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Cole Cooks: Chicago Italian Beef Recipe

Chicago Italian Beef sandwich

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The Italian Beef sandwich is Chicago’s answer to the Philadelphia cheesesteak.  I come from Philly and so am biased to the cheesesteak.  However, I admit that, while I have never tried one in Chicago, some Italian Beef sandwiches I have had over the years have been quite tasty.  So here is how I made my own Chicago Italian Beef sandwich.

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I have a thing for trying to make regional dishes that I have not actually tried in their original location.  For example, I have never been to Detroit but love making Detroit-style pizza.  Chicago is known for its own cuisine and I have actually been there.  However, I have never eaten a Chicago Italian Beef in Chicago. 

With the caveat that I have no idea if my Chicago Italian Beef is true to the authentic one, I can say this is a good sandwich.  This is not so much a recipe as a technique.  On the surface, a Chicago Italian Beef is simple.  Throw some roast beef on a roll, add au jus sauce and top with giardiniera and peppers.  However, it is all in the quality of the ingredients.

To truly make my version requires cooking my roast beef from scratch and making homemade giardiniera.  The roast beef comes from my recipe for cooking a large eye of round roastThe giardiniera is my attempt to copy Potbelly Sandwich giardiniera.  The au jus is simply the pan drippings with some added beef broth.

We like to top our sandwiches with green peppers. To keep things simple we simply slice the green peppers into strips and add them to the au jus.  The au jus is pretty flexible.  The taste is adjusted by adding water and/or beef broth until you get a balance to your liking.

Chicago Italian Beef sandwich
Skim fat off leftover juice from roast
Chicago Italian Beef sandwich
Add beef broth. If it is too salty you can add water.
Chicago Italian Beef sandwich
Green peppers go right in the au jus
Chicago Italian Beef sandwich
Heat the beef in the au jus

Giardiniera is a condiment easily found in grocery stores.  However, I like to make my own when I go the trouble of making Chicago Italian Beef sandwiches.  The final ingredient is the bread.  In my experience, the bread is the least important ingredient.  It seems to fall apart into a soggy mess.  We buy rolls from our local Von’s and hollow out a great deal of the inside.  Toasting before hand helps prevent the sogginess, but a great of the roll tends to get thrown away.  

Chicago Italian Beef sandwich
The rolls generally become a soggy mess

Our recipe for cooking a 5-pound eye of round roast is part of a 4-day beef fest we do maybe once a year.  On day we start cooking the roast and making the giardiniera.  Day two we serve a third of the roast as thick pot roast style slices.  The rest we refrigerate.

The giardiniera is done on day four when we make Chicago Italian Beef sandwiches.  We use about one-third pound of beef per sandwich.  The key is to slicing it really thin.  This is best done by a deli meat slicer.  Unfortunately, we don’t have one so we have to thinly slice the meat by hand.

Chicago Italian Beef sandwich
Slice as thin as possible

The key to thinly slicing roast beef with a chef’s knife is to have patience.  You want to just put the meat up against the knife and scrape along the roast to get a paper-thin cut.  It takes time and your hand is likely to be sore at the end.  However, it is worth it.

The 5-pound eye of round roast we buy at Costco for $15 will serve about 12 people.  This is an incredibly great deal.  Of course, Chicago Italian Beef sandwiches are only one use for this roast.  Erin’s custom roast beef grinder recipe is arguably an even better treat.

Chicago Italian Beef Sandwiches

This is our technique for making Chicago Italian Beef Sandwiches

Ingredients

  • 1.5 to 2 pounds thinly sliced roast beef see note
  • au jus see note
  • 2 cups beef broth
  • 1 green pepper seeded and cut into strips
  • giardiniera see note
  • 6 rolls

Instructions

  1. Make or buy roast beef.
  2. To make au jus combine leftover pan drippings with beef broth and green peppers and simmer in a pan for 10 minutes. Adjust for salt. If too salty add water to taste.
  3. Add roast beef to pan and heat for 1-2 minutes.
  4. Place on rolls and serve topped with giardiniera

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