Why Hello there, and welcome back to Kitchen Catastrophes. I honestly don’t know how today’s post is going to go, because I am weirdly fatigued by it. Why? Well, as the title should have told you, because today we have not one, not two, but three recipes. Why such reckless extravagance in one so moderately young? Let me explain the madness that made me make three French Dips. And in case the fact that I’m making three recipes wasn’t an immediate tip-off, today’s post is going to be super long, but you can skip all of that and just get to the facts by clicking this link to the recipes.
Having a Super Time, Thanks
During our State of Catastrophe post, I brought up that I’m working this year on getting ahold of the “tail” of our publishing schedule. Which I also explained meant “trying to make sure that I make foods far enough ahead of events that if you want to make them, you have time.” And that sounds rather simple, but it can build into silliness. The example I love most is magazines: food magazines have to make their recipes about 4-5 months in advance. So they’re making Thanksgiving turkeys in July. I have a tighter turnaround, of course, but I still need to make things ahead of time.
This ran into a magical three-fold set of consequences:
This site has, for some reason, made a point of making a recipe for EVERY year’s Super Bowl (a phrase I use here against legal counsel, as our first year’s post‘s extended bit should explain) during the site’s existence, despite me being a nerd with little interest in Football other than a moderate and reflexive tribalist support of my college team and local NFL franchise.
The Play-offs mean it is IMPOSSIBLE to be entirely sure who will be in the ‘Big Game’ until 2 weeks beforehand. I mean, sure, you can GUESS, but then, crap like the GODDAMN PASS INTERFERENCE PLAY in Saints-Rams happens!
I still only vaguely know what’s going on here. But I understand that the bad guys are the ones in white.
And sure, I could take the COWARD’S way out, and just start prepping my New England dishes in fucking November, because Bill Belichick has worked a dark football sorcery on the goddamn play-off season, so his team just keeps showing up, but, and here’s a hot take: I don’t like New England food. They call Chili-Mac “American Chop Suey”, take pride in having figured out Baked Beans, a food otherwise eaten most notably by “people without actual kitchens”, and eat a lot of seafood, which I don’t like, and I already COVERED.
The last 2 weeks have encountered a breakdown in communications between my family members due to conflicting schedules. I’ve been cast as one of the protagonists (Wikipedia’s words, not mine) in a play, and we’ve just started rehearsals. Nathan, on the other hand, is in a show currently running. On every day that I don’t have rehearsal. So during the week, I only see Nate for about 20 minutes a day between him getting home and me leaving, and during the weekend, we’re trying to get the supplies sorted for the next week. Thus, when I learned last Sunday that it was New England vs the Rams, I said to myself “alright, we can either make New Orleans food in protest, or do LA food.” And I didn’t get any time to discuss the ideas with my family until far too late.
So between all that, and the lost day of “I think I ate glass, I may need a hospital”, it wasn’t until Friday that I got an idea of what I was going to do. At which point the universe gave me a little nudge, and this whole thing spiraled into my only day off being a constant series of actions.
What Kind of a Dip Gives Himself This Much Work?
Now, when you think of LA, I’m sure, that, like me, you think of cool chicks and dudes absolutely slaying their day-to-day, and being rad doing it. (What? I went to college for THEATRE. According to Facebook, I have no less than 14 friends who live in LA, so of course I’m going to take this time to shamelessly suck up to them.) But beyond those totally awesome people, the food of LA is probably pretty colorful in your mind: green goddess kale shakes, whatever trendy thing has replaced Acai bowls, Asian tacos, Mexican sushi, just a grab-bag of creative (and occasionally questionable) culinary creations.
In case you thought I was joking abut that Mexican Sushi line, I assure you, it’s a thing.
And those things are certainly true. However, that doesn’t mean that LA isn’t tied to other foods and trends. Oh no, a classic of diners and down-home-style restaurants was born in the city of Angels. And that’s the French Dip. (Which really shouldn’t be surprised. You’re in a post titled “three French Dips”, what, did you think I was going to say “A Reuben”? No, those were invented in (REDACTED DUE TO ANGRY MOBS). (Trust me, we’re already about to get ornery about origins, we don’t need those guys in the mix just yet.)
My parenthetical whispering aside, the French dip was invented in Los Angeles sometime between 1908 and 1918. And I can’t be any more specific than that, because two different restaurants claim to have invented it, and neither knows exactly when or how. This is frustratingly common in food circles, as I noted last week. A LOT of people’s family just…make food, without ever asking who came up with it, or when. In Los Angeles, the two contenders are Cole’s Pacific Electric Buffet and Philippe’s. And trust me, the stories are a MESS. No one’s sure if it was a chef, or the owner, or why, but they’re all certain they DID it. There are about 3 core stories about HOW the dish was invented:
A customer came in with sore gums/a loose tooth, and asked for a sandwich with softer bread. The owner (or chef) dunked the bread in beef gravy, and the customer enjoyed it. This is the semi-official story at Cole’s.
