Raise the Steaks

With lots of steak smothered in melted cheese, it’s easy to see why Philadelphia is proud to put its name on it

Living far from home is never easy. After being away from the States for an entire year now, I’ve found there’s a whole lot of stuff I really miss. Out of all of them, the one thing I find myself craving the most these days is a decent Philly cheese steak sandwich.

They’re not impossible to find around here, but the problem is that I’ve already been spoiled by the best.

Three years ago I visited Geno’s Steak in Philadelphia, famous for its perfect Philly cheeses. Their sandwiches are flawless in execution, with just the right proportion of cheese melted over the beef, making every bite gooey and flavorsome with the sweetness of the onion – and crunchy with the crispness of the crusty bread.

I have missed the taste of that sandwich so much that I’ve been looking for its equal all across town for at least two months now, but it’s not easy to find such a restaurant in Ho Chi Minh City. It’s unfortunate that Vietnam lacks the proper authentic ingredients to make a great Philly cheese steak, and in any cas they’re not as straightforward as they seem when you try to put one together in the kitchen.

Oi Vietnam-Sep2015_ cheese sandwich__DSC9753_NT (OiVietNam_3N)

It’s an elusive quality you’re looking for. A certain richness in the cheese. A moist tenderness in the meat. The bread needs to be just the right kind to avoid any sogginess before it hits the plate.

When the craving refused to subside, I felt compelled to give it a shot myself. To put together the ultimate HCMC Philly cheese steak, I did my best to source the closest locally-available components I could find to recreate this delicious sandwich right here. I went on the lookout for bread with crispy crust, rib-eye beef with some marbling fat, a nice caramelized onion and some decent cheese. Instead of a Hoagie roll, I use a local-style baguette. All of these ingredients needed to be as easy on the wallet as they are on the palate.

It may not be Geno’s, but I present to you Jack’s Cheese Steak Sandwich.

JACK’S CHEESE STEAK SANDWICH

  • 1 (12-ounce) boneless rib-eye steak, chilled in the freezer for 45 minutes
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 medium bell pepper, cored, seeded, and thinly-sliced (optional)
  • 100 gm medium yellow onion, thinly sliced Kosher salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 4 ounces provolone cheese, thinly sliced (or cheddar)
  • 2 baguette rolls, split horizontally and toasted

Makes: 2 sandwiches with seared strips of steak, sautéed onions, and plenty of cheese on a crusty baguette.

Push all of the vegetables to one side of the pan. Add the sliced steak in a single layer, and season with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the meat is no longer pink (about 3 minutes). Reduce the heat to low.

Divide the steak into two piles roughly the size of the baguette. Place half of the vegetables on top of each steak portion. Lay half of the cheese over each portion of steak and vegetables.

Cover the pan with a tight-fitting lid and let it cook undisturbed until the cheese has melted (about 3 to 4 minutes).

Using a flat spatula, scoop each pile into a roll and serve immediately.

Bio: Vietnamese chef Jack Lee has served a host of Hollywood A-listers from Angelina Jolie to Barbra Streisand, and recently returned to chef for Acacia Veranda Dining (149-151 Nguyen Du, D1). His biography “You Don’t Know Jack” by Oi writer NPD Khanh will be released later this year.

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