Philly Cheese Steak Sandwich

Posted by on Jan 9, 2013 in Food Journal, Lunch

Philly Cheese Steak Sandwich

Philly Cheese Steak Sandwich – Being a food nerd, I am very interested in food history/origin. Who isn’t though right :)? So, today, I want to share with you a sandwich with a history – The Philly Cheese Steak. The Cheese Steaks’ story starts back in the 1930′s. Well, I guess technically, all sandwiches start back in the 18th century with the Earl of Sandwich – he was the first person to decide to put food between bread and call it a sandwich. Or at least he’s the one credited for it. But, were going to start in the 1930′s, because that is when the Philly Cheese Steak Sandwich was born. I have heard a few different versions of this story but they all have some things in common. In South Phillidelphia, there was a hot dog cart owned by two guys  by the names of Pat and Harry Olivieri. One day, Pat was working and got hungry. He decided to cook some beef on his hot dog grill (one story says his wife sent the beef to work with him that day the other says he got it from the butcher (I’m not sure why there’s a debate – it’s the 1930′s not the 1430′s but anyway). He then placed the beef, along with some onions onto a roll – I’ve heard Italian or  Hoagie roll. So, one of his regular customers, a cab driver happened along and saw Pat eating his new creation and asked if he could make him one as well. Pat did and the cabbie liked it and asked if he could make it again for him the next day (or sometime in the future) and the Philly Steak Sandwich was born which eventually led to Pat’s restaurant, Pat’s King of Steaks. Notice that I didn’t say Philly Cheese Steak yet. That’s right, there was no cheese on the first one. The cheese came a short time later. According to Oliveri, the first cheese was added by a guy named Joe “Cocky Joe” Lorenza. He was the manager of the Ridge Avenue location of Pat’s and made the choice to add Provolone Cheese. So what about the American Cheese and Cheese Whiz? Those are also later additions. The Cheese Whiz actually didn’t come until the 1950′s. Which is obvious if you think about it since Cheese Whiz wasn’t invented until 1952. And the American, well I haven’t heard any definitive year for that one, only that it is now commonly served on the sandwich including at the restaurant Pat’s King of Steaks. They also serve the Cheese Whiz there in case you’re wondering. So, what officially makes a Cheese Steak Sandwich? Well, I guess it depends on who you ask. There are several versions at this point which have added everything from the cheeses to bell peppers, mushrooms, mayonaise, ketchup and hot sauce. Oh, a nice Amoroso Sandwich Roll – if you can get one, also makes a welcome addition and is common in Philidelphia with the Cheese Steak. Generally, you saute the meat with the other ingredients you’ve choosen, place the cheese on top, and then scoop it onto your bread. Very yummy. I do mine a little different though – I also encourage you to give the Cheese Steak your own little twist. Don’t forget, cooking is an art! Enjoy and happy cooking everyone! Oh, this recipe makes two large sandwiches – enough for 8 people, but you can easily just cut it in half.

Ingredients (for 2 large sandwiches)

1 Tablespoon Olive Oil

1 onion, sliced (I used a brown onion, white is good too)

1 1/4 teaspoons Kosher Salt

3/4 teaspoon black pepper

2 1/2 pounds mushrooms (white button or crimini *see note), sliced

2 pounds Steak (I used Sirloin), partially frozen – I’ll explain later :D

1 Green Bell Pepper, sliced 1/4 inch thick, seeds removed

1 Red Bell Pepper, sliced 1/4 inch thick, seeds removed

2 Loaves French Bread

butter – enough to spread on the bread

mayonaise – the amount depends on your taste, 1/2 cup or so

1 pound Provolone Cheese

American Cheese (optional (I don’t use it))

Cheese Whiz (optional (I don’t use it))


1. Saute your sliced onions with a little bit of Kosher salt (about 1/4 teaspoon) and black pepper (also about 1/4 teaspoon) in the olive oil for about 30 seconds. Reduce your heat and stir the onions one time really good making sure they’re not sticking anywhere. Leave the onions cooking on low for now (we’re going to caramelize them lightly).

saute the mushrooms with the onions

2. Slice your bell peppers about 1/4 inch thick. Remove all of the seeds and throw them out. They taste bitter when you cook them so we don’t want any on our sandwich. Put the bell peppers to the side.

