Philadelphia, the city of brotherly love, or “Philly” as referred to fondly by a lot of people, has found its place among our hearts for various reasons. There is the historic liberty bell, a symbol of American freedom; Independence National Historical Park, the site where The Liberty Bell is found; Philadelphia Museum of Art, made famous by Sylvester Stallone in his well-known hit film “Rocky” and many more. Along these lines, it is interesting to note that there is one other major item that has immortalised the flavour of Philadelphia forever. Yes! It is indeed the Philly cheese steak. This dish has a history stretching back to more than 9 decades. To get a gist of the history, the Philly cheese steak was first founded by Pat and Harry Olivieri.
They were hot dog vendors who discovered the steak sandwich one day quite by accident. It started off as they added chopped beef and grilled onion onto an Italian roll. A cab driver passing that way tried it out and found that it was delicious and advised them to get into sandwich business instead of their original hot dogs business. That proved to be a turning point. This led to the opening of Pat’s King of steak. Originally the sandwich did not contain cheese. It was only later that the manager of Pat’s King of steak, Joe Lorenza inserted that into the sandwich, thereby creating the signature dish of Philadelphia.
To get a gist of the history, the Philly cheese steak was first founded by Pat and Harry Olivieri. They were hot dog vendors who discovered the steak sandwich one day quite by accident. It started off as they added chopped beef and grilled onion onto an Italian roll. A cab driver passing that way tried it out and found that it was delicious and advised them to get into sandwich business instead of their original hot dogs business. That proved to be a turning point. This led to the opening of Pat’s King of steak. Originally the sandwich did not contain cheese. It was only later that the manager of Pat’s King of steak, Joe Lorenza inserted that into the sandwich, thereby creating the signature dish of Philadelphia.
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The sandwich has been modified and has many varieties now. It is being sold all over the city in small carts, food trucks, independently owned family business and even in high end restaurants. Outside Philadelphia it is commonly called as the Philly cheese steak sandwich.
In the city of brotherly love, the two most famous outlets for cheesesteak sandwiches are Pat’s King of steak and Geno’s Steaks. They both have been having a friendly rivalry since the year 1966 (when Geno’s Steaks was established). There are some versions of history which claim that it was in fact Geno’s that first put the cheese in the Philly cheesesteak sandwich. However, the popular belief is still that Pat’s King of steak was the outlet that inserted the cheese into the steak sandwich to make it the cheese steak sandwich.
There are also certain methods of ordering the steak at the various outlets. For instance at the outlet of Pat’s King of steak you have to say if you want the onions or not first, and then you have to specify the type of cheese that you would like to have. So, supposing you want to order a cheesesteak sandwich at Pat’s King of steak, with onions and provolone cheese, you would have to say, “With, provolone.” This short form is used because of the huge lines which are a staple feature of the outlet that prevent the possibility of any small talk with the staff at the counter.
The usual ingredients used for the Philly cheese steak include the following:
The meat that is usually used for the sandwich is rib-eye or top round steak. However, other cuts of beef are also often used and these are, Top Sirloin, the T-bone, tri-tip roast and flank steak to name a few.
The authentic cheese steaks of Philadelphia have Amoroso rolls in their sandwiches. These rolls are long soft and lightly salted. However, other Italian rolls and breads may also be used upon the unavailability of these rolls. Two other type of bread rolls used are Aversa and Vilotti-Pisanelli.
The most commonly used cheese in the Philly cheese steak sandwich are American cheese, Provolone and Cheez Whiz. Cheez Whiz was much later addition by the 1960s due to its unavailability by the 1930s, when the steak sandwich was originally found.
Joey Vento, owner of Geno’s (major competitor of Pat’s King of steak), makes a clear point that Provolone is the best cheese that may be used for the cheesesteak sandwich. They highly recommend it and have made a strong statement saying that it is the real cheese. Pat’s King of steak have used the Cheez Whiz as a way of bonding between the outlet and the customers. The high speed processed cheese had already become a staple at every household owing to its easy to handle nature and parents found fixing their kids’ lunch a much simpler and faster process with the help of Cheez Whiz. According to the statistics of Pat’s King of steak, they have an overwhelming ratio of eight to ten Cheez Whiz sandwiches sold for every American cheese cheesesteak sandwich at their shop.
Apart from these there are various other additions that are added to the sandwich. These addition include, sautéed or grilled onions, mushrooms, chili sauce, tomato sauce, bell peppers, mayonnaise mustard sauce, etc. These additions are based on people’s choice and preferences.
The method of preparation of the cheesesteak sandwich is as follows:
1. Meat Preparation
The steak is cut into thin slices and placed on the pan. The slices are to be thin to allow the meat to cook much easily and quickly. The meat slice is cut into pieces using a spatula or a meat knife as it cooks. This should be done over a high flame. The meat should not be overcooked. As it cooks over a high flame use the spatula to quickly cut it into small pieces. The whole process of cooking the meat should take around 30 seconds to a maximum of a minute.
Simultaneously, as the meat cooks, onions and any other vegetable of choice of vegetable is to be sautéed in a pan. This process is to be done over a medium to low flame. The skillet is to be coated with a thin layer of oil and the onions should be placed first. Stir occasionally. Bell peppers (if needed) may be added to the pan. Both the vegetables have to sautéed until they are translucent. Salt should be added as per taste.
3. Meat Mixed With The Vegetables
The vegetables are placed on the meat which has been cooking simultaneously on another pan. They have to be arranged in a long line. The size of the meat should roughly be the size of the bread loaf that you have chosen to use for the sandwich.
4. Cheese Addition
The cheese is then placed on the meat as it cooks, allowing the cheese to melt into the meat to add texture and flavour to the meet. The cheese added may be provolone cheese slices or may be other forms that include mozzarella, American cheese, etc. Further, if so chosen by the customer, the cheese may not even necessarily be in the form of slices. Rather, they can be melted into liquid cheese and added to the sandwich at the plating stage.
The provolone and American cheese is usually in the form of slices. These may be used by placing on the meat and vegetables to melt and sizzle for around 30 seconds to about a minute on a medium to high heat. The other way to cook the provolone may be to place it on the vegetables and meat along a line and then to turn off the heat. This way the cheese will sizzle and melt on the meat and vegetable mixture using the latent heat. This is also used to make sure that the cheese does not get burnt by mistake while making the sandwich.
In case the Cheez Whiz is being used, then there are two different ways to add the cheese to the sandwich.
- The cheese can be spread on the bread before the meat and vegetables are scooped into it. This will help in giving a crispness in the texture of the bread.
- The other method that maybe used is, as already mentioned melting the cheese. The Cheez Whiz is melted through a microwave and then the liquid cheese is spread on the sandwich by using a spatula. In case melted Cheez Whiz is used for the sandwich, then the onions which are grilled / sautéed can also be added on top of the cheese which is spread on the sandwich for a better texture.
The bread (roll) of choice has to be cut across partially. The bread should then be placed on the steak and vegetables that are being sautéed on the pan. Using a spatula, the meat and vegetables should be flipped onto the bread along with the cheese (if already added onto the pan). If the cheese is not added on the meat-vegetable mixture but rather kept in the liquid form nearby, then it should be scooped onto the sandwich.
6. Other Add-ons:
As mentioned earlier, the sandwich may be further customised by adding mayonnaise, mustard sauce, mayonnaise mustard sauce, hot sauce, ketchup etc. Though not part of the original recipe of Philly cheese steak sandwich, these additions have been improvised by the various different outlets that have come up more recently.
Now, you are all set for the delicious dummy bites. Enjoy your hand made food and pat yourself with happiness.