Sunday, December 3, 2017

The Ultimate French Dip Sandwich

Without question, my favorite sandwich is the French Dip sandwich.  You can ask my Angel ... if the menu has a french dip sandwich, the odds are that I will order it.   There is something about a sandwich, piled relatively high with thin slices of meat, that is dipped in a bowl of warm au jus that appeals to me.  That is, if it is done right.

Most French Dip sandwiches that I have tried -- and I have tried many sandwiches -- fall short.  The beef is too dried and/or too processed.  The au jus is too watered down or too salty.  What is my favorite sandwich turns out to be one big disappointment.  Time and time again.

So, one of my cooking bucket list items has been to make the ultimate French Dip sandwich.  Before we go further, let's be clear ... the ultimate French Dip sandwich in my opinion.  I don't care about anyone else's opinion on this subject.  And I am not trying to recreate the original.  My goal has been to make the French Dip sandwich that I believe to be the best in my rather humble opinion.

In order to achieve that goal, I need to know what I am about to cook.  The French Dip sandwich originated, as the story goes, with the sandwich shop known as Philippe's the Original in Los Angeles, California.  Nearly 100 years ago, in 1918, the owner -- Philippe Mathieu -- was preparing a sandwich for a police officer when he dropped it in a pan with hot cooking juices.  The police officer ate the sandwich anyway and, the rest, as they say, is history.  Or is it?  At least one other restaurant claims to be the one who first made the sandwich.  That story is even older, going back to 1908.  The restaurant, Cole's, was serving a guest who had no teeth.  The cook dipped the sandwich in the hot cooking juices to make it easier for the guest to eat.  Whether it started with a police officer or a toothless guest, the French Dip sandwich has become one of the iconic American sandwiches. After all, Philippe's now serves 4,000 sandwiches per day.

There are three components to a French Dip sandwich.  First, the bread.  It should be a crusty French roll.  This is important because it provides a crispness on the outside, which holds the sandwich together.  It also provides a soft inside, which will absorb the juices.  Second, the meat.  Philippe's uses bottom round roasts, which are roasted with a sort of mirepoix -- celery, carrots, and onions -- along with a lot of garlic, herbs and spices.  Finally, there is the au jus.  Once again, Philippe's creates the jus by making a beef stock from bones, onions, carrots, celery, leeks, herbs and spices.   The jus is finished with the cooking juices from the roasts.   

In my quest to make the ultimate French Dip sandwich, I focused on all three components.  I first bought some freshly baked rolls for the bread.  The filling for these sandwiches would not be bottom round.  Rather, I decided to go for the top of the line ... ribeye.  I also decided that I would not simply roast the meat.  Instead, I would smoke it, using cherry wood.  This wood would impart a lighter smoke flavor to the meat, providing an additional dimension with respect to the flavor. My recipe for smoking a rib roast can be found here, all you need to change is the wood.  Finally, the au jus would be what I really like it.  There would be a lot of beefiness in the jus, as I started with some bone marrow, which I use in combination with a little butter to saute onions and garlic.  I then added some beef stock, fresh herbs (rosemary and thyme) and a little red wine (an inexpensive Burgundy works very well).  I cooked down the liquid to concentrate the flavors.  The end result is not just any French Dip sandwich.  It is what I believe to be, in my humble opinion, the ultimate French Dip sandwich.


THE ULTIMATE FRENCH DIP SANDWICH
A Chef Bolek Original
Serves 4

Ingredients (for the prime rib meat:
4 sub rolls, partially split lengthwise
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
4 cups thinly sliced smoked prime rib 
1/2 cups of au jus

Ingredients (for the jus):
2 tablespoons of butter
4 cups beef stock
1 cup red wine (burgundy, if possible)
1 onion, very thinly sliced
1 clove garlic, finely minced
4 marrow bones, roasted

Directions:
1.  Toast the bread. Adjust the oven rack to the middle upper position of the stove.  Pre-heat the broiler.  Brush the interior of the sub rolls with oil  Arrange the rolls, oiled-side up, on a baking sheet.  Broil until golden brown, about 1 minute. 

2.  Heat the meat.  Combine prime rib and jus in skillet over medium heat, about 5 minutes.

3.  Finish the dish.  Pile some of the thinly sliced prime rib upon the sub roll.  Serve with a small bowl of au jus for dipping.  

ENJOY!

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