A police officer or fireman complained that their bread was too tough or stale. The owner/chef, either because the roll may have been a day or two old, or simply to be a dick, dunked the bread in beef jus, and asked “is that better?” to which the customer assented, and came back with friends the next day.
A chef dropped the sandwich into a pot of gravy, the customer accepted it anyway, and liked it so much they asked for more.
There is one more story, and it’s from Philippe’s mouth himself: Supposedly, it was just a natural progression. Philippe was selling large sandwiches of roast meat in French bread to working men, and started making French Roll sized sandwiches of the same for more modest appetites. Supposedly a customer just saw a pot of fresh beef juices from roasted beef come out of the oven, and asked Philippe to swipe the bread in it. Philippe said the next guy ordered the same, and the next, and the next, until he ran out of gravy. The next day, seeing how popular they were, he made a gallon of gravy, and he STILL sold out.
And given how little drippings you normally get out of a roast beef, that’s a shit-ton of gravy.
The official stance on this is “unprovable”, so we’ll probably never know who did it first, unless we somehow find some 1915 picture of both of the menus, one with it, and one without, so instead, we’ll just enjoy what we have.
Jus in the Nick of Time
But, as fun as that story is, and as much as I love a good French dip, I had to admit, it didn’t FEEL very ‘LA’ in the modern sense. But, I had an out: see, I’d already WANTED to make French Dips this year, because I had found a recipe for a vegetarian version, and I wanted to compare “real” French Dip vs Veggie Dip, and see who won. And that felt a little more LA. You know, going green and all that. And then the universe cleared its throat, and pushed something my way.
The universe is pushy like that. “Oh, you HAVE to check out this book!”
That’s a cookbook I picked up two weeks ago from a used book store. I’ve watched the author’s PBS show a couple times, he seems like a cool dude, and I saw 3-4 recipes I liked when I glanced through it, so I thought it was a good use of $7. On Friday, we were sorting out our coffee-table books, and I rediscovered the cookbook, and decided to glance at it for some ideas. And one of the first recipes I found in it was for a “French Dip” Orange Beef Sandwich.
And if vegetarian French Dip sounded kind of LA, then “Asian Fusion French Dip” sounded fucking 100% LA. But…What if they sucked And since I’ve never made a NORMAL one for the site, how could I, in good faith, make 2 ‘weird’ French Dips without teaching you how they’re supposed to be, first?
Which is how I spent my entire Sunday making 3 different recipes for French Dips, which was enough food for more than 12 sandwiches, and how I made my family eat 2-3 sandwiches apiece so we could get a varied suite of opinions. (and if you want to know how tired I am right now, I literally wrote “sweet” in that last sentence without noticing.) So let’s find out how you make this mess into meals.
Cooking Up Some Trouble
The only saving grace of my madness is that French dips are, nominally, pretty fucking easy and relatively quick to make. Ming’s recipe? 40 minutes, including a 15 minute marinade. The Mushroom one was an hour and 15 minutes, because it included 35-40 minutes of caramelizing onions. The ‘normal’ French dip would have been insanely quick if my mother and I weren’t insane.
See, a French dip is made with, as I’ve implied already, Roast Beef. (The first actual one may have been a pork sandwich with gravy, but I assure you, serving that to a trucker who asks for a French Dip will get you beat up by a man on every legal upper in the tri-state area, so stick to beef.) The roast beef is thinly sliced, and bathed in the jus before going on the bread. Which, in a reasonable world, means you just buy some deli roast beef, toss it in flavored broth, and call it a day. But as is clear to anyone at bars where I decide to cut loose, I am not a particularly reasonable man.
This is like a food-sculpture of a potato gone bad. And the fact that THAT was my first connection speaks to my flimsy grasp on sanity.
That is a 2.5 pound Eye of Round Roast, seasoned and studded with garlic. Because my mother and I decided to make home-made roast beef for our French Dips today, in a very Carl Sagan “in order to make apple-pie from scratch, you must first invent the universe” kind of way. THAT process takes over an hour, so good luck and Godspeed. Once it’s roasted, you let it sit for 10 minutes, then slice it as thin as you can. Which my mother and I swiftly learned is “infuriatingly thick”. See, at a restaurant, they have those nice slicers, where the meat’s weight pushes it into a spinning, sharp blade at a set thickness. Easy, consistent, and nice. At home, we tried two different kinds of chef’s knives, as well as an electric slicer, and while some of the slices were of what I would call ‘proper thickness”, some of them were closer to ¼” thick, and some veered closer to ½”.
