8 & $20: Saucy Cheesesteak Sandwiches

Whether served as a full meal or slider-sized snacks, what's better for watching a big game than beef with a bold red?
8 & $20: Saucy Cheesesteak Sandwiches
While cheesesteak purists may stick with melted provolone, American cheese or Cheez Whiz, this version dresses the beef with a mustard-spiked cheese sauce. (Greg Hudson)
Jan 31, 2017

Eight ingredients, plus pantry staples. That's all it takes to make an entire meal from scratch. Add in a good bottle of wine for less than $20, and you've got a feast for family or friends. That's the philosophy behind our "8 & $20" feature. We hope it adds pleasure to your table.

I love a cheesesteak sandwich. I’m excited to have one of these decadent babies anytime, but they make for especially good party food—particularly if you have friends gathered to watch the big game.

A cheesesteak is extremely satisfying and just the right degree of messy. A full-sized sandwich will make for a hearty meal, but you could also cut the hoagie rolls in half or use slider buns for snack-sized bites.

Provolone, American cheese and Cheez Whiz are usually considered to be the traditional cheesesteak toppers. You run the risk of incurring the wrath of purists if you start messing with the cheese on cheesesteaks, but I really wanted to combine provolone flavor with a saucy texture, so I dared to press on. I accomplished this goal by making what is essentially a creamy béchamel and melting in provolone. (It’s a variation on a Mornay sauce, if you want to get technical about it.) Then I spiked it with mustard for a little kick. Desired effect achieved! However, if you really can’t abide messing with the cheese, just melt slices of provolone onto the hoagie rolls as you warm them up.

The beef in sandwich-shop versions of a cheesesteak is always shaved into textile-thin slices. To get the beef closer to that texture, I tried a technique I’ve read about several times: chilling the beef in the freezer, then slicing it while really cold to allow for more control. This worked well, but you could also ask your butcher to slice it up for you with a meat slicer. I opted for a well-marbled tri-tip roast; however, I’ve also seen this technique recommended for rib eye, top round and strip loin.

To clear room on the stovetop, I cooked the vegetables in the oven. If you’re making a smaller batch, you certainly could sauté them. I put the onions in a little earlier than the rest to give them time to lightly caramelize, then added in the peppers and mushrooms. I like my vegetables with a bit of char, so I left them in a bit longer than needed to get them cooked soft enough for the sandwiches.

With all their beefiness, these sandwiches work with a range of reds; while you do have the veggies to consider, the cheese sauce is on the mild side. I wanted something bold but not overpowering, so I tried a juicy Malbec from Argentina and a savory blend of Garnacha (Garnatxa) and Cariñena (Carinyena) from the Montsant region of Spain.

Both worked quite well. The rich Malbec became velvety when tasted with the meat—a solid match. The Garnatxa-Carinyena blend had ripe dark fruit like the Malbec, but also brought more savory spice and herbal notes that spoke to the vegetables and accentuated the black pepper flavor. This wine was in dialogue with the sandwich as a whole, making for a more complete match.

Saucy Cheesesteak Sandwiches

Pair with a Grenache-based red from Spain, such as Cellers Baronia del Montsant Garnatxa-Carinyena Montsant Cims del Montsant 2012 (90 points, $15) or an Argentine Malbec such as Filus Malbec Uco Valley 2015 (87 points, $12).

Prep time: 15 minutes, plus 45-60 minutes to chill the beef
Cooking time: 40-50 minutes
Total time: 85-110 minutes
Approximate food costs: $38

  • 2 1/4–2 1/2 pounds beef loin tri-tip roast
  • Cooking oil
  • 2 large Vidalia onions, sliced
  • 2 bell peppers, sliced
  • 10-ounce package pre-sliced crimini mushrooms
  • Salt
  • Freshly ground pepper
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1 tablespoon flour
  • 2 1/2 cups of milk
  • 8 ounces sliced or shredded provolone (cut up if sliced)
  • 1-2 teaspoons mustard
  • 6 hoagie rolls

1. Chill beef in the freezer for 45 minutes to an hour.

2. Preheat oven to 425° F.

3. Once beef is chilled, slice against the grain as thinly as possible. Set aside.

4. Place a single layer of the sliced onions in a baking pan greased with cooking oil and put in the oven. Stir after about 12-15 minutes. Add the peppers and mushrooms. (Use another baking pan if not all of the vegetables will fit in a single layer.) Roast for another 20-30 minutes, stirring every 10-15 minutes, until the onions begin to caramelize and the peppers and mushrooms are soft and cooked through to desired doneness. (Leave them in longer for more char.) Season with salt and pepper to taste.

5. While the vegetables are cooking, make the cheese sauce. Melt the butter in a saucepan over medium-low heat. Then stir in the flour to make a roux and cook for 1-2 minutes. Slowly whisk in the milk. Bring the mixture to a boil, then reduce to a simmer. Once the mixture has begun to thicken, turn the heat down to low and slowly stir in the cheese until completely melted. Add the mustard (1 teaspoon for mild flavor or 2 for more kick), and season with salt and pepper to taste. Allow the sauce to thicken to desired consistency and keep warm until ready to serve. If at any point the sauce becomes too thick, you can loosen it again by whisking in additional milk or water.

6. Once the cheese sauce is made, season the beef with salt and pepper. Heat a small amount of oil in a pan over medium-high heat. Cook the beef slices in single-layer batches until lightly seared on both sides. Taste, adjust seasoning and keep warm.

7. Lightly toast the hoagie rolls in the oven or toaster oven.

8. As soon as all the components are ready, begin to layer the ingredients onto the rolls, finishing with the warm cheese sauce. Serve immediately. Serves 6.

Cooking Steak/Beef Pairings Red Wines Argentina Spain Grenache / Garnacha Malbec Recipes

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