After college I spent three tumultuous years in Philadelphia—I partied like a rock star, drank like a fish, and ate like I was living in hog heaven. It was like going to college without the homework, and my friends and I spent many a work morning battling hangovers in our cubicles, slamming cups of below-grade office java to force our eyes open.
I worked my ass off in college writing my thesis, editing friend’s papers, and running my own literary magazine, Verbal Seduction, with my best gal Rachel, so while I had lots of fun, I never really let loose like I did in Philadelphia. Because of that, Philadelphia will always be a place of excess in my mind, a place I didn’t realize had gotten under my skin until I moved to Chicago.
Where Chicago is smooth, polished and friendly, Philadelphia is gritty, raw, and rough around the edges, and I love both cities for their idiosyncrasies. While my cooking skills have improved threefold here in Chicago, it was Philadelphia that kick-started my love for cooking. Philly’s Italian Market was my playground, and the culinary possibilities there were endless.
But, like anyone who’s lived in Philadelphia knows, if you’re not in the mood to cook, there’s always a cheesesteak being sold somewhere around the corner. And when I say around the corner, I really mean around the corner—you can find a food cart or corner store that sells cheesesteaks in every neighborhood, and if you live in South Philadelphia like I did, the market is saturated with cheesesteak purveyors, sometimes two or three per block. Everyone argues about whether Pat’s or Geno’s has the best cheesesteaks, but I maintain that most of the corner stores and food carts outdo those guys in terms of price and taste any day of the week.
So I have to say I was excited when I got a review copy of Susan Russo’s The Encyclopedia of Sandwiches (Quirk Books, 2011, $18.95) and I spotted a recipe for Philly Cheesesteaks. Besides being the ultimate Philly food, cheesesteaks are also great for nursing hangovers, or a late-night drunken craven for grease. I personally love chicken cheesesteak over the traditional beef, so I thought I’d take Russo’s recipe and tweak it like she suggests in the recipe’s notes.
Of course, I had to put my own spin on it by cooking the cheesesteak filling on the griddle and melting the cheese over top like they do in Philly instead of just dumping every on the hoagie roll. It’s like having a taste of Philadelphia right here in Chicago, and I loved every minute of it.
This recipe is adapted from the Philly Cheesesteak recipe that appears in Susan Russo’s new book, The Encyclopedia of Sandwiches. Besides swapping out beef for chicken, I decided to make my sandwiches on the flattop griddle—just like they do in Philadelphia. If you don’t have a griddle, the sauté pan you use to cook the chicken and vegetables will do the job just fine. Click here to download a PDF of this recipe.
1¼ pounds boneless, skinless chicken breast, chopped into bite-size pieces
1 large yellow onion, thinly sliced
1 bell pepper, sliced into thin strips
2 c. white button mushrooms, thinly sliced (optional)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
8 ounces (or 8 slices) cheese, such as Cheese Whiz, slice provolone or American
Garnishes of your choice such as ketchup, hot peppers, or pickles
Cook chicken. Season chicken well with salt and pepper. Heat a large sauté pan over medium-high heat, and then add a few tablespoons of oil. When oil is hot, sauté the chicken pieces in batches until brown and cooked through. Set aside on a plate.
Cook veggies. If skillet is dry, add another tablespoon of oil to the pan. Add onions, peppers, and mushrooms, if using, season with salt and pepper, and sauté until lightly browned, about 5 minutes. Set the veggie mixture aside on the same or another plate.
Make sandwiches. Hollow out the center of each hoagie roll to leave a little more room for the cheesesteak filling. Using the same sauté pan—or a griddle if you have one—over medium heat combine one quarter of the chicken pieces and one quarter of the veggie mixture into an elongated pile.
Let heat through 1 minute, than put two slices of cheese over the mixture. Leave the sandwich filling alone until the cheese melts over top, about 1 to 2 minutes. Using two short spatulas or one long spatula, transfer the sandwich filling to one of the hoagies. Top with your choice of garnishes. Eat it while it’s hot.