Italian beef could mean a lot of things, I suppose. But after traveling to Chicago last summer, Italian beef, to me can only mean one thing… tender beef roast on a hoagie roll topped with giardiniera and dipped in au jus.
Chicago is one of my favorite food cities. Of course, it’s known for deep dish pizza, but that is only scratching the surface. Chicago food is food that you might be generally familiar with, but Chicagoians have a way of doing them with a twist that makes them unique. Take the pizza for example. If you’re a pizza purist, deep dish pizza dough in Chicago is made with cornmeal. Also, the cheese and other toppings are put on the bottom, and topped with the sauce. Hot dogs are typically “drug through the garden” in Chicago, which means a red hot-style dog topped with tomato wedges, dill pickle spears, onions and celery salt. And, Chicago is home to the brewery of my all-time favorite beer, Goose Island 312.
I got my Italian beef at Luke’s Italian Beef on West Jackson Boulevard, near the Sears Tower. I was nervous when I got to the counter because I didn’t want to order it wrong and offend the gruff-looking salty old dude behind the counter. He looked like he took serving these sandwiches seriously. You can order them with just beef, beef and giardiniera, dipped or not dipped. I went for the full Chicago experience, and got mine with the giardiniera and dipped. It was messy but delicious. You have to eat them quickly because once the beef and giardiniera are loaded on the sandwich, the whole sandwich is dipped in the au jus, and they will fall apart if left uneated for very long. The bread is chewy and almost crispy in the first couple bites, and almost mush at the very last few bites, but still delicious.
Having never had Italian beef before, I didn’t have anything to compare it to. But now, having done a quick survey of Yelp and Frommer’s, I realize the undisputed King of Italian Beef in Chicago is Al’s Beef. I think Luke’s runs a close second, though, so it wasn’t like I missed the boat altogether. Next time I go to Chicago, I’m trying Al’s Beef.
To satisfy a craving for Italian Beef in the meantime, I decided to make my own. It started with giardiniera. Giardiniera is basically pickled vegetables, typically celery, onions, carrots, and peppers. Having all these vegetables on hand, I made 4 pints a couple weeks ago when I was canning jam. It was super-easy. I used both a sweet bell pepper and a few banana peppers, so it wasn’t too hot.
The next step is the beef. The recipe I used has several tips and some history of the sandwich, which is pretty neat. I used bottom round roast, since I knew I was going to make mine in the crockpot. Rather than putting a rub on the meat and searing the meat off before braising, I just added the spices for the rub in the crockpot and put the meat in raw. I might have gotten a better result if I’d followed those directions, but mine was still pretty darn good. Here’s how I made it, adapted from the Amazing Ribs website.
Chicago-Style Italian Beef
(Makes 8 sandwiches)
1 2-lb. bottom round roast
1 cup of red wine
2 cups of beef stock
1 Tb. black pepper
2 tsp garlic powder
1 Tb. dried minced onions
1 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp dried basil
1/2 tsp crushed red pepper
8 6-in. hoagie rolls
In a crockpot, add red wine, beef stock and all spices. Add beef roast and fill crockpot with water until beef is covered. Cook on high 4-5 hours or low 8-9 hours. When done, remove beef from juices onto a cutting board, let cool slightly and cut into chunks (I realize authentic Italian beefs have shaved meat, but you gotta work with what ya got… I don’t have a deli slicer). Place hoagie rolls under broiler for a few minutes until the bread has a slight toast. Place each toasted roll on a piece of parchment paper big enough to wrap around the sandwich. Divide beef evenly between the rolls and top with giardiniera. Dip the entire sandwich in the juice and wrap with parchement paper. Serve immediately.