3. Slice your mushrooms. Make sure you wash them first. It is OK to get your mushrooms wet. I put them all in a bowl together and fill the bowl with water, then I swirl them around, drain them and repeat the process. If you do this, you will notice how dirty those mushrooms actually are because you can see the dirty water. So, the point is, wash your mushrooms, you don’t really have to worry about them absorbing a bunch of water. It’s cool.

4. Add your sliced mushrooms to the onions and add a little more Kosher Salt (1/2 teaspoon or so) and pepper (1/4 teaspoon or so).

add the meat to the mushrooms and onions

5. Stir the mushrooms in with the onions. Allow the mushrooms to “cook down”. Please check out my how-to video if you’re not sure what to look for.

6. Once the mushrooms are cooked down, it’s time to add the beef. Now, let’s have a little talk about the beef. Often, when I have had a Philly Cheese Steak, the meat has been well done. That’s fine I guess and I’m not downing it or anything, but I like my steak to be somewhere between mooing and medium rare depending on what I’m cooking it for. In this case, I like to have my meat medium rare. So, to accomplish this while still getting the flavors right and that kind of saucey-ness that you end up with at the end, I freeze my steak. SSSSSSSSSSS (that’s the sound of everyone doing that suck in through your teeth sound in a tisk tisk manner – I wasn’t sure how to spell it :D), I know. I normally would not tell you to freeze your steak, especially all the way through (but that’s another lesson). This time, for this sandwich, I freeze my steak all the way through. Then, I let it thaw a little. “What?” You may be asking, why would you freeze, then thaw. Well, that’s the only way I know to start with the middle totally frozen and the outside thawed. Do you follow me? So, what’s going to happen when we add the steak to the pan is we can cook the outside enough to get the flavor and sauceyness and the inside stays medium rare – Yay! If you want your meat to be well done, just don’t freeze it. The other thing is, when your meat is slightly frozen, it’s easier to cut into those nice even beautiful slices. So, even if you’re going for well done, you may want to freeze the steaks for an hour or so, just to make them easier to slice. And just in case you’re wondering why I don’t just cook the steak for less time, well it’s because I think you get better flavor this way because you can cook the outside of the slices further then if they weren’t frozen in the middle.

7. Moving on, sprinkle the meat with Kosher salt (1/2 teaspoon or so) and a little pepper (1/4 teaspoon or so), then, add the beef to the pan.

8. While your beef is starting to cook, slice your french bread in half long ways. Butter each side well, then lay them buttered side down onto a griddle or pan to toast them. Go back to your beef.

9. Saute the beef around until it is starting to brown. This should be happening by the time you butter your bread and everything. When the beef starts to brown, add your bell peppers. Stir everything around. Allow this to cook while you check on your bread (that is toasting).

10. When your bread is golden brown, add the mayonaise, then the cheese to the bread. I put mayonaise on both pieces of bread and then cheese on the top slice.

11. Add the beef mixture on top of the cheese (yep, it’s upside-down), put the two sides together, flip it :) and enjoy!

*A note on mushrooms-You may not know this, but Button Mushrooms, Crimini Mushrooms, and Portabella Mushrooms are all the same mushroom in different states of maturity. They are the variety Agaricus bisporus. The white button and the crimini are the youngest and therefore the softest. Why are the crimini brown? Well, they are bred to be brown, but the only real difference between them and the button is color….and price. Sometimes I like to use the crimini anyway because even though I know they’re the same, they somehow seem “nicer” to me. I don’t know why – maybe because they cost more :). The Portabellas are the most mature in the family and have the “meatiest” texture and the most flavor. Look for mushrooms that have a membrane covering the gills. Those are the freshest. If you can’t find any that are still “closed” (that means the membrane is there), then make sure the cap is still turned down. If the cap is turning up, that’s a sign of an old mushroom. There, now you’ve learned something today :).

Please enjoy this how-to video!

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