Utterly unheard of in New England, this is a local sandwich closely associated with Chicago, possibly originating there as a means of making tough cuts of meat from the stockyards edible. Although the specific recipes vary from purveyor to purveyor – and are likely very closely guarded - the basic sandwich consists of thinly-sliced beef, which has been simmered until tender in a broth with garlic and other herbs and spices, served on crusty bread, and then dipped or soaked in the broth. Crusty bread is necessary because of the dipping; a lesser loaf will get far too soggy to support the filling. Hot peppers can be added, and I hear cheese is an option, although I’ve never ventured so far afield. This sandwich is, undoubtedly, ambrosia for meat-eaters.
For a while my family would impose upon friends to bring back frozen Italian beef whenever they visited from Chicago. They usually brought us Novi’s beef; a recent online search I did came up with well over 150 possibilities in greater Chicago, so it’s easy to find a favorite – if you live in Illinois. When you live elsewhere, however, you have to get creative and make it at home.
I make it at home a lot: during the long winter months my husband requests it weekly*. I may get in trouble for giving away a secret family recipe (from my aunt Terry), but surely only good can come out of sharing Italian beef with the rest of the world:
Pat a pot roast (+/- 2.5 lbs.; chuck roast or bottom round roast) with dry Italian salad dressing mix. Place seasoned roast in a crock-pot. Add two cups of water, two beef bouillon cubes, and one jar of pepperoncini peppers with the juice (I like to de-stem the peppers first). Cook on High for an hour, and then Low for 6+ hours until the meat falls apart.
To serve, remove the meat and pull into shreds. Serve on crusty bread or crusty rolls, with the pepperoncinis, dipped or not according to taste.
* Mr. Mouse would like to point out that although he requests this dish weekly, I do not make it weekly, a wrong he would very much like redressed at once.