Until yesterday I had never eaten a Philly cheese steak. Until yesterday I had only cooked mushrooms once (about a week ago). Until yesterday I did not know that the song “Pumped Up Kicks” was about outrunning a puppet. Songs that lost their charm months ago are much more tolerable when they’re sung by an adorable three-year-old.
Back to the food… After Matt had a less than stellar cheese steak at an unremarkable restaurant in suburbia this weekend, I thought it would be nice to attempt a homemade version of one of his favorite sandwiches. Never having eaten a cheese steak before, I didn’t really know what I was doing, so I searched for a recipe only to find that there isn’t much of a recipe beyond this: hoagie, thinly sliced beef, cheese slices or sauce, and some combination of onions, peppers,and mushrooms; cook ingredients on a hot griddle; serve in hoagie. Simple enough.
Veggies: For two sandwiches I sliced one red pepper, half an onion, and a couple handfuls of mushrooms. The more experienced cheese steak eater was slightly disappointed in the lack of green pepper (red is apparently too sweet), but I firmly believe that green bell peppers are unworthy of a place in this world. It’s not like mushrooms where I’m not crazy about the texture or flavor but I’m trying to be more tolerant of them. I just don’t see what a green pepper can possibly add to anything. Bland, watery crunch – isn’t that role already filled by water chestnuts?
Cheese: For the cheese Matt chose provolone over Cheez Whiz (sorry, Mom), and he also voted for slices instead of a sauce, although we might try sauce tonight with leftovers. I feel like sauce is more traditional, but I am only basing that on vague memories of food shows where cheese steaks were consumed. I don’t think you can lose either way – sauce or slice, you’re getting a decent serving of cheese.
Bread: It appears to be impossible to find hoagies in Minnesota. I looked for them at our co-op, a local chain grocery store, Target, and a local bakery, and the closest thing that I found was a loaf of french bread at Target. The girl at the local bakery suggested that I go to Subway or Jimmy John’s before selling me a ciabatta loaf with gaping holes all over the bottom of it (Thanks for your help!). I guess the solution is to bake my own hoagies, although I didn’t think that the french bread was all that bad of a vessel.
Right before I started prepping the vegetables, I stuck the meat in the freezer to make it easier to slice. I heated a large cast iron skillet over medium-high heat with a little oil, and then cooked each element separately. Each component was seasoned with salt and pepper as it was cooking. Matt took over the vegetable duties while I sliced the meat as thinly as a I could, and then he cooked it in two batches in the hot skillet. As soon as the meat was ready, we piled it on the bread, topped it with cheese, and stuck it in the oven for a few minutes to melt the cheese. When we couldn’t wait any longer, we added the rest of the toppings and dove in.
I’m not sure whether this practice would be accepted by the cheese steak gods, but we added a smear of mayonnaise to our sandwiches. I also added some hot giardiniera to mine because the thinly sliced beef made me think of the Italian beef sandwiches that I occasionally indulged in when I lived in Chicago, and I couldn’t fathom eating a beefy sandwich without hot peppers. It was a good move, as was the spicy brown mustard that I added after taking these photos.
The verdict: these were thoroughly enjoyable sandwiches. It was a huge step up from the sandwich that Matt was served this weekend, although I’m sure it’s a far cry from what you can find on the streets of Philadelphia. They seemed slightly bland to me until I added hot peppers and spicy mustard, but in looking at numerous recipes I didn’t really see any way to boost the flavor. Is that just the nature of the cheese steak? Maybe a cheese sauce to blanket everything is key, or maybe my taste buds think that every non-spicy food is bland. While I may prefer the Italian beef to the Philly cheese steak, I am still really looking forward to another round of cheese steaks with the leftovers.
*On an unrelated note, More Cheese More Chocolate was featured on a Best of the Web round-up this week on the shopping blog Pocket Change. Click on the link to check it out!