Sunday, April 6, 2014

52WoC Week 12: Street Food - Philly Cheesesteak (Whiz Wit)

After I graduated college, I spent two years in Allentown, Pennsylvania, a town Billy Joel wrote a song about that happens to be an hour north of Philly. This was when I learned the ways of a whiz wit. When ordering a cheesesteak in Philadelphia, you state the cheese you want be it whiz, provolone, or American and whether or not you want onions, wit or wit out. It's really that simple. The sandwich is literally steak, cheese, onions, and bread. You would think it's a cakewalk but there are so many shitty cheesesteaks out there. Each component is essential to making the perfect cheesesteak and if any of them are off or out of balance, the whole sandwich is bunk.

Whiz is the ONLY way to make a cheesesteak. I have had provolone. I have had American. I have had whiz. I have had a combination of all three1. Whiz just works with the salty tender beef and the sweet onions. The problem is, with an at home cheesesteak, the dubious spray bottle cheese just won't work. To correct this, I made Kenji's (of Serious Eat's) amazing cheese sauce recipe but instead of using cheddar I used good ole American cheese. This gave me that creamy gooeyness without overpowering the beef and onions. Plus it gives the whiz that perfect toxic waste color.

Then there is the beef. What most of the good places in Philly do is throw slices of rib-eye on the griddle and shred it apart using sharp metal spatulas. I unfortunately do not have a great seasoned griddle to work on so I pre-shred my beef before throwing it in the pans. I start with thinly sliced rib-eye from my local Asian grocery (H-MART WHAT IT DO), roll it up, freeze it for a hot minute then make slices. This gives me the shredded beef without having to stress a griddle. Then for the perfect onions, you fry them up in the rendered beef fat so you get all of that flavor into the onions as well.

Final piece of the puzzle is the roll. In Philadelphia, they use rolls from Amoroso, a local bakery. The outside is slightly crispy while the inside is soft. This is KEY to the sandwich. If you use something harder say like a baguette, you end up having a hard time getting the perfect bite as the bread forces all of the ingredients out the sides of the sandwich. Unfortunately, most people don't have access to these rolls so what are you to do? I personally like using a bolillo rolls as they are soft and perfect for the sandwich. If those aren't available, a nice soft white Italian roll will be your best substitute. Make sure they are fresh! I have never had a cheesesteak where the bread is toasted so don't expect to be able to save a day old roll with a good toasting.

If you pick the right ingredients and treat them properly you'll end up with a delicious Philadelphia cheesesteak. It won't be that bull that you get at Applebee's of steak um's, onions, and peppers slathered in American cheese. You will be left with a sandwich that requires you to stand like an umpire to avoid dripping cheese and juice all over your shoes.

Philadelphia Cheesesteak (Whiz Wit)

Cheese Sauce adapted from Serious Eats
Qty Ingredient Procedure
1 lb thiny sliced rib-eye
  1. Roll the steak up and freeze for 15-30 minutes. Slice thinly and set aside in the fridge.
8 oz American cheese
  1. Combine the cheese, evaporated milk, and cornstarch over low heat stirring constantly until sputtering and is the desired thickness.
12 oz evaporated milk
1 tbsp cornstarch
1 medium onion
  1. Dice an onion.
  2. Prep your roll and have it ready.
  3. Get a pan scorching hot and cook beef. Transfer to bun. Cook onions in the same pan. Top the steak with the onions. Finish the sandwich with the whiz.

This recipe makes roughly two large cheesesteaks and has enough sauce for 4-5 depending on how much whiz you like. This recipe only requires cooking three things and all three are fairly simple. I am presenting the recipe in the order I make it but the cheese sauce can be made ahead of time and just reheated and the beef can be shredded and kept in the fridge. To shred your beef, roll up the slices of rib-eye and place in the freezer for 15-30 minutes. This gets the beef a bit more solid so when you go to slice it, you will get nice clean, thin shredded strips. Place in the fridge until ready to fry.

To make the cheese sauce, simply combine the cheese, cornstarch, and evaporated milk in a pan over low heat. Depending on how you get your cheese, shred or grate into smaller pieces before combining. I got my American cheese at the deli so it only required a little bit of shredding. Stir constantly until the it starts to thicken up and bubble. This will roughly take 5-10 minutes. Make sure to stir the whole time or you may end up with some nasty burnt cheese in your pan. This can be made ahead of time and simply warmed on a burner with constant stirring or microwaving and stirring every 15 seconds. Either option works great.

Once the cheese sauce is ready, you are almost ready to fry up your meat. Before frying up the steak, dice an onion. Also, get your roll ready for beef. The second the steak is done, you want to put the meat directly on the bun so it can absorb all those wonderful juices. Get a pan ripping hot with a touch of a neutral oil. Try the beef stirring every so often until completely cooked 3-4 minutes. This goes quickly so keep an eye on it or else you'll be stuck with dry pieces of meat. Remove the meat from the pan and put it on the bread. Put the onions in the same pan you cooked the beef so the onions can absorb some of that beautiful rendered beef fat. Cook until transulcent and starting to brown on the edges.

Depending whether you are using whiz or not, the construction order of your sandwich will differ. If you are going for provolone or American, place the cheese on the roll, followed by the beef, and finish with the onions. If you are going with the classic whiz wit however, it should be roll, meat, onion, and finished with whiz. No matter how you build it, these sandwiches are perfect after a few forties and probably the best you're going to do if you're outside the Philadelphia area.

  1. If you want to get all three cheeses, just request a heart attack wit.  

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