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Philly Cheesesteak - Philadelphia Cheese Steak Sandwich

Updated on November 21, 2011

I adore taking a classic dish and twisting up a little higher. Classics are usually classic for a reason - they're already delicious. But finding a way to crank it up even more just makes my day. This is one of those.

I had my first Philly Cheesesteak (and I'm not arguing over whether it's cheesesteak or cheese steak) in Philadelphia at a street vendor's cart. That set a very high bar for this particular sandwich. The first one I ever had was the true classic - and almost every one I've had since then fell far short of that first mark. There simply wasn't much flavor - or the texture was wrong, or there were odd additives (zucchini?!?), or the bread was soggy or cold or just - wrong. With so few ingredients, each one has to be just right. So when I started to make my own, I went back to basics on each of these.

The steak itself should be steak - period. No don't get that frozen garbage - the real thing is too easy to use. Yes, it does cost a little money, but it honestly doesn't take much. I also cut my own - I buy entire tenderloins, rib eyes or sirloins, and cut them myself. All the wonderful bits and pieces that can't be cut into a steak are perfect candidates for the cheesesteak. Any of these cuts will do beautifully - although tenderloin squeaks by as my favorite because it's so lean and buttery-tender.

The classic veggies are sauteed onion and bell pepper, and sometimes mushrooms as well. These are all fine in my book - and lots of things can happen here. Make sure the veggies taste good on their own though please before you add them to that steak. Their purpose is to highlight and enhance the essential beefiness of the steak. So sautee them until just crisp-tender, with a sprinkle of kosher salt and freshly cracked black pepper.

The cheese is a big issue - the traditional classic is Cheese Whiz. Now no matter how much I fuss about pre-packaged stuff, I admit that on occasion certain dishes call for them, and there's no substitute. Cheese Whiz is one of those - most of the time. If you want the classic flavor, by all means pick some up. I have. Yes, I admit that. However, if you want a little twist, go with provolone or mozzarella. Both are yummy, creamy cheeses that melt gorgeously, and allow for that gooey goodness without overwhelming anything else. They also help keep that monster sandwich stuck together. Not entirely - but they help.

Condiments - of any kind - are all right in my book, although I suppose they are officially heresy. I recently was given a jar of Wickles - a spicy pepper pickle relish and used it on this sandwich. Fresh salsa was also on another one - given to me by my lifelong friend Mary, who can rock some salsa. All kinds of things work - olives, tapenade, tomato salsas - whatever you think tastes good with steak is great. Just use a little caution - don't kill the basic flavors with too much 'stuff'.

Finally - consider the bread. Master sandwich makers consider the bread a prime ingredient - and it is. The right bread is fabulous - the wrong one anywhere from mediocre to downright bad. I used very toasty French bread rolls when I took, because that's what I had. However, even better is a great fresh Hoagie roll. They get crusty on the outside, nice and slightly chewy on the inside, and hearty enough to stand up to the richness of the flavors inside. Highlight but not overwhelm, remember? And please make sure they are toasted - I honestly think nicely toasted bread, whether on the grill or in the toaster, is slightly more critical than the type of bread itself.

Ok - so why the big introduction for such a simple recipe? Because it IS simple - and that means each ingredient needs to shine on its own. Treat each one with a little consideration, and it'll reward you with a whole that's much more than the sum of the parts. Winner there - and a rockstar sandwich!

The Recipe!

You'll Need: (for each big fat sandwich)

  • 1/4 bell pepper, thinly sliced - any color you like. Reds and yellows are pretty and sweeter, green is more classic
  • 1/4 yellow onion, thinly sliced
  • 3-4 oz steak - tenderloin, rib eye or sirloin, very, very thinly sliced, then diced (important for the texture)
  • 2 slices provolone or mozzarella cheese - I cheated and used the pre-sliced kind, or 3-4 Tbl Cheese Whiz
  • 1-2 Tbl Wickles, spicy or not, or salsa, or banana peppers or pepporoncini (optional)
  • 1 Hoagie roll
  • olive oil -
  • kosher salt and black pepper
  1. Heat a teaspoon of olive oil in a large skillet or griddle. Saute the onion and bell pepper until crisp tender. If you like you can toss in some mushrooms as well. Sprinkle lightly with kosher salt and pepper.
  2. Add just a teaspoon or so of olive oil to the pan, and add the meat. With the side of a metal spatula (careful if you are using nonstick cookware) chop the steak as it cooks so that the texture breaks down rather finely. Chop the onion and bell pepper into it - mix it all up.
  3. If you're using a relish or salsa, add it once the meat is almost cooked through - which won't take long at all. No more than four minutes or so. The condiment needs just enough time to warm up.
  4. Once the meat has been chopped and is cooking, get the bread toasting. I simply open it up and drop it on the pan, flipping it after a couple of minutes. If you have a small pan, stick it in the toaster. Just make sure the outside is nicely caramelized - or 'toasty'.
  5. Scoot the meat and veggies into shape about the size of your roll - and place the cheese on top. Place the bread on top of this and give it another 30 seconds or so - this gets the cheese melted. Give it a quick taste and adjust for salt and pepper if you like.
  6. With a spatula, scoot the entire thing out of the pan, flipping it onto a plate. Invert the pan over the now open sandwich, and make sure you get ever last bit of goodness, cheese and juicy stuff. Now you can either eat it with a fork, as an open faced sandwich, or close the thing up and use your hands. If you use your hands, get ready with the napkins - and that's all there is to it!

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