Chicago has always been one of my favorite cities – ever since my first job there in 1962. We also lived near Chicago for over twenty years – ample time to experience and enjoy much of what the Windy City offers its millions of residents and visitors. There are many reasons why I consider Chicago special, but this web site is about food, so I will confine my comments to food – specifically, eating Chicago style!
Like most (or maybe all) large metropolitan areas, Chicago is more than a huge city surrounded by countless suburban communities. It is also a vast collection of ethnic neighborhoods representing cultures from around the world – each neighborhood offering unique culinary experiences. In other words, a foodie's paradise!
Italian Beef Chicago Style served on a freshly baked hard roll with roasted red peppers and caperberries.
A Chicago Style Hot Dog is an all-beef frankfurter served on a poppy seed bun topped colorfully with yellow mustard, bright green sweet pickle relish, white onions, red tomato slices, a dill pickle spear, pickled sport peppers, and celery salt – but never catchup. Interestingly, there is no apparent disagreement about this combination of condiments and consequently there is no variation across the city regardless of the vendor. I don’t usually boast about hot dogs, but this one is extraordinary – although I always commit the cardinal sin and add catchup to mine!
Thanks to televised food shows, I suspect everyone has heard of the Chicago Deep Dish Pizza. Again, there seems to be broad agreement as to how this rather unique creation should be prepared. Deep Dish Pizza is made in what looks like a layer cake baking pan with sides about 1½ inches high. The dough is first pressed across the bottom and up the sides forming a pie-like shell. A layer of sliced mozzarella cheese is then spread across the bottom. What would normally be called toppings (should they be called bottomings here?) are added next: your choice of pepperoni, sausage, olives, onions, green peppers, etc. The sauce comes next, and last, although sometimes the sauce is sprinkled with Romano or Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese. As you might guess, one slice can be a full meal for some folks; and needless to say, it’s all delicious.
My favorite iconic Chicago food is the Italian Beef, however – beef braised in stock seasoned with onions, peppers, garlic, and Italian herbs and spices – then thinly sliced and served with plenty of braising liquid on an Italian hard roll. Since there is less consensus over how this one is prepared, and since no reliable recipe was available at the time (well before the Internet), I decided to create my own version. I use brisket for its flavor and because it can be sliced very thin or roughly chopped to create more of a pulled-pork consistency. Alternatively, the chopped version can be mixed with pasta and braising liquid to make another simple and tasty treat. If I’ve inspired you to give it a try, I think you’ll be pleased.
P.S. Last month, in my blog on Sauces, I mentioned Alfredo Sauce and noted that it was created by Chef Alfredo Di Lelio in Rome in the early twentieth century. A few days after this posting, I received a most gracious note (in the form of a Comment to my blog) from Chef Di Lelio’s granddaughter, Chef Ines Di Lelio. Her note provides the full story of why and when Alfredo Sauce was first prepared. She also gives the history of her family’s restaurants in Rome, from Chef Alfredo’s mother’s Piazza Rosa to Chef Ines’ current Il Vero Alfredo. I invite you to read her comment and visit her restaurant’s web site (click on the British/American flag icon to view the English version). The site offers a virtual tour of the restaurant and contains a short video on how to prepare authentic Fettuccine all’Alfredo! Mille grazie, Chef Ines.