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Tuesday, July 27 2010

The roast beef sandwich has seen countless versions, styles, and has all sorts of local revisions and flavors since the love of cold beef sandwiches made its way here from Britain. Chicago's version is the Italian beef.

The Italian beef is a Chicago staple. It is about as prevalent as the Chicago style hotdog around the city, mostly because you can find it served alongside the dogs at nearly every venue including the small corner vendors and carts.

The sandwich is said to have its origins in the Italian immigrants living in Chicago during the early 1900s. A great deal of Italians made their living in the Union Stock Yards in the meatpacking district of old Chicago. They would typically bring home the lower quality tougher cuts of meat that the packers didn't use. To make the meat more tender and edible they would slow roast the cuts in spices and herbs. Then, like any good Italian, they stuffed the thinly sliced beef into a fresh Italian baguette.

The real hallmark of the Italian beef is the way that it is served. A true Italian beef is made from cuts of beef from a sirloin butt or a top/bottom round. The beef is slow roasted in garlic, oregano and spices until it reaches medium rare or medium. The meat is cooled and then sliced deli-thin. Upon serving, the entire sandwich is dipped or double-dipped in the juices that escaped from the beef as it cooked. It seems fitting for the Italians to be the ones to make an all-in version of the French Dip, doesn't it?

Once you get your hands on a real Italian beef, you need to know how to eat one properly. With all that juice-soaked, chewy Italian bread and beef, things can get messy quick, so certain precautions need to be followed. The first thing you need to do is to get rid of your chair. Forget about it. Find a high counter somewhere, unwrap the sandwich and place it six inches from the edge of the counter.

Next, you need to loosen up. You've got a lot of beef in front of you just begging to be eaten, so step back from the counter a bit and shake it off. Prepare yourself mentally. Then, face the sandwich. Extend you arms in front of you, elbows down, palms up. Lean forward enough so that you can still comfortably hold yourself upright. Approach the counter carefully-carefully-until you make contact on the edge with your elbows. Spread your legs slightly so your elbows can act as the other two legs of your rock solid Italian beef-eating stance. Take the dripping sandwich in your hands, and crane your neck over the opened wrapper. Engorge.

If you find yourself enticed by this sandwich's storied history, as well as it's heroically involved eating process, then you may want to make your way to the greater Chicago metropolitan area, as it's hard to find a read Italian beef anywhere else.

Posted by: Send a Meal AT 09:42 am   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  Email
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