South Philadelphia, home of Pat’s King of Steaks, originator of the cheesesteak in 1930. I lived within blocks of Pat’s, and it’s rival Geno’s right across the street, for a good 2 years while in graduate school, and the cult following around the sandwich did not escape me.
Day or night, there were lines spilling out into the streets from both cheesesteak delies where grease permeates the air, Italian accents abound and people are serious about their cheesesteak. As I took a crack at cheesesteak experimentation myself, I made sure to have authentic references: the City of Philadelphia Official Philly Cheesesteak Web Site and a phone conference with my Philly resident friend, Rocky. (That’s not a made up name for writing convenience, my friend was christened Raquelle and nicknamed Rocky).
Rest assured, the recipe I honed below will have a mere fraction of the fat content that you’d get from the “authentic” sandwich, but the original is well worth an explanation. On the website for the City of Brotherly Love you will find the history of the cheesesteak, their chosen top ten purveyors, and, most importantly, ordering etiquette. Rocky guarantees that the etiquette bit is highly important if you don’t want to be muscled out of a cheesesteak shop.
The authentic cheesesteak recipe, such as you’d find at Geno’s, is as follows: a long crusty roll, thin sliced sautéed steak, fried onions, possibly peppers and Whiz. That’s “cheese whiz” for those of you who only eat real food. According to Rocky, a lifelong Philly resident, you only need 1 word to order, and you better make it quick:
The 1 word question you’ll hear is “wit?” The correct 1 word answer: “wit.”
That’s short for “would you like onions and cheese whiz with that?” and “yes, I would like onions and cheese whiz with that.” Rocky explains, if you start asking questions, changing up the recipe or say anything besides “wit” or “widout,” the man behind the counter moves on to another customer, and the locals just may toss you out.
How to safely choose among the vast number of Philly cheesesteak dellies? Rocky advises: “if you walk into your cheesesteak dellie and it doesn’t smell like fried onions and a sweaty stinky dude cooking over the grill, then something is wrong–don’t eat there. The sweaty stinky dude may be the gross part of the experience, but you’ll know he’s been slaving over your cheesesteak.”
Herein, I have taken this urban legend and slaved myself to make it much healthier and decidedly more garden to table. I started with the highest quality beef, top sirloin from our local Methow Valley farmers at Crown S Ranch. Their beef is organic, free range and easy to order.
I used the onions still in cold storage from last summer’s harvest and the peppers that I roasted and froze through the winter. Instead of Whiz, I made up a creamy Gouda cheese sauce for “the drip factor” that is lower in fat but carries a full-fat flavor.
The Philly Cheesesteak meets Methow Mama, Recipe
1 lb. Top Sirloin, Crown S Ranch, very thinly sliced
3/4 c milk
2 T flour
3/4 c Gouda cheese, finely shredded
1/4 t salt
3 T butter
1 large onion, thinly sliced , or 2 medium
2 thinly sliced sweet peppers, red and green, or 5-7 jalapeños
Crusty Italian bread or baguette, my preference is the latter from our local Mazama Store
~In a large skillet, heat 2 T butter on medium-high and add onions to caramelize; stir constantly for a few minutes; when onions begin to soften, add peppers and continue stirring; caramelization is done when onions and peppers are soft, browned and fragrantly sweet; set aside.
~While sautéing, whisk together milk and flour and heat slowly; when milk rou is hot, add finely grated gouda and salt and stir over low heat until cheese sauce thickens; cut heat when combined and creamy, then cover.
~In the same skillet used for onions, heat the remaining 1 T butter and add beef, just as thinly sliced as you can make it; season with salt and pepper to taste; quick fry until the meat is cooked through but rare; combine with pepper and onion mix.
~Lightly toast bread or rolls; to construct the cheesesteak, top 1/2 roll with onions, peppers and beef, then drizzle the cheese sauce over all; serve with roll top, and be sure to have clean up access, because this is definitely a 2 napkin sandwich.
HERITAGE NOTE Geno (Joe Vento) was a Philadelphia institution. He passed away recently, but his cheesesteak making family remains at the original location, with Pat’s across the street, just as it’s been since 1930.
Love from our kitchen to yours, Georgina @ Soul & Stomach