Put Your Own Spin on the Philly Cheesesteak

Photos by L.G. Patterson

I love a good Philly cheesesteak.

You can always buy one (if you can find a good place), but sometimes I want onions and peppers; sometimes mushrooms; sometimes garlic; sometimes I want “Wiz” (we can talk about that one later); and sometimes I want everything.

So, sometimes I cook it at home. Buns, meat, cheese and some vegetables are all that you need, ingredients you may already have at home. This is one of those great meals where you can prepare all of the ingredients a day or two ahead of time and have it all come together quickly when you are ready.

THE MEAT

Sometimes you can find some pre-sliced Philly meat beside the beef in the meat department. They typically use chuck, top round or some other thinly sliced tough cut of beef. You can also talk to someone at the counter as they can typically talk you through what is in the case and use the slicer to cut some chuck roast, rib roast or another cut thinly across the grain. You can also buy a roast, take it home and freeze it for about an hour until the outer inch is starting to get icy. The partially frozen beef will allow you to slice it much thinner than a thawed piece of meat. (See Harlan’s tips on selecting and slicing meat for the Philly cheesesteak on our YouTube channel.)

THE CHEESE

Thinly sliced deli provolone is my personal favorite with Philly, but if you go to Philly, you may hear some other words: “Philly Wiz With” or “Philly Wiz Without.” The “Wiz” refers to Cheese Whiz, typically the cheese of choice in Philly, and the with or without refers to with or without onions. American cheese sometimes can be used as a substitution. Cheese Whiz and American cheese don’t need much heat to melt, but provolone may need a little help with
melting; a minute or so with a lid or an upside-down pan will do the trick.

THE VEG

Vegetables are not always a common thing in Philly cheesesteaks, as onions are sometimes the extent of the options. I find some extra peppers, onions and mushrooms are a good way to “beef up” the sandwich, especially if you are using an expensive cut like ribeye or another steak, as it can help stretch it out and add some great flavor. I like to do one of two things: Cook my vegetables separately or vegetables first in the pan and add in the beef. I find that the vegetables sometimes will take longer than the beef to cook. (You want the beef to be cooked just past mid-rare, just until the pink is all gone.) When the vegetables are just starting to become tender, then the beef can be added. The vegetables can be stirred some, but mostly should hang out on the side of the pan cooking until the beef is done. If you want to add garlic, put it in just before mixing everything together and topping with cheese.

THE COOK

There are two schools of thought: “High heat and crispy” or “low heat and juicy.” Both methods are delicious and might just depend on both your mood and your desired outcome.

High heat and crispy is just like it sounds: Full throttle ahead, creating a lot of flavor and texture with heat at almost full blast. The sandwich cooks relatively fast, but you don’t have any time to gather ingredients or equipment. Everything needs to be ready, including your toasted bun and plate.

Low heat and juicy is a little more relaxed. It is more like steaming the vegetables than the meat. You slowly bring the meat up to temperature and retain
all the juices. There is not any additional texture or flavor created by the low-heat cooking process, but the sandwich is so succulent when you are finished.

Brook Harlan is a culinary arts instructor at the Columbia Area Career Center and serves as Inside Columbia’s food editor. The native Columbian is a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York, where he earned associate’s and bachelor’s degrees. A Columbia Public Schools teacher since 2002, Harlan has coached a string of state and national champions in the annual SkillsUSA competition.

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Philly Cheesesteak with Everything

Servings 4 people

Ingredients

  • 1 pound thinly sliced chuck, ribeye or round steak
  • 4 hoagie rolls, 3/4 cut through
  • 2-3 tablespoons butter or oil
  • 6-8 slices provolone cheese (can substitute American or Cheese Whiz)
  • 4-6 mushrooms, thinly sliced
  • 1 small red, white or yellow onion, thinly sliced
  • 1 red, yellow or green pepper, thinly sliced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • Oil as needed
  • Salt and pepper as needed

Instructions

  • Prepare all ingredients. Heat a medium-sized saucepan over medium-low heat, add butter to the pan, lightly season with salt and toast the inside of the buns. (Be careful not to push the buns all the way flat into the pan until they have warmed slightly and are more pliable.) Reserve the toasted buns for later.
  • Turn the pan to medium-high and coat the inside lightly with oil. Add in mushrooms and lightly add salt and pepper, then cook until a slight amount of color forms on the edges. Add in sliced onions and peppers, again adding light salt and pepper. Keep moving and cook until onions and pepper start to soften (adding more oil as needed if the pan gets dry).
  • Add in more oil before adding the beef and season lightly with salt and pepper. Keep moving in the pan and, just before all of the pink is gone, add garlic.
  • Mix the vegetables and beef. Taste and adjust seasoning as needed.
  • Separate into four even piles and top with cheese. Turn off the heat and allow the cheese to melt, adding a lid to the pan if needed.
  • Portion the meat, vegetables and cheese onto the buns and serve.

 

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