We were at a gathering at our dissertation advisor's house. His mother had made her "famous Italian beef" and I heard one professor say to another, "I just love Delores's beef! It tastes like Chicago." You've got to be kidding, I thought as I gazed into the crock pot. Shredded pot roast with hot peppers floating in murky brown juice didn't look all that good to me. And, then, to take the sandwich and dunk it in the drippings"I love it wet!" the Chicagoans exclaimedwas more than I could bear. I don't even like to dunk my cookies in milk. If this is what it meant to be from Chicago, I was happy to remain a Detroiter forever.
Little did I know then that three years later I'd find myself moving to Chicago, marveling at the many different Italian Beef places as we'd drive by: Buona, Portillo's, Johnny's. I flashed back to the crock pot and thought, I'm never gonna try that stuff. What is it that they say? Never say never? Right.
Prompted by our kids who were adjusting to the fact that they were at least partly from Chicago, we went to Johnny's ( now arguably our favorite! ) for lunch. I felt a bit on the spot when the questions came: Wet or Dry? Sweet or Hot? We muddled our way through the event, decided that both sweet and hot peppers are delightful and that having one's sandwich dipped in the jus was simply a matter of particular preference. The next thing I knew, I was scouring the internet for recipes, trying to figure out what would make the best beef at home.
What I found out is that the recipe is really pretty darn simple. And, way easier than trying to reproduce Coney sauce for a Detroit Coney dog! ( That I haven't yet bothered to try! ) The key, I believe, is to first salt, pepper and sear the beef in a pan before adding it to the crock pot. And then, add beer. Good beer, if you've got it. Something dark, like Guinness. The beer adds a fabulous dimension to the juice which, otherwise, is nothing but beef broth and the liquid from the jar of pepperocinis. Murky and brown, no doubt, but tasty indeed.
To be sure, family is one of the most important ingredients in meal-making. What we make has everything to do with who we love, with whom we spend our time, with whom we include in our families. As Corrine will tell you, I am very good at remembering who likes what, who doesn't like what, what food restrictions certain individuals have. I use food as a way of letting people know that I pay attention to them, that they are important to me, that I think about who they are and how they fit into our lives.
Because I had lived most all of my life in Michigan, I hadn't understood that food can also help ground you with respect to where you create your family. I didn't understand that relocating ourselves geographically would also mean that we'd need to relocate ourselves gastronomically, and that it wouldn't be until we fully adjusted to our food-life in Chicago that it would feel like home.
I will always be from MichiganI am a very proud Michiganderbut I have to admit that my son, by the time he is grown, will only be able to claim that he was born in Michigan. He will be from Illinois. And, at some point, I will have lived other places longer than I ever lived in Michigan. We have now lived here nine years and counting.
So, I make Italian beef. I make Italian beef for those who are from Chicago ( land ) , and I make Italian beef for people who aren't from here. I make Italian beef for people who really like meat, or at least like a vehicle for hot peppersya gotta have the giardiniera! I make Italian beef when the timing of a meal needs to be a little flexible, when I am not sure how many folks might show upit freezes very well. And, I make Italian beef when I feel like claiming where I am, that I am from Michigan, but I live here now. Most importantly, I make Italian beef because, to be honest, and even though there's a part of me that doesn't even now want to admit it, it just plain old tastes really good!
3-4 lb. pot roastnicely marbled
1-2 TSB olive oil
1 can beef broth
1 jar of pepperoncini
1 can/bottle of beer
1 package Italian Seasonings Italian Dressing mix
1 ) Heat olive oil in pan on the stove top
2 ) Generously salt and pepper the meat and then sear on all sides until golden brown.
3 ) Into a crock pot add the beef broth, beer, and Italian seasoningsstir.
4 ) Add beef to the crock pot.
5 ) Pour the pepperoncini over the beef so that most of the peppers are sitting on top of the beef.
6 ) Cook on low for the whole day, or high for three hours then low for 2-3 hours.
7 ) Remove beef from pot when it shreds easily and tear away the big chunks of cooked fat.
8 ) Shred the beef and return to the pot.
9 ) Serve on baguette or Italian rollsTurano if you're in Chicago and can get them!