Turns out we invented those things for a reason.
The recipe for this sandwich, and for the roast beef, I modified from A Sweet Pea Chef, by the way. Because yes, my first step in trying to make a recipe I don’t know, just like all of you guys, is to google it. Now, in order to somewhat make my life easier, I had actually caramelized the onions the night before. You might say “but Jon, that link doesn’t use any caramelized onions!” Which, yeah, I know, that’s why I modified it. That and I swapped out the provolone for Swiss, because that’s what we had in the fridge, Anyway, if you’ve got caramelized onions and sliced roast beef, you’re only about 10 minutes from a ‘normal’ French dip.
We took the beef-drippings from the roasting pan, deglazed them with some sherry and beef broth, added a touch of Worchestershire, and poured the mixture into a skillet. Now, I don’t particularly like the taste of sherry, so I boiled the shit out of that pan, and had to add broth a couple times as it simmered down that flavor, but if you’re fine with it, then once it’s warm, you’re ready. Once it was somewhere where I didn’t hate it, I added the roast beef, tossed it a couple times to warm, and assembled a standard sandwich: beef, onions, Swiss Cheese, and mustard. Now, I have to confess that presenting this process to you in this direct manner was a lie, as this recipe was the first one started, and the last one finished: I simmered that damn jus for at least an hour as I worked on the other sandwiches, so let’s talk about what went into them, starting with the Mushroom.
Things Get Mushy
This recipe I snagged from Cooking Light, (warning, that page automatically plays a video) though I did tweak it in my own ways here and there (mainly in how long I cook the mushrooms, since I ALWAYS feel recipes under-cook them.) And once you’ve caramelized the onions, this recipe is pretty damn direct as well. You take a pound of sliced Portobello mushrooms, and cook them in two batches, then, once the batches are cooked, simmer it all in broth, on the bun, broil with some cheese, and serve. And once the mushrooms hit the pan, it all goes pretty quick. Which is partly why I have a bunch of pictures of the mushrooms BEFORE they hit the pan, but no great ones until they’re on the sandwich
Which in my defense are pretty glamorous.
This recipe was interesting because it hit a specific point that’s not common in French dips I encounter, but IS accurate to the originators: it uses a spicy mustard on the bun, something that both Cole’s and Philippe’s do, but most places don’t. It’s a very interesting movie, and a surprising bit of accuracy. In fact, I was going to mention it as an innovation, until I noted in my research that both restaurants have it.
Why did I take this picture? I could have looked at the actual bowl of mustard, but no, I go with “spread on bread”.
I did screw up this recipe on a technical level, as I used normal Worchestershire sauce, which is NOT vegetarian, instead of a vegetarian brand. And if you wanted to make this vegan, you’d just need to omit/replace the cheese (and change the bread, of course, but that’s pretty common for vegan sandwiches). Otherwise, this sandwich was pretty easy to put together. Let’s see if that trend continues.
Orange You Glad I Made You All These Sandwiches?
Now, here’s where things get interesting. Ming’s Orange beef sandwich is arguably the fastest of the three, (since it doesn’t need any caramelized onions) but for us, it was also the most difficult, for a variety of little reasons. Firstly, because Ming uses Hanger steak in his recipe, which is not a common cut at markets, so we had to hit up two different stores just to get the closest we could, which ended up being some skirt steak.
The Skirt steak needed to be trimmed of excess fat and silverskin, and then frozen to slice thinly. Unfortunately, we spaced and froze the steak for a full 2 hours, instead of a more reasonable 45 minutes. So we started the recipe with a meat-sicle.
Meat isn’t normally supposed to stay vertical without a bone in it.
We sliced that (well, more “shaved”) steak into thin, 3 inch or so cuts, and tossed it into the fridge to thaw over the next 2.5 hours until dinner. Which it did not. The meat was still frozen when we matched it up with its marinade, a mixture of orange juice, sambal, sliced shallots and scallions, and minced ginger.
Which looks a little more like a shitty salad than a marinade.
And either this created our next problem: either Ming underestimated the right amount of juice, or we just got screwed in the produce department. See, our meat just straight up totally absorbed our marinade. There was NO liquid in the bag for the first 10 minutes it sat marinating. And we’re supposed to have excess marinade to drain from the beef and use as the base for the jus, so this was problematic. Eventually, we got SOME liquid, but I hold not enough.
