Citizens, sandwiches are a fundamental north star amongst the gastronomic constellations adorning the ‘primum mobile‘ of My culinary voyages – and I am beyond proud to have TFD Nation along for the ride! Sandwiches can range from the most prim and proper accompaniments to high tea or they can be monstrous, hulking beasts ready to beat your animal hunger into mewling submission!
…today’s post is most definitely in the latter category. 🙂
I give you an undeservedly-overlooked sandwich from the mighty metropolis of Chicago – home of horrific Winters, exceptional hot dogs and a range of good eats that includes the behemoth that ALONE is the breaded steak sandwich! USA Today sportswriter Ted Berg called it “the best sandwich in the world.” Celebrity world traveler, chef and writer Anthony Bourdain even featured the sandwich on his CNN series “Parts Unknown.”
Despite all of this the breaded steak sandwich is not well-known – even in its home city – as hot dogs, deep dish pizza and Italian Beef all vie for the alpha status amongst famous Chicago dishes. This oversight I will now rectify as I share the history and making (TFD-style, of course!) of this kaiju Titan reigning supreme amongst the sandwich kingdom!
So – before we even go into the history of this storied Goliath, I highly recommend watching this entertaining video that showcases the beast in all of its meaty, cheesy, glory!
Ricobene’s in Chicago invented the sandwich all the way back in 1946 on Chicago’s South Side (still where you can get the best examples!) – I share the aforementioned USA Today article in its entirety as background as to why it MUST become a better-known scion of the Windy City!
The next paragraph of this post contains a bold and speculative claim about a sandwich, but I need you to understand that it is not an unresearched one. I worked in a deli, making sandwiches, for three years. At my last job, I regularly wrote sandwich reviews. I have traveled to 42 states and 20 countries and eaten sandwiches in most of them. I know sandwiches, I promise.
And the breaded steak sandwich from Ricobene’s in Chicago is the best sandwich in the world. Mark it down.
When ordered with mozzarella cheese and hot giardiniera — those are important — the sandwich presents a combination of flavors and textures that bests every single one of the thousands of other sandwiches I’ve sampled in my 34 years.
The primary ingredient, the eponymous breaded steak, is exactly what it sounds like. But even by the high standards we hold for fried steak, it’s amazing — piping hot, remarkably tender, and with a perfectly seasoned, tasty breading that somehow maintains some crispiness even when it’s slathered with the sweet tomato sauce that complements it perfectly.
The cheese adds some saltiness, some gooey texture, and works to bind together a very messy mix of ingredients (though somewhat inadequately). The giardiniera — a relish of pickled vegetables — adds some crunch and a vinegary heat that seems to amplify all the other delicious flavors in the sandwich. And the soft, fresh hero roll is somehow up to the challenge of containing this very sloppy sandwich without being too bulky.
Straight up: It’s a perfect sandwich. And so while I recognize the haunting fact that somewhere out there, someplace I’ve never been and someplace I might never be, there could be a sandwich as good as this one, I am unwilling to believe there are any sandwiches distinctly better than this one. That’s why I feel comfortable calling it the best sandwich there is.
And though Ricobene’s was hopping last Saturday night, my most recent visit, it seems like not even proud Chicagoans appreciate the true greatness that’s in their midst. Chicago’s a great sandwich town, no doubt — part of a holy trinity of American sandwich cities with New York and New Orleans.
But while many of the Windy City’s sandwich offerings are undoubtedly delicious, none of several I have sampled comes anywhere close to Ricobene’s breaded steak, which, again, is perfect. And that perfect sandwich failed to rank on Chicagoist’s list of top 25 sandwiches, or on a CBS Chicago list of best sandwiches in 2010 or 2012, or on top Chicago sandwich lists compiled by Thrillist and Zagat.
It did rank 12th in a 2012 Chicago magazine survey of top sandwiches, but I find it difficult to believe there are 11 other perfect sandwiches in one city. And I can attest, as a reviewer of sandwiches, that interesting and particularly photogenic sandwiches often receive undue praise because of the way they make the sandwich reviewer’s job easier, and are not necessarily rewarded for deliciousness alone.
I do not consider this post a mere endorsement of the sandwich. It’s more of an obligation. Because I now know sandwich perfection, I feel that it’s my duty to sing the gospel of breaded steak to the people. You need to enjoy this sandwich. Go forth and do so.
High praise indeed for a most humble sandwich – now, let’s get into how to make it, TFD-style! 😀
For the meat, I recommend round steak slices, easily obtained at your butcher shop or supermarket. You’re going to pound this sucker into flattened submission, much like a wiener schnitzel – you want it HUGE so it overhangs the bun!
For frying, TFD uses peanut oil enhanced with a dollop of bacon fat – bacon fat makes EVERYTHING better, IMHO! I enhance the egg wash with a bit of Maggi Seasoning, which adds a bit of umami to the final product – this is my preferred version of Maggi from Europe, far more flavorful than the American version. I prefer to use Panko breadcrumbs in addition to regular crumbs for my breaded steak, as it become much crunchier – I also add some fresh minced herbs to add character.
If you live in or near Chicago – by all means, use the classic rolls from Turano, or use any high-gluten roll to your preference. For the cheese, I perfer to add some smoked gouda to the classic mozzarella for added flavor, but feel free to omit it if you prefer all stringiness with less smoke!
The final topping is – of course – the giardiniera, which is a mix of finely-chopped vegetables, peppers, olives and more all spiced up to your liking. You can easily buy it in any supermarket, but the sandwich truly sings when made with My homemade version! If you decide to make it yourself, you’ll need to start the giardiniera about 3 weeks beforehand – if you buy it, you can enjoy this sandwich the day you crave it!
Citizens, this is a wonderfully monstrous sandwich that will keep you full all day long and surprise you with its savor thanks to My special tweaks – I hope you see fit to try it forthwith!
Battle on – the GeneralissimoPrint
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