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This is Not a Cheesesteak

Send me your cheesesteak knock-offs from 'round the globe and other Philly/cheesesteak-related meanderings:

Include your name, a photo from a menu or the actual offensive sandwich, where you found the travesty (city, state, country) and a brief description/opinions of it.

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Oct 31 '11

Welsh Cheesesteak?

Richard's steak sandwich, what I've dubbed a "Welsh Cheesesteak"
Reader Richard’s steak sandwich. What I’ve dubbed a “Welsh Cheesesteak”

This is going to be one long post but I guarantee a good read. It’s from a reader, Richard, all the way in the UK. Richard makes his best attempts at re-creating our beloved sandwich all the way across the pond. After conversations with my girlfriend, who lived in the UK for a semester abroad, I learned that there’s plenty different about the UK people and life over there. It was more than I expected. Apparently their access to the kinds of cheese and bread we have here would probably be the biggest hurdle for Richard to overcome. Regardless of being able to achieve authenticity or not, I completely admire Richard’s dedication. He may never have been here, but that kind of spirit makes him an honorary Philadelphian in my eyes. Email exchange below:

Original email:

Having never been anywhere near Philly (I’m a Brit), I was kinda guessing here. Would appreciate feedback.

I thinly sliced some steak by hand (filet, which is probably too lean a cut but I had some left over from something else I made). Fried onions for about 30 min on a very low heat until they were brown and sticky, then fried the meat in on top for a couple of minutes. Let the pan cool a touch then blobbed in some British soft cheese (Laughing Cow brand). I let it melt then briefly stirred it through the meat in the frying pan.

Added some julienned peppers I’d oven roasted for about 30 minutes (should they have been diced?)

Bread was a couple of sub rolls, best I could do from a poor selection in the supermarket. My wife (who hails from the Midwest) said the bread was wrong but I’m not sure what would be preferable.

Sauce on the side was some home-made BBQ of my own recipe. A ketchup-based one, which makes it Texan style, I think?

Comments welcome! No idea how authentic this is, it tasted good though!

My reply:

Hi Richard!

I could be mistaken but I do believe the regular cut of beef would be ribeye. I do know for a fact that filet would probably far too lean. And although you consider that thinly cut, that’s exceedingly thick for a cheesesteak. I honestly don’t know how the pros do it. I can speculate that they might use a mechanical deli slicer in order to have nearly 1-2mm thin beef.

The onions were fried far too long. That’s nearly caramelizing them isn’t it? (I’m no culinary genius but I do know a real cheesesteak, haha.) They just have to be chopped and thrown onto a grill until the edges start to brown and then you’re done.

And I’m not sure what British soft cheese is like at all but I’m guessing it misses the mark. Your best bet is to find some nice Provolone over there. If you’ve got access to any kind of American cheese (white, not yellow), that’d be great as well. Hell, you could probably import “Cheese Whiz” from somewhere. It’s barely a step up from plastic to be honest, any fan of cheese should not legitimately like cheese whiz for that reason. It’s cheap, it’s a bit salty, but in my opinion, the texture is amazing. I just wouldn’t make a habit of eating it too much.

In Philadelphia, peppers are entirely optional and some places may not even have them available. Green bell peppers are the only way to go, chopped into small pieces, they don’t have to be diced.

The bread looks not too far off, but I’ll go with your wife on this one. Find long Italian rolls if possible. The bread should be a bit dryer, than maybe what you’re used to. So, we’re talking about bread that’s cooled to room temperature as opposed to fresh out of the oven. The bread should also be a bit firmer, not too soft and definitely not hard like a baguette.

Condiments are usually a no-go either way. Barbecue sauce is okay, that definitely makes it more Texan-like (though I can’t speak for them.) Plain ol’ Heinz ketchup, if you have that, is great, but definitely not a norm. I do from time to time put ketchup on my cheesesteaks, especially if I have one with American cheese which is sticker, as opposed to Whiz which is more sauce-like. If you’re a fan of spice, a cayenne-based hot sauce like Frank’s Red Hot is a good one.

What you have here isn’t by any means authentic, but it does sound good. The thing with cheesesteaks is that they’re really not intended to be gourmet at all. You’ve got a nice sandwich (great photo, by the way).

How about we call this one a Welsh Cheesesteak? :)

And back to Richard again:

Sounds like I wasn’t too far off, overall, then. The steak cut I guessed was wrong but I do wonder if a ribeye shaved by my inexpert hand (which is necessarily going to be coarser than the mechanical slicer the pros use, as you say) might not be a little chewy, which then means you’re going to get half the sandwich filling slopping out as you take a bite. I’m not sure the short cooking time gives it enough time to render the fat down if it’s any more than wafer thin. I suppose I’ll just have to try it and see :D 

The cheese I used is a pretty generic soft cheese, with a mild flavour and creamy texture; I think it’s not a million miles away from the likes of Cheeze Whiz. I’ll have to try some next time I’m in America to compare. I know where you’re coming from with cheese, though — I’m a bit of a food snob in general, but I will only put plastic cheese slices on burgers. I don’t hold with using real cheese on grilled meats. I has to be plastic fake stuff.

And the bread was also not outrageously off-base either, I think, it was a cheap supermarket bun and certainly wasn’t fresh baked. I also toasted it, briefly, cut-side-down in a griddle pan; not sure if that’s frowned upon or not. (I find that helps firm it up so the juicy meat doesn’t make it fall apart.)

The onions and peppers are interesting — I assumed I wanted them to be soft and velvety, but it sounds like the authentic Philly cheesesteak would have a bit more substance left in them, a little bite. Gotta admit, I think I’ll probably prefer to caramelise my onions, the way I would for a burger; that’s just a personal taste thing. But next time I make a cheesesteak I will try it your way first. And I only threw the pepper in because it was going off and needed eating. I don’t think it really contributed much overall and I probably wouldn’t bother next time. (Noted about it being a green pepper, too. Makes sense — the red was a little too sweet.)

In any event, it tasted way better than the travesty that Subway sell ;o)

From checking our Richard’s food blog, this guy really knows how to cook. I’m glad he’s making some genuine (as much as he can, given what he has to work with) attempts at recreating our city’s very plebeian (yet awesome) sandwich. To check out said blog (with stunning food photos), visit (Hey Tumblrers, it’s a Tumbleblog, so be sure to follow him.)