Onions
Bell Peppers
Salt, kosher or sea
Pepper, black fresh ground
Crushed red pepper flakes
Minced garlic (the jarred stuff is fine)
Olive oil
Sandwich roll, firm (fresh, room temperature or oven-warmed)
Worcestershire Sauce
Balsamic vinegar
Provolone sliced (room temperature at the time of cooking)

A note about the steak;
Do NOT use the frozen name brand steak sandwich meat-sheets like
"beef-it" or whatever it's called.  Most of these processed meat food
products are grotesque at best and barely suitable for your canine
companion, let alone your family and friends.  Some stores do sell thinly
sliced sirloin, frozen or fresh.  You have to look hard to find it sometimes,
especially when you're cooking outside of cheesesteak country.  If it’s not
available, just get a regular sirloin steak, cook it medium-rare, and slice it
thin.  It’s not "authentic", but so what?  It's better!

Step 1 - Veg Prep (can be done 1-2 days ahead)
Slice onions into 1" slices
Cut peppers into 1" slices

Cook in a sauté/fry pan at medium-high heat in some olive oil - enough to
keep the entire pan wet without drowning your vegetables.  Season with
salt and pepper.  Add minced garlic and red pepper flakes while it’s
cooking.  They're done when they're floppy but not mushy - unless you
like them mushy, then do that.

If you're cooking ahead, transfer the peppers and onions to a food
container, (with a lid) cool over ice, then refrigerate.  Otherwise, proceed
to step 2.


Step 2 - Meat
Add your sliced beef to the hot onion and peppers.  
If you're cooking from frozen, your goal here is to thaw and cook until
barely a little pinkish.

If you've already cooked and sliced a sirloin, then you're goal is to heat
the steak through without over cooking it - which is why we initially cooked
it to medium rare. Make sure you're steak stays a little pink or it will get
tough.  If you like it grey and tough, then that's another story.  

Traditionally, the meat is torn apart while it’s cooking. This is achieved by
using two spatulas, working the meat in opposite directions against the
bottom of the pan.

Add salt and pepper to taste, and a splash of Worcestershire.  
Additionally, a splash of balsamic vinegar would be good here too if you'd
like.  At this point the ingredients should smell very fragrant - your cue to
get it off the burner.

Cheese
Line up your meat and vegetable mixture in long mounds (the size of your
sandwich roll) inside the pan -one for each sandwich.  Top with sliced
provolone and cover until the cheese begins to melt.

Finish
Use a spatula to scoop from pan, and onto your sandwich roll.  Slice in
half and serve with fries.

Common Mistake
"-Roll is too big or not enough filling". The result is big mouthfuls of dry
bread - not pleasant.  Make sure it’s stuffed good.

Chef's Tip
Cheesesteaks are great dipped in French Onion soup!


-enjoy


Tastefully yours,
Chef Shane
      

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