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Steak and Pepper Sandwiches is Copyright © 2004 by Ralph Robert Moore.
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I had forgotten about this sandwich from my youth for decades, then, as often happens, it suddenly appeared in my memory. We recreated it one Saturday, loved it, and now eat it two or three times a month. It's a great hot sandwich, the type that makes you feel 'all's well with the world' while you chomp through it.
friends before food
steak and pepper sandwich
I was lucky with the when and where of my birth.
The nineteen-fifties were a period of great wealth for the middle class. Homes were large. Backyards went on forever, under twinkling stars and the smell of lilacs. Nobody really worked that hard, and almost everyone could afford steak. Even the poor wore suits.
I grew up in Greenwich, Connecticut, a perfect playground for a boy. Ponds, parks, harbors, woods. I waited each Saturday afternoon in the lobby of Greenwich Playhouse for the earlier showing of a movie to end, not wanting to hear any crucial clues, but intrigued by the disembodied lines of dialogue booming out the double doors, the sudden snatches of stirring music. I could walk anywhere I wanted, sidewalks or side of a rural road, only having to be careful of cars, and the type of dog that gallops halfway down a sloped lawn, braking on its front paws, barking.
Greenwich, being on the Atlantic Ocean, had a number of beaches, but by far the most romantic was Island Beach, reached by a double-decked ferry (it actually was an island, beige slowly appearing over the blue horizon). I'd stand at the very front, smelling the salt air, leaning my head over the iron rail, like other kids, to watch the water whitely part for our voyage. Once, a fat lady fell over the rails, bobbing heavily away from the ferry, into its spreading emerald wake.
There was a large, triangular-roofed, open-walled eating arena on the island, complete with park benches inside, seating two hundred humans in bathing suits. At one end of the space, near the entrance, was a wide concession booth. Each time I went to the island, several times a week during Summer vacation, I always queued up, stubbornly keeping my place in line even though I was a kid, always ordering the stand's steak and pepper sandwich. I still remember, forty years later, what it was like to walk away from that crowded stand, in my bare feet, across the gritty concrete floor, a couple of palm-warm quarters lighter, holding the heat of one of the sandwiches in my hands, in its waxed paper, recorded in the paper's translucency the white fold lines of its quick wrapping.
The dark-haired cooks on the island, fronts of their starched aprons pink with raw beef juice, made the steak and pepper sandwiches with what I suspect were thin slices of round steak, pushed with the flat fronts of metal spatulas around the oversized grill until the slices were cooked through, curling, and green bell pepper slices.
I've updated the recipe by using a better cut of steak, and adding red bell peppers, for a richer, more complex taste. Is this sandwich as good as what I bought as a little boy, with my allowance, and ate alone at a bench, head bent? Of course not. But it's pretty close.
For two sandwiches you'll need:
Notes: Use a USDA Choice rib eye, or its equivalent. More and more supermarkets are selling USDA Select, which is cheaper, but not as tender a steak (USDA grades are based on fat content). The rolls I had back then were what is usually referred to nowadays as baguettes, meaning a stubby roll longer than it is wide. You can use those, or a sub roll, or a Kaiser roll, or a sliced section from a loaf of Italian or French bread. Whatever you do choose, the crust should be somewhat hard and chewy, the interior soft and absorbent. Red bell peppers are generally larger than green bell peppers, since they are, in fact, the mature form of the green bell pepper- in other words, red bell peppers are nothing more than green bell peppers that have been left longer on the plant, under the sun and the sweeping spray of water, until they elongate and sweeten. To the degree you're able to, choose peppers that are boxy, so you'll be able to get nice, square-edged slices. I always use extra virgin olive oil when I cook. Some seasoned cooks will point at me and laugh their toques off, repeating the dictum that extra virgin only makes a discernable taste difference when it's used on cold dishes, but I do discern a difference with hot dishes as well.
Season the rib eye as you normally would, shaking the spices down, pressing them into the cold maroon meat with your palm, all the while admiring the ruby and pearl marbling. You should season your steak using the spices you prefer, but if you're uncertain what to use, or want suggestions, use a heavy shaking of seasoning salt, followed by a heavier seasoning of lemon pepper. Let the steak sit at room temperature, on a square of waxed paper, while you deal with the peppers.