Once your meat is marinated and drained, you just wok (or skillet) fry it for a couple minutes, mix the marinade with some beef broth and a CRAPTON of orange zest, boil, and throw together a rather light and crisp little sandwich of sliced tomato, beef, and shredded lettuce.
Honestly, put a little more meat and a sauce on that, and this wouldn’t look wrong in a deli.
That gets served with the jus, and boom, that’s three whole recipes for radically different (Yet rather similar) French Dips. So, how did they turn out?
First, let me say that not everyone ate every dip. Nate and I had all three, but our mother insisted she could only have 2. Here’s our rough thoughts:
Mushrooms: the biggest problem with the mushroom dip is that there isn’t enough mushroom. Like, we could DOUBLE the amount of mushrooms on these sandwiches, and they’d probably be fine. Because of that, the flavor of the mustard is a little strong, and personally, I didn’t like the jus (which had an entire 1/3rd of a cup of sherry in it and was only simmered for 6 minutes, so that makes sense.) It was Nate’s second favorite, and I think it tied for second for me.
Ming’s: I think Ming’s was done a disservice. I don’t know HOW, but I’m relatively sure there was supposed to be a higher ratio of orange-juice to meat/marinade. This led to the jus being weird, as it was mostly just ‘beef stock with orange essential oils in it”. Which was an interesting flavor, though in Nate’s opinion, “like the Chinese curse of “May you Live in Interesting Times”. He ranked it third. My mother was a fairly big fan of the meat on its own, popping open her sandwich to dig out the meat, and I tied it for second. It did point out that, as far as we were concerned, NONE of the recipes made enough jus, which I will note when presenting them.
Homemade Meat: Meat, onions, cheese, mustard, and the jus. And let me tell you, the jus on these ones was dynamite. From the beef drippings to the seasonings on the home-made roast beef, combined with long cooking to get out that weird alcoholic sweetness to the sherry, the jus on this was my direct winner.
So good, I tear up just looking at it. And that’s why this shot is so blurry. It’s not because my hands were wobbling.
Now, I had a couple problems eating it, as our irregular slices meant that sometimes, you’d just get a thicker hunk of meat, and, since I’d already powered through 2 sandwiches, textural misshaps like a bit of gristle or stringy fat were hyper-powerful in triggering my gag reflex. Still, if this had been served to me at a restaurant, I would not have complained at all. Nate ranked it his highest, and I have to agree.
So, there you have it, three different and distinct ways to approach French Dips, an LA Classic, in a Modern LA way (“artisan”, Vegetarian, and Asian).
You should probably melt the cheese on your normal one, though.
Now, if you don’t mind, I have to go pass out.
THURSDAY: JON TALKS PARTY FOOD, PLUGS HIS OWN WORK, AND OTHERWISE WASTES ALL OF OUR TIME.
MONDAY: JON TAKES THE ASIAN FUSION OF TODAY, AND DELIVERS A DISTINCTLY DIFFERENT TAKE, WITH AUSTRALIAN-ASIAN PULLED PORK, AND HOW IT ALMOST RUINED HIS DAY.
And this marks the start of way too many
Roast Beef French Dip
6 hoagie rolls
1-2 lbs cooked Roast Beef (see below) and reserved pan drippings
(If no pan drippings, use 1 packet of beefy onion soup mix)
¼ cup dry sherry
1 ½ cups beef stock +more as needed (I would recommend at least 3 cups)
1 tsp low sodium soy sauce + more as needed (double this too)
2-4 tbsp unsalted butter
6-8 thin slices provolone or Swiss Cheese
Mustard Sauce (optional), (see below)
Caramelized Onions (optional) (replicated recipe from Portobello Dip, below)
Deglaze drippings from roast beef pan over medium heat, using beef broth, sherry, and soy sauce. Bring to a simmer and cook until reduced by half, about 8-10 minutes. If sauce is too salty, add more beef broth. If not salty enough, add more soy sauce, as needed, until it reaches desired flavor.
Slice hoagie rolls, and if desired, toast bread before topping with meat and other toppings.
Slice roast beef into very, very thin slices. Place slices in hot Au Jus on the stove and cook for 1 minute. Using tongs or a fork, carefully remove roast beef slices and layer on each "bottom" half of the sandwich with desired amount. Top each with a slice of provolone cheese and mustard sauce if desired, place under the broiler until cheese is melted, about 1-2 minutes.
Remove from broiler and close sandwiches. Slice each french dip in half and serve alongside a small cup of Au Jus for dipping.
