Life

Our Food Writers Attempt To Make The Perfect Hot Beef Sandwich


Food face offs are back — battling this time over hot beef sandwiches. Technically the original challenge was just “hot meat” (insert Tobias Fünke joke here), but since we all made beef I’m changing it — in case we want to do pulled pork or grilled cheese at some later date.

The beef wasn’t the only similarity in our dishes. In fact, this one may end up so close that it comes down to the burns, not the cooking. Expect us to roast each other hard, in desperate attempts to win your favor.

As always, your shares, Tweets, and comments are much appreciated.

— Steve Bramucci, Managing Editor, Uproxx Life

PAST RESULTS:

BLT Showdown — 1) Vince 2) Zach 3) Steve
Mac & Cheese Showdown — 1) Vince 2) (tie) Zach, Steve
Taco Showdown — 1) Steve 2) Zach 3) Vince
Winter Stew Showdown — 1) Zach 2) Steve 3) Vince
Date Night Showdown — 1) Zach 2) Vince 3) Steve
Pasta Showdown — 1) Steve 2) Zach 3) Vince

CURRENT SCORE:

We’re giving three points to the winner and one to second place for each round. As it stands, the score is:

ZACH: 10
STEVE: 8
VINCE: 7

ZACH’S REUBEN

I have a huge soft spot for Jewish delis. I can’t go to Toronto without hitting Caplansky’s or New York without hitting Katz’s or LA without hitting Canter’s. It’s a need not a want. There’s some deeply rooted Ashkenazi DNA in my blood that draws me to hot sandwiches filled with salted beef. An old Jewish baba is my siren and a grilled sandwich overflowing with salty beef are the craggy rocks ready to break me. Since I live in Berlin, the options for getting a good Reuben from a Jewish deli are still few and far between. And, those that do exists aren’t quite there yet in terms of quality. So I have to make my own Reuben to find satisfaction.

The Meat
Let’s face it, the meat is the most important part of the Reuben. I usually sub brisket in over pastrami. That’s just me, and that’s what I’ve done here.

I got an Anova sous vide recently and I’ve been cooking everything in it. I’m a kid with a new toy. Lately, I’ve been experimenting with brisket — I’ve found that cooking a rib eye steak sized piece works really well. And it’s easy.

I get a nice fatty piece of brisket tip and add a rub of Himalayan salt, birch-smoked brown sugar, sweet-paprika, and cracked black pepper (yes, Vince, Tellicherry, which is the smaller peppercorns from the bottom of the tree and thus are more concentrated in flavor). Lastly, I spritz both sides of the meat with a liquid smoke a chef-friend of mine makes at his BBQ joint.

My biggest concern with the sous vide was the goddamn waste from bagging everything you have to cook. I was using zip lock bags for a while since I didn’t feel like spending a c-note on a quality vacuum sealer. But I couldn’t really stomach the waste. So I found these Stasher bags that are reusable in a sous vide up to 3,000 times. And now I can sit on my high horse since I’m not wasting plastic bags with every cook. It’s nice up here.

Anyway, after letting my small cut of brisket sit for 2 hours in the rub, I use the water immersion technique to get all the air out of the pouch and drop it into 155F water. I cover that with foil and let it run for 24 hours. I do have to top the water up about 12 hours in. Otherwise, that’s all you gotta do.

When I take the meat out, it’s so tender it’s falling apart. I place it in a tin foil lined baking pan and pop it in the oven for about 15 minutes on the highest setting. This crisps up the outer layer and gives is a nice smoked feel without having to smoke the meat. I sharpen a knife and slice the beef against the grain and it’s ready to go.

The meat is soft, juicy, and nearly falls apart to the touch along the fatty fault lines. It’s nice and salty with a caramel and smokey finish. It seriously does fall apart easily, so handle with care if you try this recipe.

The Ingredients

I live in Germany and they do know their way around a loaf of bread here. So I popped down to the corner bakery and grabbed a fresh loaf of natural rye. The baker uses yeast from the air and an old rye starter. Once baked it has those fantastic ears on the crust.