Assuming you wound up with one long red bell pepper, and two shorter, boxier green bell peppers, cut the caps off each, a half inch below the attached curl of dried stem, then cut the bumpy bottoms off each.
Slice the remaining structures in half, height wise, so the chambered interior is laid bare. Remove all seeds and membrane.
Slice each half lengthwise into strips approximately two inches wide. Do not use a ruler during this process. Trust your eye.
If the red pepper strips wind up being significantly longer than the green pepper slices- say, twice as long- cut them in half so all the pepper slices are more or less uniform. Or don't. The sandwich is still going to taste great.
Bang a skillet down on a burner, put a gas flame or orange electric coil under it, and heat up the pan at medium high until your palm, elevated an inch above the skillet's surface, feels a pleasant heat, like the mid-day sun on an oiled body on a beach.
Drizzle olive oil down into the skillet, not enough to completely coat the bottom of the skillet, but just enough to draw whorly patterns across the bottom.
Wait another moment for the skillet to heat up the olive oil (You're doing this to avoid having the peppers stick to the skillet. To avoid ingredients sticking to your pan, for any recipe, start with a cold skillet, allow it to heat up, add the cooking medium, oil or fat or butter, allow that to heat up, then add what you're cooking).
Fussily place the green and red bell pepper slices in the oil of the skillet, skin side down, so they're close enough to glance sideways at each other, but not touching.
Leave them alone in their sizzle. Do not grasp the handle of the skillet and agitate the pan, watching the slices wobble. That's not cooking- it's interfering.
After about five minutes, use a fork to gently lift a corner of a pepper slice, to peek underneath. The skin should be glossy and crinkly, shot through with the color of cola. If the slice appears slightly burnt (which is what you're aiming for), flip it so the neon green or red underside is now face down in the sizzle. Be aware that almost all skillets under God's Heaven have hot spots, meaning some slices may be ready for flipping before others. Don't universally flip or not flip the slices based on one or two sample peeks. Flip each slice separately, based on its own condition.
Fry the underside of each slice until it, too, is slightly charred. Each limp, dark pepper, as you lift it out of the skillet, should have the texture of butter. Place the slices on a plain plate, maybe an old-fashioned one from the fifties, with a couple of minor chips and a faded flower border. Don't first cover the plate with a paper towel, to allow the oil in the peppers to drain off. You want that oil- it's your sandwich's dressing.
Once the peppers are done, cook the rib eye steak in the same skillet, in the hot olive oil remaining in the skillet after the pepper slices have been airlifted to safety. Once the rib eye has been limply laid into the skillet, once again, do not agitate the pan, or otherwise move the steak around. Let it be, so it forms a nice crust.
Cook the rib eye to whatever degree of pinkness or grayness you prefer- my own preference is to leave as much moo in the meat as possible. If you're uncertain what you want, leave the steak on one sizzling side on medium high heat until you see, looking at the side of the steak, that the rawness of the steak has retreated about halfway up the side, then flip it. Watch the seasoned surface of the flipped-up side. Once you see a bead of steak juice bubble out of the top surface, the steak has been cooked to medium.
Lift the hot steak to a cutting board. Starting at one corner, cut against the grain across the rib eye, each slice about a quarter inch thick.
Take your two rolls, cut them open into two halves, and put them in the microwave at full power for twenty seconds each (I find the flavor of the sandwich improves if the roll is also heated).
Lay half the steaming green and red pepper slices across the bottom of a roll, and top with half the steak slices. There will probably be sufficient olive oil still clinging to the pepper slices to provide your dressing. This is the way I eat the sandwich. If you want a stronger flavor for your dressing, drizzle a little Italian salad dressing across the cut side of the top half of the roll.
In any event, mop the cut side of each roll top across the pink steak juice left on the cutting board from the slicing process.
Place the top half of the roll on all that colorful, mounded goodness on the bottom half of the roll.
Fair warning: Each bite into your sandwich is going to release steak juice, olive oil, and pepper juices into the remaining roll, so that by the time you're halfway through, the remainder of the sandwich may be hot and soggy.