Dear Chef:"What's the best way to duplicate a South Philadelphia Cheesesteak at home?"Philly GuysPhiladelphia, PADear 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:IngredientsThinly sliced steakOnionsBell PeppersSalt, kosher or seaPepper, black fresh groundCrushed red pepper flakesMinced garlic (the jarred stuff is fine)Olive oilSandwich roll, firm (fresh, room temperature or oven-warmed)Worcestershire SauceBalsamic vinegarProvolone 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" slicesCut peppers into 1" slicesCook 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 - MeatAdd 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.CheeseLine 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.FinishUse 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 TipCheesesteaks are great dipped in French Onion soup!-enjoyTastefully yours,Chef Shane
Steve Lohr is a reporter for The New York Times on technology, business and economics. In 2013, he was a member of the team that was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for explanatory reporting
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