For the Russian sauce, I use the same recipe as my Big Mac. The only difference is that I subbed the jalapeño for spicy dill pickles I make myself in the sous vide (I warned y’all, kid/new toy). Pickles are super easy to make — make a simple brine add some fresh dill, green onion, and garlic. I throw in a couple dried Thai chilis to make them extra spicy. Then you drop the pouch in the water bath for 30 minutes on 190F. That’s it, you have great spicy dill pickles. I like putting the spicy and finely diced pickles in the Russian dressing to add a layer of spice to the whole thing.

For the sauerkraut, I also take note that I live in Germany. So I head to the famed Rogacki Deli and grabbed some ‘sauerkraut mit speck.’ That’s a savory and sour cabbage with little bits of smoked pork belly in it. It’s delightful and adds a deeper dimension to the sandwich.

Lastly, there’s the cheese. I use a sharp Emmentaler, which we call Swiss in America because ‘Emmentaler’ was too kooky to say back in the day. I grabbed some from Rogacki while I was there, sliced fresh from a big ol’ log from Switzerland.

The Build
This is where the magic happens. I get out my trusty cast iron skillet and melt some nice butter (yes, it’s from France. I like good things). The butter should generously coat the whole bottom of the skillet. I arrange the cheese on my slices of bread and place them in the skillet on a lowish heat. I want the outside to toast while the cheese melts.


Once perfectly toasted and melted, I pop the bread over to a cutting board and add my brisket to one side and Russian dressing to the other side. I throw the sauerkraut into the cast iron skillet for about two minutes, or just until it starts to brown a bit. Lastly, I put that on the meat and put the whole thing together.

I slice it in half and serve with a couple spicy dill pickle spears (I’m not monstrous enough to not serve a pickle with a sandwich). The melty cheese mixes with the dressing and ‘kraut so well. The crunch from the outer grilled bread is wonderful. And the meat is so soft, juicy, and salty/smokey/sweet that I eat in silence, just enjoying the brilliance of a good Reuben.

STEVE ON ZACH’S DISH:

Wait just one second. Are you saying…? Could it be…that… ZACH LIVES IN BERLIN??? HARK! WHAT NEWS IS THIS???

Real talk: I think Vince and I should get a point each time Zach mentions “I live in Berlin.” In exchange, the boys can take a point every time I write about surfing/juicing/or some weird hippie shit. We should also have points awarded when Vince vaguely refers to his upbringing in the famed “farming communities near Fresno” as giving him some particular insight into tacos.

To the sandwich! Jesus, that looks good. I was getting annoyed at all the waxing philosophic about meat cooked in plastic bags, then I saw pictures and I was like, “I’d eat the shit out of that plastic bag meat.” I also like the bread, the cheese choice, and the kraut-add. But the spicy pickles are probably the highlight of the whole thing for me. (Considering that I facilitated the whole “Zach gets a toy” deal, I expect a jar of those spicy dills in the mail any day now. And where will you be sending them from? B E R L I N ! ! ! Where. You. Reside.)

Here’s my one issue with your meal: That thing is heavy. No greenery anywhere? Nothing but some kraut vinegar to cut the fat and oil? No brightness? Is everything okay, my dude? Someone crowd fund some freaking chives for this guy.

VINCE ON ZACH’S DISH:

I know I like to rip on our boy Zach for his purple food prose and artisan salt-based reveries, but when it comes to sandwiches, I think we’re cut from the same cloth. I basically had two sandwiches in mind as my all-time favorite sandwich to possibly make in this challenge, and one of them is a reuben, so kudos on that. Also, Steve, chives on a reuben? Even Jacques Pepin would wedgie you for that, and that man loves chives more than his own children.

I also bought a sous vide recently so I know it makes a damn good brisket without a lot of guess work. In fact, why stick it in a sandwich? I’ll take brisket over pastrami for the most part too, but brisket is an entree, not an ingredient. Also, you used store-bought saurkraut? What kind of horseshit is that? I thought this was a cooking challenge, not a living-in-Europe challenge. I like how you made your own pickle for the side dish but not a key ingredient of the actual sandwich. Hey, cool, why not just buy the brisket from Franklin BBQ, you cheater.

