Welcome to another delicious week at Third Coast Review. This week, Antal and Marielle are back to deliver on their promise to show you how to make amazing Italian beef at home. You’ll make the neighbors jealous with this one! And, if you ever find yourself outside of Chicago and needing beef in a bad way, you’ll be able to get your fix. If you were with us week one, you’ll also have a jar of delicious homemade giardiniera to top it all off.
While this recipe may seem intimidating, we promise it’s not with a little preparation and planning. A simple rub of a few dry spices, about an hour and a half of roasting time and some thin slicing are all it takes to get to delicious, authentic tasting Italian beef. In fact, the hardest part of all of this was finding a good recipe, and we’ve done that for you! The recipe that we ended up using was adapted from AmazingRibs.com, which presents their methodology and thinking in detail. We’re going to use this recipe as a baseline, but we’ve made some changes based on personal taste and what we’ve learned from people around town who make it –including a TV interview with the friendly folks at Al’s. What follows is our final recipe and we think you’ll love it.
Technique is important with Italian beef, so we’ll talk you through some of the most important parts–but don’t worry, it’s all very simple. Let’s start with the base recipe and go from there.
For the Meat:
For the beef, we look for the following cuts, in order of preference: Top sirloin, top round, then bottom round. Don’t stress if you can only find bottom round–these sandwiches are great with any of these three cuts. With regards to size, 2-4 lbs is enough to feed about 4-6 people.
For the jus
In our opinion, the jus or “juice” is the part that makes an Italian Beef different than a French Dip. It’s hard to replicate good, restaurant quality Italian Beef at home because of scale. A restaurant will roast beef for hundreds of people, and use the drippings to create rich, flavorful jus. Since we’re only working with one roast, we’re going to have to develop our jus using supplemental beef flavor. For this, You will need about 1-2 lbs of a cut like beef shank or oxtail. As oxtail’s grown in popularity in foodie circles, it’s become more expensive, so we suggest beef shank. What you’re looking for is some meat (but if you have a lot that’s okay), a good amount of bone and a decent bit of marrow.
What you’ll need:
1-2 lbs oxtail or beef shank. You’ll want pieces with some meat, and a good amount of marrow–this helps add a velvety texture you can’t get from using just bouillon. We prefer beef shank, as oxtail tends to be a bit pricier.
1 medium onion, quartered (optional)
2-4 cloves of garlic (optional)
8 cups chicken or beef stock (homemade is best!)
Salt (to taste)
For the Rub:
2 tablespoons ground black pepper
4 teaspoons garlic powder
2 teaspoons onion powder
4 teaspoons dried oregano
2 teaspoons dried basil
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper
Note: We’ve doubled the rub from Amazing Ribs’ recipe, and changed a few other proportions–mainly more oregano–but it is mostly unchanged from their rub. We’ve written it as we make it, with lots of oregano which we find important for authentic beef flavor. We don’t double the crushed red pepper, though, as it imparts far more spice than flavor at that point. With 2 tablespoons of freshly ground black pepper, it’s already got bite, and we found that in doubling the red pepper it could reach a level that was, at least in our opinion, distracting from the classic Italian beef flavor. You can play around with this though (which is the fun of doing it yourself!) and go bolder or milder according to your own preference.
While not all of these are essential, they do make life a lot easier:
Large roasting pan with rack
Meat thermometer (highly recommended)
Meat slicer (optional–there’s a way around this)
Preheat the oven to 325.
As we mentioned, a lot of what makes Italian beef good comes in the technique. This doesn’t mean it’s fussy or complicated, but it does mean attention to detail is a plus.
NOTE: Before you start, you’re going to need a large pot or roasting pan to catch the drippings as the beef cooks. We use a large Lodge 9 Quart Dutch Oven and place the roast on a rack over it. A roasting pan would work as well, but you want to have the roast OVER the liquid, not resting in it whatsoever. The goal is to roast, not braise.
Start by assembling the rub, and mixing it up very well. We do this by placing it into a lidded container and shaking it up. Stirring works, too.
