Chicago’s Italian Style Beef Sandwich
By Dena Fenza & Lisa DeFalco
Chicago Style Italian beef sandwich is an Italian American recipe that originated in Chicago in the 1930’s. It is classic Chicago Street food, composed of beef simmered in an au jus. The beef is put on crusty bread, dipped in the broth and topped with roasted sweet peppers and giardiniera (Italian style pickled vegetables). This sandwich has become a city and statewide food staple.
There are some conflicting stories as to where this sandwich originated. One account states that it was created by Italian immigrants who worked for Chicago’s old union stockyards. They would often bring home the less desirable cuts of beef that could not be sold. They would slow cook it in Italian spices for hours, to make it more edible.
Another theory is that this sandwich was created by Albert Ferrari. Apparently, he would drive around the city and make deliveries of the cooked beef on sandwiches that he would make in his very own basement. He even sold the sandwiches at weddings. Italian immigrants did not have much money. Back then weddings were held at homes or in church basements. Inexpensive foods like peanuts were served. These weddings became known as “Peanut Weddings.” Ferrari believed that these sandwiches were perfect for these affairs. Ferrari figured that if he sliced the meat very thin he could serve twice as many people. These sandwiches became super popular wedding fare because they were not not only cheap but delicious.
In 1938, Ferrari apparently opened a small shop in Chicago’s Little Italy and served these sandwiches. He later franchised the restaurant that is now called Al’s Chicago Number One Italian Beef.
Our recipe for this sandwich is very close to the classic. We even made our own bread and gIardiniera (see our story highlights for those recipes). This step is totally optional as you can buy the bread and the store bought giardiniera. But homemade is always better.
Chicago Beef Sandwich
(Makes 6 Sandwiches)
1 Boneless Beef Chuck Eye Roast – about 3½ lbs. Tied
2 tbsp. , plus ¼ cups Extra Virgin Olive oil
1 Onion – chopped
6 Whole Garlic Cloves
1 ¾ Tsp Salt
1 ¼ tsp. Pepper
½ tsp Oregano
1 ½ tsp. Garlic Powder
½ tsp. Onion Powder
1 tsp. Red Pepper Flakes
1 Cup of Red Wine
5 Cups Beef Broth – Low Sodium
4 Sprigs of Thyme
2 Tbsp. Chopped Fresh Parsley
4 Green Peppers – Sliced into strips
6 Hoagie Rolls – (See our recipe)
1 Cup. Giardiniera – (See our recipe or can use store bought)
Preheat the oven to 300°. Move a rack to the center of the oven. In a large Dutch oven, or a heat safe pot, heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil on a low to medium flame. Season your meat on all sides with salt and pepper. About 1 1/4 teaspoons each. Put the roast into the olive oil. Cook until browned and caramelized on all sides. This will take about five minutes per side. Once this is done remove the meat from the pan and put it on a plate. Add the onions, garlic and a half a teaspoon of salt to the pan. Cook for about 10 minutes until the onions begin to cook through. Add the oregano, ½ tsp of the garlic powder, the onion powder, and the crushed red pepper flakes. Next add the red wine to the pot to deglaze. Make sure you scrape the brown bits from the bottom of the pan. Cook for about three minutes until the wine is reduced in half and then add the broth and the thyme. At this time adjust any seasoning and add about ½ tsp. of salt. Bring to a slow simmer and add the chopped parsley. Put the roast back into the sauce. Cover and put into the oven. Turn the meat every 30 minutes. This roast should cook for a total of about 3 1/2 hours. Remove the cover during the last 30 minutes. Once it is cooked put it in a plate to cool down. Cover with aluminum foil.
Raise the heat of the oven to 350°. In a small bowl put ¼ cup of olive oil, 1 teaspoon of granulated garlic, and a pinch of salt and pepper. Toss the green peppers in this mixture. Place the peppers on a baking sheet and bake until it’s cooked through (about 30 minutes).
In the meantime, strain the gravy and put it back on the stove. Bring to a simmer and reduce for about 10 minutes.
Remove the twine from the meat and shred up the meat. Put it back into the gravy.
Slice the rolls in half. Put some of the gravy right on the roll. Then add some of the beef. Top with the roasted green peppers, and the giardiniera. Serve Immediately.