My only other criticism is that this crunchy ass sandwich looks like it’d tear up the roof of my mouth worse than Hitler tore up the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact (you didn’t think you were going to make a Jewish sandwich in Germany without me making a Hitler joke, did you?). Credit where credit’s due though, it looks like it’d be worth it.

STEVE’S (WAAAAAY OUTSIDE) PHILLY CHEESE STEAK

For an entire month, I bragged to the boys about my “Cūb-ahn-Mi.” I was going to merge two of the greatest sandwiches of all time, just because I’d thought of a clever name. The boys said it couldn’t be done — no one could pair cheese with pickled daikon and carrots — but, I assured them, I’d broken open the secret.

It was a lie. My experiments were in vain. I knew I wanted cheese and, eventually, I had to admit that cheese and pickled veg weren’t going to mesh. It would have to be one or the other and cheese won out, as it always does for me. I decided on an Italian-inspired Philly cheesesteak. But don’t come at me for a lack of Whiz — I wanted something that a confused Italian grandmother would make in Italy, if you raved to her about cheesesteaks in the US.

But that’s not actually where my meal started, it all began with onions…

The Onions:

I started by dousing my pan with olive oil and sweating onions harder than Zach sweats on Berlin. Then I added the following:

  • Spoon of cherry jam
  • Three glugs of red wine (made by my deceased father, if we’re scoring nostalgia points)
  • Some of the best balsamic that an internet editor can afford, from Modena, Italy.
  • Mashed garlic
  • Spicy red peppers

Cook that down and you end up with a “tart/spicy/savory flavor spread” — which is also the tagline on Vince’s mom’s dating profile.

The Meat

If I know one thing about steak, it’s this: Leave. It. Alone. I may have turned my barbacoa into a “soda slurry” as my man Vince called it, but I know how to do steak. I bought a free range ribeye, salted it generously, cracked some pepper over the top and left it on the counter for 30 minutes.

Next I got a pan smoking hot (before adding any oil, because the oil would go bitter at the smoke point), doused a little oil on the pan, and laid that perfect steak right on top, patting it down a little. When I had a nice crust on one side, I flipped it over and did the same on the other side. It’s not rocket science, it’s just the best way to make a steak on the planet earth.

When the ribeye was done (rare, because unlike my cohorts I didn’t spend $20 on a pampered cow just to cook it for 72 hours), I let the meat rest. Rule of thumb: Five minutes. Then grab the knife, slice off a fat cap, let it melt in your mouth, pass one to the lady friend, brag to her for a solid minute about how you’re going to win and finally feel successful, THEN slice the steak. I follow this method of stalling because I always find that it needs a little extra resting and not resting a steak enough is literally burning money.

I mean… look at that. Is that not glorious? Are you not entertained? If that feels a touch too rare for you (it wasn’t bloody and the fat was completely caramelized), remember that this is going in the broiler.

The Build

Okay, I went off book a little at this point. It seems like we’re going pure Italiano, but the cheese veered north. My family is from Trentino and we like that soft, buttery, Swiss cheese you find in the alps. Also, that seemed more like a cheesesteak to me and I was still using that as a vague reference point.

I covered the steak and onion spread with cheese and set my fresh-baked baguettes right in the pan, with some drippings. There are few things better to soften bread crust than melted fat.

After taking the sandwiches out of the broiler, I cut basil and chives over the top of them, then sliced a truly wonderful beefeater tomato to rest on top. Drizzle the whole thing with olive oil (which is also the name of my sex guidebook) and get out of the way.

ZACH ON STEVE’S DISH:

Not gonna lie, I hate steak sandwiches that are served with cross-cut slices of good steak. It might be an irrational thing for me. But I don’t like having to bite through bread and then pieces of steak that are meant to be sliced into bite-sized pieces with a knife. It makes the sandwich fall apart and my teeth hurt. Steak sandwiches need to have edible bite-sized pieces so you’re not scissoring through beef with your teeth with every bite.