Next, get your large pot or roasting pan of choice going on the burner at medium heat. We suggest searing with extra virgin olive oil, but you’ll have to monitor your heat to not burn the oil. Once you add the oil, you won’t want it to burn, but you still want it hot enough to sear.
Generously sprinkle salt (we like Kosher Salt for this) on both sides of the shank(s). Sear the shank(s) on both sides until it has reached a golden brown, about 2-3 minutes per side. We like to add halved or quartered onions (if desired) while the shank is searing, and let them get golden/dark brown spots. After everything is nice and browned, add in the garlic and toss it around the pan a bit so it doesn’t burn. As soon as the garlic starts brown add the 8 cups of stock to the pot or roasting pan. We use our handmade chicken stock, but store bought chicken/beef broth or stock will work. Bouillon cubes with water would work in a pinch, but watch out for saltiness! We make Italian beef often, so we always start with the frozen leftover jus from your last batch, to imitate those lovely pan drippings we mentioned earlier.
Bring this all to a simmer.
Rub your roast all over with olive oil, then generously sprinkle on and then pat down the rub. Don’t rub it, as it’ll make it clump. Be thorough with your application, making sure that there’s a layer of the rub on every surface of the roast. Whatever excess rub you have after doing this will be added to the jus. (Note: you may want to leave some of the excess rub out to taste, it’s up to you. We like to just throw whatever extra into the simmering jus.)
When the oven’s ready, get the roast set up. We prefer to put the roast on a rack over the Dutch oven. This is so that every last bit of meat drippings makes it into our final jus. If you can’t replicate this, just make sure to save all the drippings from whatever roasting pan you have and add them to the jus once the roast has finished cooking. Either let the drippings collect into a few inches of water/jus, or deglaze the pan at the end and add that to your simmering jus.
Important: use a meat thermometer if possible. One of the keys to great beef is to cook the roast for about a half an hour a pound, or until it reaches an internal temperature of about 130-135 for medium rare. Since accuracy is essential, we strongly recommend a meat thermometer. Do not let the roast get beyond this point, as it will finish cooking in the jus before serving. If you cook it past medium-rare in the roasting phase, your beef might be leathery.
Another secret to great, restaurant-style Italian Beef is thin slices. It should be sliced about as thin as you can get it. If you happen to have an industrial meat slicer in the house like we do, you’re golden. There are even several models of consumer sized (and priced) meat slicers available these days. Set it on one of its thinnest settings and go to town, once you’ve let the meat cool for a bit. If you do NOT possess such a machine, don’t worry! You can still enjoy amazing Italian Beef.
After roasting, let the meat cool a bit, then wrap it in cling wrap or foil and set it in the freezer for 30-40 minutes or so–just enough so it’s firmed up, but not frozen. This will allow you to take a sharp chef’s knife and (carefully) cut thin slices. You want the thinnest slices you can manage so err on the side of incomplete, razor thin cuts.
When you’re ready to eat, strain the jus to remove the shank meat, bones and vegetable detritus. Heat the jus over a low heat. You want it hot, but not quite simmering.
The bread is a very important component of an Italian Beef. You want a soft, chewy roll that is slightly flakey on the outside.We prefer Turano French Rolls, but there are a few variations out there that work well.
Grab a pair of tongs and acquire a healthy sandwich portion of sliced beef. Deposit the beef directly in the jus just long enough for it to lose any pinkness, but before it starts to shrivel up. The idea is to finish cooking the beef from its medium rare state to a delicious and just done state. This shouldn’t take long- about a minute is right. Get a nice crusty French roll ready (sorry, we don’t have a recipe for that yet). Then lift the beef out, and depending on how wet you like your sandwich, either put it right on in or let it drip dry. We like soggy Italian Beefs, but not so much so that the bread completely falls apart. Of course, you can always go the extreme opposite and go for a “full dip.”
Saute some sweet bell peppers and put them on top, or top it with that giardiniera you made with us a couple of weeks ago, and you’ve got some good, restaurant-style Italian Beef.
This recipe makes enough beef for the whole family with a little bit leftover. Don’t forget to save your jus and freeze it so you’ll have it to seed your next batch!
Congratulations! You’ve just conquered one of Chicago’s culinary classics at home, and earned some wicked bragging rights!