A classic sandwich made using thinly-sliced beef and melted cheese, the cheesesteak has achieved widespread popularity, originating in the U.S. city of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Typically referred to as a Philly cheesesteak or Philadelphia cheesesteak outside Pennsylvania, the sandwich is said to date back to the early 1930s.
According to a 1987 exhibition catalogue published by the Library Company of Philadelphia and the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, the cheesesteak is described as “combining frizzled beef, onions, and cheese in a small loaf of bread”. Philadelphians Pat and Harry Olivieri are generally credited with the sandwich’s creation, originally owning a hot dog stand near South Philadelphia’s Italian Market. Legend has it that a cab driver approached co-owner Pat Olivieri while eating a steak and onion sandwich on a lunch break. The driver asked Olivieri to make him the same sandwich then suggested the duo quit making hot dogs and instead focus on steak sandwiches.
The dish became so popular, Pat soon opened his own restaurant, Pat’s King of Steaks, which still operates today from a site in South Philadelphia. Conversely, the cheese was added at a later date, with provolone first used at the restaurant, while ‘Cheez Wiz’ is arguably the most popular Philly cheesesteak topping used today. Provolone and American cheese are also common, with countless riffs on the original having been made available around the world. In London, Passyunk Avenue – a Philadelphia-inspired restaurant with sites in Fitzrovia and Westfield Stratford – serves some of the best Philly cheesesteaks, with prime rib-eye and a choice of the three cheeses. They also serve other takes on the classic, plus a selection of Italian-American ‘Philly specialty sandwiches’.
Traditionally, Philly cheesesteaks are served on hoagie/submarine rolls, comprising cheese, thinly-sliced rib-eye steak prized for its rich marbling and texture, and optional onions. This riff on a cheesesteak recipe also uses rib-eye steak, sliced thin and quickly browned on a griddle or in a large frying pan, using two spatulas to tenderise the meat further. The steak slices are then topped with provolone and a mound of lightly caramelised bell peppers in place of onions. The filling is loaded into soft submarine rolls which are, importantly, wrapped in a double layer of grease-proof paper and aluminium foil, encouraging the ingredients to get to know each other, making the cheese melt even more, and completely eliminating any need for sauce.
- Griddle or large frying pan (ideally cast-iron)
- Greaseproof paper
- Aluminium foil
- 2 metal spatulas or large spoons/forks
- 500 g rib-eye steak
- 1 red bell pepper sliced 5mm thick
- 1 green bell pepper sliced 5mm thick
- 2 submarine rolls
- 8 slices provolone cheese
- 1 tbsp white sugar optional
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- Freshly ground black pepper
- Before preparing any other ingredients, place the steak in the freezer for 30-40 minutes until firm. This will make it easier to slice thinly without a deli slicer or specialist equipment.
- Add a splash of olive oil to a heavy-based pan and heat until shimmering. Add the sliced peppers to the pan and decrease the heat to medium-low. Cover the pan and stir occasionally, cooking for 10-15 minutes until the peppers are soft. If the peppers brown too quickly add a splash of water.
- Once soft, remove the lid and increase the heat to medium-high. Cook for another 5-10 minutes until the peppers are lightly caramelised, adding a generous pinch of salt and an optional tablespoon of white sugar 1-2 minutes before the end of the cooking time.
- Remove the beef from the freezer and cut into very thin slices. Divide the meat into roughly 250g portions, using sheets of greaseproof paper or cling film as dividers.
- Slice bread in half lengthwise, keeping a long side intact, then heat a large griddle over high heat. (If you don’t have a griddle, use a large saucepan – ideally cast-iron – and cook one portion of meat at a time).
- Add a small drizzle of oil to each portion of sliced steak then place two portions onto the griddle (or one onto a frying pan) and reduce the heat to medium-high. Season generously with salt and black pepper, then use two metal spatulas or large spoons/forks to press and pull slices apart, ultimately tenderising the meat even further. After 2 minutes of cooking, flip the steak over then top with a large scoop of the peppers, then top with enough slices of provolone to cover each pile of meat (approx. 4 slices). Reduce the heat to medium and cook, without turning, until the meat is browned underneath and the cheese has melted slightly. This should take between 2-4 minutes.
- Once the cheese has melted, transfer each portion to a submarine roll. Quickly wrap with a layer of greaseproof paper, then foil. Leave to rest for at least five minutes before eating.