Vinny and I used cheap cuts of meat and made them shine. Shine, I say! Here we have a beautiful steak, cooked beautifully, jammed into a sandwich — somewhere in Texas a cow is rolling over in his grave. It just seems like a shame to do that to that piece of meat. I love me Philly cheesesteaks, and fuck me, if those onions didn’t get me a little hard excited for this sandwich. Then you lost me with the meat served that way.

Also, if someone served me a Reuben with a flourish of chives on it, I’d probably send it back — the pickle is all the green I need!

VINCE ON STEVE’S DISH:

Damn, man, ribeye on a sandwich? You’re worse than Zach. The chewy-melty texture of ribeye is perfect by itself, but it kind of sucks on a sandwich. You’re always pulling half the meat out when you can’t bite through it. I like how you said “leave it alone” as your mantra and then stuck it on a cheese sandwich. Seek help.

And yeah, I used a cheap cut of meat and treated it right, that’s how sandwiches work. I’ll take meat stewing in its own juices over grilled meat 9 times out of 10, and 999 times out of 1000 if it’s going in a sandwich.

Basil? Chives? Tomatoes? I thought we were making sandwiches, not bruschetta. This looks like it would tear up my mouth less than Zach’s, but I’d never find out because I wouldn’t order it. This thing is more confused than a young man’s sexuality.

VINCE’S CHICAGO ITALIAN BEEF

The concept for this Uproxx challenge was simple. When I heard we were doing hot sandwiches, I just tried to recreate my favorite sandwich — the Chicago Italian Beef from Tony’s Slice House here in San Francisco. A Chicago Italian beef (and apologies, purists, I have not had one in Chicago) is this combination of all my favorite things — juicy meat, hot peppers, pickled veg, sauce-soaked bread. It’s basically an Italian banh mi meets a French dip meets a sausage and peppers. Who doesn’t need more au jus in their life?

The sandwich consists of meat roasted then braised in the jus, roasted peppers, spicy pickled giardiniera, stuffed inside a toasted French roll that’s then dunked in the jus. It’s pretty messy and totally worth it. I’ll probably get dinged for lack of cheese, but for one thing that’s a different sandwich, and it’s fine, but for my money cheese kind of masks all the complexity that’s going on here, from the roasted peppers, braised meats, pickled veg, jus and bread. To each their own, I guess. I’d never attempted one of these before, and you’ll have to take my word for it, but this was in all honesty probably the tastiest thing I’ve cooked for one of these challenges. If I lose I’ll still have the satisfaction of having eaten it.

The Meat

I used this basic recipe with a few tweaks, so there’s no use not linking it. It looked like what I was going for. Most of the recipes I read used rump roast/bottom round. I might’ve used something fattier like chuck roast if left to my own devices, but so many recipes were so adamant about bottom round that I used that. The recipe called for “overseasoning the roast,” which I duly accomplished with:

  • Herbs De Provence (a nice mix of leafy herbs that go nice with beef)
  • Black Pepper
  • Volcanic Salt (this nice spicy black salt I got as a present from Hawaii)
  • Hot Paprika
  • MSG
  • Garlic

First off, if you’re scared of MSG, don’t be. All that bullshit we heard about it in the 90s is basically a myth. It adds another level of savoriness and when I was going through my grandma’s recipes recently, I noticed she used it on braciole. I figured if it worked for her…

After I rubbed on all the dry spices, I took a paring knife and made little holes to stuff garlic cloves into. Lots of recipes called for dry garlic powder, but fresh garlic always tastes better, and anyway this seemed more fun. Plus, it looks cool:

The Jus

Basically, you make the jus by roasting the meat in a liquid bath. I started with beef bouillon instead of plain water to make it a little richer. Drizzled some olive oil on the seasoned roast, left it sticking halfway out the top, and baked it (in my big cast iron pot) fat side up at 300 degrees for two hours — enough to bring the internal temp up to 150.

After that, I removed the meat, wrapped it up, strained the broth, and left them both to refrigerate overnight.

