The nuances of the Italian beef
The Italian beef sandwich starts with a 10-13lb roast with lots of marbling. A sirloin tip roast or top round roast will do, but it needs lots of fat which is essential to its flavor development. About half of the roast is lost in the cooking process when the fat melts off and turns into the sauce (also called gravy) that is essential to a good Italian beef. Then comes the seasoning.
“The meat is typically seasoned with dry herbs (oregano, basil) and spices (red pepper, black pepper, sometimes nutmeg, cloves, etc.) and fresh garlic or garlic powder, then roasted slowly, partially submerged in beef stock,” Anthony Buccini writes in the upcoming book Food City: The Encyclopedia of Chicago Food, co-edited by Bruce Kraig of the Culinary Historians of Chicago. “Once cooked, the beef is cooled in order to facilitate slicing, then the very thinly sliced meat is bathed in the reheated broth and cooking juices (‘au jus,’ ‘juice,’ ‘gravy’). To form the sandwiches, forkfuls of the soaked beef are placed inside the bread (cut length-wise); according to individual preferences.”