Saturday, February 6, 2016

Eating on the"Sout" Side - Italian Beef

Created on the Sout Side of Chicago (that's right  -no "h" used in South), in the Italian enclaves around the now defunct Stockyards, the classic Chicago Italian Beef Sandwich (pronounced sangwitch) is a delicious, drippy, variation on the French Dip.

You will find it at hundred if restaurants and food stands all over  Chicagoland and at most hot dog stands.  The exact origins are a subject of debate, but it became popular  in the early 1900s as more families moved out of poverty and beef roast replaced cheaper bits of ground meat.  Nobody knows for sure the inventor, but the recipe was popularized by Pasquale Scala, a South Side butcher and sausage maker. During the Depression, in the late 1920s, when food was scarce, Scala's thinly sliced roast beef on a bun with gravy and fried peppers was a huge hit.
Like the famous Gene and Jude red hots (a must stop if you're around O'Hare, and be prepared for a line - they are THAT popular) there's just something about the Italian beef sandwich that is unique to the area, and if you ever visit family or friends in the area, you need to try it.

Today, beef "sangwitches" are a staple at gatherings, both family and business, all over the city.  I work in the city - it's a bit of a commute for me, so I have lots of time to see all the many restaurants and little ma and pa places that advertise this specialty and it's not uncommon for a large order of from Al's showing up delivered to the security area in the front of my building for several employees who make a group order. (Why yes, I'll be carrying these sandwiches through the metal detector for you , and I just MIGHT stop at my office first).
It's traditionally made by slow roasting a lean cut of beef on a rack above a pan filled with seasoned beef stock.  Some folks up here call that "gravy", others just call it au jus ("juice" for short), although it is often made with bouillon, and that is not technically au juice, which normally refers to natural cooking juice  Pasquale Scala's  Italian Beef is made by slowly roasting lean beef on a rack above a pan filled with seasoned beef-based stock.

The meat which is normally cooked with a dry rub, is cut thin and served with some hot peppers mix on fluffy Italian bread loves.  You need some sturdy but fluffy white bread, because whether you call it "gravy" or "juice" you need bread that will soak it up without totally falling apart. Italian rolls are the way to go.
I wanted to make some for Partner in Grime, a native of Illinois (but from farm country down south), but it was a work day and I needed something I could do in a crock pot.  So HOTR "Italian Beef" was born.  It's not "classic" and the purists may take issue with it, but it was the best damn sandwich either of us have had at home in a long time.  He ate it three meals in a row, rather than putting some away for leftovers to freeze like we do everything else.
 Give me some of that beef or I'm calling my boyz

The HOTR version of the beef sandwich starts with a jar of hot peppers known as "giardiniera".  In the Chicago area, where I picked some up at a store, they're commonly made "hot" with sport peppers or "mild" without, along with a (varied) assortment of bell peppers, celery, carrots, cauliflower, serrano peppers, gherkins and sometimes crushed red pepper flakes and banana peppers, steeped in a brine, then packed in an oil blend.

To make this I also needed a can of beer  (why look, I have beer!  WHAT a surprise!) and a small packet of dry Italian salad dressing mix.
And a roast.  A nice firm rump roast.  The roast goes into a crockpot, then the peppers (with liquid) are poured over all. The pepper jar is then fill almost to the top with a good beer (light ale style) and the Italian dressing seasoning is added and shaken, then poured over the meat and peppers.  Crock pot it on low 5-8 hours and serve on good bread with the "juice" placed in little bowls to dip your sandwich in.

The meat was so tender, I cut it extra thick to give the sandwich a nice "bite".  The "juice" has some heat from the peppers as well as a little sweet tang from the dressing mix and was the best part of the sandwich.  It may be a break from tradition, but it was a recipe I'm going to make again and again, if Partner in Grime has his say. It made six medium sized sandwiches with a nice little slice left to cut up and put in some leftover vegetable soup.


  1. Now you've got me salivating for a trip to Taylor Street. Unfortunately, it's 900 miles away.
    Curse you!

  2. Chicago roast beast sandwiches are filled with goodness and love.

    1. If you can't get the pepper blend out there, drop me your address in a "do not post" comment and I'll send you some.

  3. So the last time I did something approaching Italian beef, I took a tri-tip, injected it with Italian dressing and covered it with a dry rub of Italian herbs, and then smoked it with a mild fruit wood until it was rare, saving the drippings. I then combined the drippings with some extra broth, sliced the rare beef extremely thin, and heated the broth to about 150F, and swirled the beef in the broth until it went from rare to medium or medium well. It turned out extremely well, but it certainly isn't a crock-pot style recipe. It made awesome sammiches.

  4. MMMMMM!
    Chicago Red Hots!
    They've a Portillos near here - I don't get to go very often, though...
    And you said firm rump. I stopped reading after that!


  5. Dang it!! I should know better than to read your food posts before lunch.


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