Philly cheesesteaks: straight from the source
Cold, Hard Football Facts for Jan 05, 2009
By Sarah Perry
Cold, Hard Football Facts cheesy meat expert
You can't think of Philadelphia without thinking about its famous local culinary icon: the Philly cheesesteak.
So we went right to the source to learn the secrets to making real-deal Philly cheesesteaks.
We called Pat's King of Steaks in South Philly and talked to owner Frankie Olivieri. He knows his cheesesteaks better than anybody: His great-uncle, Pat, invented the Philly cheesesteak back in 1930. Today, Pat's King of Steaks will sell more than 3,000 sandwiches on a busy day.
"It's pretty cool," said Olivieri. "I'm like fourth generation of a family that's responsible for this incredible sandwich that people have tried to duplicate all around the world."
Olivieri was real cool and more than happy to share his secrets to making an authentic Philly cheesesteak at home or in the parking lot for your next tailgate:
Pat's uses what Olivieri calls "a French-style Italian loaf, if that makes sense. It's crispy on the outside, but not as crispy as a French baguette. And it's soft inside."
Philly cheesesteaks use rib-eye steak that's sliced thin. "Rib-eye has the right proportion of fat and meat to give you the best flavor," said Olivieri. In Philly, markets sell rib-eye already sliced thin. But in other parts of the country, you might have to ask the butcher at your local market to do it for you. Our experience is that butchers are usually very accommodating when you make these requests.
Believe it or not, sandwiches with Cheez-Whiz are the most popular at Pat's. "They outsell all our other sandwiches 3 to 2," said Olivieri. However, provolone and American cheese are perfectly legitimate choices. In fact, the cheesesteak existed existed before the creation of Cheez-Whiz, which was introduced in 1953. So provolone or American cheesesteaks are actually the original cheesesteaks. Definitely do not put Swiss cheese on your cheesesteak. A certain presidential candidate once asked for Swiss on his cheesesteak, and quickly became a punchline in the Philly media.
The original and still most popular cheesesteak is flavored with white onions only. Pat's uses a French fry cutter to chop up the onions, which gives them perfectly sized pieces. However, they do offer the option of peppers and mushrooms. But onions are the original.
The cooking oil
The onions and steak are fried in soybean oil. "It has no trans-fats and doesn't add any flavor to the onions or meat, which is what you want to taste," said Olivieri.
So, armed with all that information, you're ready to piece together your authentic Philly cheesesteak. Olivieri said that they don't measure anything at Pat's. It's all done by sight, and the average sandwich has between 5 ounces and 8 ounces of meat.
But, generally speaking, here's what you need to make four (4) perfect Philly cheesesteaks like they do at Pat's King of Steaks:
- A jar of Cheez-Whiz or several slices of American or provolone cheese
- 4 to 6 Tablespoons of soybean oil
- Half an onion, diced
- Sliced mushrooms or diced peppers (optional)
- Shaved rib-eye (5 to 8 ounces per sandwich)
- 4 crispy rolls
If using Cheez-Whiz, first melt it down over medium heat in a double boiler. Fry up the onions in a little oil until they get soft. If using mushroom and peppers, fry them at this time, too. When they're done, push them to the side. Fry the sliced rib-eye in some more oil, and chop it up as you go. The meat should cook through pretty quickly. Stuff the meat and onions into your crispy rolls (preferably slightly warmed). Generously drip Cheez-Whiz over the meat, or quickly add slices of provolone or American cheese so that they melt on top of the hot meat. There you go!
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