2 1/2 lbs top round roast, or other “round” roast
2 tbsp olive oil
3 garlic cloves, sliced
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup low sodium beef broth
1 tsp sea salt
1 tsp ground black pepper
Up to 4 tsp dried herbs of your choice (I used basil, rosemary, thyme, and savory)
Heat oven to 375 degrees. Make 8-10 small incisions (about ¼- ½” deep) around the meat and then insert one slice of garlic into each. Rub the roast with olive oil until coated. Sprinkle sea salt, pepper, and dried herbs all over the roast and rub to coat.
Place the roast, fat side up, on a rack over a roasting pan. Pour water and beef broth into the pan around the roast, trying to cover the bottom of the pan. Place in the oven and roast for 45 minutes (or until the deepest part of the roast registers 125 Fahrenheit). Do not open the oven during these 45 minutes.
After 45 minutes, reduce heat to 250 degrees F and cook until thermometer reads 135 degrees. Remove from oven and let rest 10 minutes. Remove the slices of garlic, if desired, and then slice across the grain using a sharp knife in very thin slices to serve.
PORTOBELLO MUSHROOM DIP
2 teaspoons unsalted butter (remove for vegan)
2 ½ tbsps olive oil, divided
2 large yellow onions, vertically sliced
¼ tsp kosher salt
Mushrooms and Jus
1 ¼ lbs portobello mushroom caps, gills removed, sliced into strips
¾ cup lower-sodium vegetable broth ( I would at least double this amount)
1/3 cup dry sherry
1 tbsp Worcestershire sauce (vegetarian if desired)
2 tsps chopped fresh thyme
1 tsp lower-sodium soy sauce
¼ tsp freshly ground black pepper
2 tbsps Dijon mustard
½ tsp prepared horseradish
4 (2-oz.) whole-wheat hoagie rolls, sliced horizontally
4 slices ultra-thin Swiss cheese (such as Sargent)
Heat butter and 1 ½ teaspoons of the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add onions; cook 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Reduce heat to medium-low; cook until golden, about 30-45 minutes, stirring occasionally. Stir in salt; cook 5 minutes. This can be done a day ahead
Heat 1 tablespoon of the oil in a separate large skillet over medium-high. Arrange half of mushrooms in skillet in a single layer and cook, undisturbed, 3 minutes, until golden-brown. Stir and cook 8 minutes, stirring occasionally, until golden-brown. Remove to a bowl. Repeat process with remaining oil and mushrooms.
Return all cooked mushrooms to the pan. Add broth, sherry, Worcestershire sauce, thyme, soy sauce, and pepper. Bring mixture to a boil; reduce to a simmer; cook 5 minutes. Use tongs to remove mushrooms from au jus; place in a bowl. Pour au jus evenly into 4 ramekins.
Combine mustard and horseradish in a bowl. Spread on top halves of rolls.
Preheat broiler to high. Arrange 3/4 cup mushrooms onto the bottom half of each roll. Add 1/4 cup onions. Tear each slice of cheese in half; place over onions. Place hoagies on a baking sheet. Broil 1 to 2 minutes, until cheese melts. Serve with au jus.
"French Dip" Orange Beef
Juice and zest of 2 oranges (maybe add additional orange juice, say another orange’s worth)
1 tablespoon sambal or 1 minced jalapeno
1 bunch scallions, sliced thin, white and green parts separated
1 tablespoon minced ginger
2 shallots, sliced thin
Meat and more
1 ½ lb hanger steak or skirt steak, trimmed and sliced as thin as possible
4 tablespoons grapeseed or canola oil
2 cups fresh beef stock, fresh chicken stock, or low-sodium canned broth
1 tablespoon naturally brewed soy sauce, if needed
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 soft hoagie buns
1 large tomato, or 3 roma tomatoes, sliced 1/4 inch thick
1 small head iceberg lettuce, shredded
In a medium bowl, combine the orange juice, sambal, scallion whites, ginger and shallots. Add the beef, stir to coat the slices, and marinate for 15 minutes.
Drain the beef and reserve the marinade. Heat a wok over high heat. Add 2 tablespoons of the oil and swirl to coat the pan. When the oil is hot, add half the beef and stir-fry until cooked through, 4 to 5 minutes. Transfer the beef to a plate. Add the remaining two tablespoons oil to the wok, swirl, stir-fry the remaining beef, and transfer to the plate.
Add the stock and reserved marinade. Add the soy sauce if the stock is unsalted or low-sodium. Add the orange zest and scallion greens, season with salt and pepper, and bring to a boil. Transfer the broth to four individual bowls.
Split the rolls in half. On the bottom halves place the tomato slices and top with the beef, then the lettuce. Cover with the bun tops, and serve with the broth bowls for dipping the hoagies into.