The Giardiniera

Once again, I didn’t really know what I was doing, so I found a recipe that sounded good and tweaked it a bit. I basically used this, only with slightly more garlic, plus some serranos in addition to jalapeños, and left out the cauliflowers, which I love, but are kind of obnoxious to try to eat inside a sandwich, IMO.

I also swapped white vinegar for champagne vinegar (for fanciness) and added a couple toasted chiles de arbol during the pickling (because daddy likes spice). I used Christmas present olive oil, the best kind of olive oil. I also peeled the bell peppers with a peeler first because I saw Jacques Pepin do it, and as previously noted, I am a fancy boy.

INGREDIENTS:

  • Bell Pepper
  • Red Pepper
  • Jalapeño
  • Serrano
  • Celery
  • Onion
  • Black pepper
  • Red pepper flakes
  • Oregano (oregano indio from Rancho Gordo, specifically)
  • Pimento stuffed green olives
  • Olive Oil
  • Champagne vinegar

The basic process is, add all the veg to the bowl (not including olives), then soak in super salty water (like a half cup of salt, then water to the brim of the bowl) overnight. Then drain and rinse, and add olives, olive oil, vinegar, and spices, and soak for another day or two. I don’t know if there’s a better way to communicate this in print, but it was really, really good. Like crunchy sour sweet spicy. The hardest part was putting the olives in without eating them all.

The Peppers

I roasted a couple peeled peppers on a baking sheet, and added a deseeded serrano for additional spice. Dust of salt, drizzle of oil.

Meat + Jus

I sliced the cold meat as thinly as I could (I wish I had a deli slicer), and then added the slices back into a pan with the jus to reduce for about an hour. I also added a little butter to the jus (call it a tablespoon) because obviously. After the peppers roasted, I added them to the meat and jus to soak for five minutes or so.

Bread

French roll. Butter. Toasted. I used some of the soft garlic cloves that fell off the meat to scrape along the toasted bread, because that just seemed logical. It’s also another trick I learned from Jacques, who I basically think of as a family member at this point. I adore that man.


Assemble

Roasted/braised peppers first, then meat, then giardiniera. I like a lot of giardiniera, but that’s personal preference. Once that’s done comes the best part: DUNK THE WHOLE GOD DAMN THING IN THE F*CKING JUS. Sorry for swearing but it’s just so good. If you ask me, the entire purpose of bread is to soak up sauce, so this sandwich is one of the few utilizing bread for its ultimate purpose. Plus all that crust on the bread is all soft now so it doesn’t hurt the roof of your mouth.


Oh my God, it was so damned good, you guys. I ate the whole thing standing over my kitchen counter, as God intended. Staring out the window in jus-induced reverie. It was glorious.

STEVE ON VINCE’S DISH:

Vince loves jus like Zach loves Berlin and, to tell you the truth, I’m in. I feel like his jus dip is a perfect kicker for the Vince fanbase to say, “It was close, but the jus sealed it.” Which… I’m not going to be the guy to resent jus. But did Vince boil his meat? And Zach cooked his in a plastic bag? Isn’t this the sort of shit we tease me for?

Also, I respect pickling and love pickled things, but has anyone ever said, “MORE CARROTS, STAT! SOMEONE GRAB SOME CELERY TOO! IT’S SANDWICH TIME!” Look, that’s a lot of pickled veg, paired with soup meat. The jus was a great call but I don’t know if this beef phô with bread is good enough to win.

Still, nice to see Vince fully trying here.

ZACH ON VINCE’S DISH:

This is a good sandwich. I’d only tweak some things that seem to be off. Like why not sear off the peppers for color and flavor? Throw those bad boys on the fire! Also, and I know this is probably unpopular, but not everything has to be garlic bread. The beef looked spot on, though I was a little disappointed there was only dried out herbs and not a nice, fresh bouquet garni to really give your jus (and meat) that extra layer of love. I’d certainly eat this thing while dipping endlessly in the jus. And it’d be nice not to have to rest my teeth with every bite of sandwich (looking at you, Steve.)

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