Pub Night: Philly Cheese Steak Buns
You read that title correctly, these are Philly Cheese Steak buns, as in rolls stuffed with meat, cheese, and deliciousness. Today I am presenting to you the Pub Night equivalent of a hand pie. Here we have all the glory of a sticky, dripping, cheesy, messy Philly Steak sandwich, but parceled up neatly in a soft home baked bread roll that can be carted to and fro, eaten as easily in the car as it can while you’re in front of the telly watching the game. We have thinly shaved beef, folks. We have soft, sweetly caramelized onions and meaty mushrooms. Most importantly, of course, we have cheese, and not the Philly Steak Nouveau with processed cheez spread, either. No, my friends. This is old school Philly Steak here, resplendent with chewy melted Provolone and a weak whip of sweet and tangy ketchup to remind you of why sandwiches are AWESOME.
Last Sunday, Easter Sunday if you will, I somehow managed to coax Mike into going “for a drive” with me. Little did he know that my agenda was actually all about groceries, and of course I had forgotten that everything would be closed on Easter Sunday. Everything, that is, except for a newer Asian grocery store (gamefully titled, “Foody Land”) which had sprouted onto the scene about 6 months ago. Despite it’s close proximity to our home, Mike and I had yet to visit Foody Land for three main reasons:
1. The parking lot is like a cross between Super Mario Cart and Angry Tetris, but with more honking, fewer spots, and a whole lot of dented fenders.
2. Have you ever had to fight off a four foot centenarian who stomped on the bridge of your foot before attempting to claw the only perfect eggplant right out of your hands? Because that’s not cool.
3. Mike hates traffic and crowds. I hate bright lights and loud noises. Foody Land is like a maelstrom of horror for us.
On a long weekend when this is the only grocery store open in town, you can bet that all that good stuff just keeps on getting better. However, because I’m a big jerk who couldn’t POSSIBLY go another day without fresh salad greens, I insisted that we enter and experience Foody Land together for the very first time.
Fifteen minutes later we had yet to find parking and an ominous looking purple vein had started to throb in the front of Mike’s forehead.
Twenty five minutes later we were finally parked and floundering inside, where the crowds had wedged us somewhere between the bok choy and the long beans. Try as I might, I was unable to maneuver our cart back into the main drag without running over a darting child or a cranky looking senescent.
Forty minutes later I was still madly grabbing items off the shelves and out of boxes, having abandoned my organized list a few aisles back, and a trail of kimchi was leaking along behind me like a desperate Korean version of Gretel who hoped that one day she and Hansel would be reunited in the bakery aisle.
Note: I DID find ‘Hansel’ in the bakery aisle. He was staring soulfully at the BBQ pork buns. Or maybe it wasn’t soulfully; maybe it was catatonic. The point is, nobody got left behind.
Mike refused to talk to me for the entire ride home, only occasionally muttering things like, ” ”NO!’ she says. We have to go to friggin’ FOODY LAND. On a FRIGGIN’ SUNDAY.” Or, “Goddammit, even my shoes smell like kimchi.”
To make it up to him, while I was making a mad dash down a relatively sane aisle full of frozen meat, I had picked up a few packs of finely sliced Korean hot-pot beef with the goal of making Mike The Philly Sandwich of Apology when we got home. What I hadn’t done, however, was pick up a fresh baguette or, indeed, bread of any kind. Ergo, it was time to make our own. And, like many inventions mothered by necessity, these buns were destined to be even greater than their inspiration, a greasy and goopy Philly Steak Sandwich.
When the buns were piping hot and fresh from the oven, Mike ate three. The next day, when they were cold and congealed, Mike took another three for lunch. When he got home from work on Monday, what was the first thing he said? “Hey, where’d’ya put the beef buns…..?” And so, all things considered, I would say our Sunday afternoon at Foody Land was a success after all….leaky kimchee and all.
Pub Night: Philly Cheese Steak Buns
Makes 16 medium buns
- 1.5 lb (750 g) thinly sliced beef, such as Korean hot-pot beef
- 2 tbsp oil
- 2 medium yellow onions
- 2 cloves garlic
- 1 green pepper
- 8 oz (225 g) button mushrooms
- 1 lb Provolone cheese
- 5 tbsp ketchup
- salt and pepper to taste
- 1 tbsp active dry yeast
- 1.5 cups warm water
- 1.5 tbsp sugar
- 1 tbsp fine kosher salt
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 1 egg yolk + 1 egg (for topping)
- 3.5 cups all purpose flour
- 2 tbsp poppy seeds (for topping)
Before we get started, let’s talk about the beef. What you’re looking for is a fairly well marbled and flavorful cut of beef which has been sliced razor thin for tenderness and quick cooking. If you have an Asian grocery store close by, Korean hot-pot beef is absolutely ideal. If you would rather make your own, take a nice big hunk of your favorite tender steak (I suggest flavorful rib eye) and tuck it in the freezer for 30-50 minutes, or until the meat is almost frozen and decidedly firm. Use a long, thin, sharp knife to slice the meat into the thinnest possible pieces that you can manage.
If you have neither access to an Asian grocery store or the urge to put your knife skills to the test, as a last resort you can always stop by the deli counter. Have the young buck in his cute little paper hat slice you thin shavings from the rare roast beast sitting in the display cabinet. You will only need a mere flash in the pan to finish the cooking, and a rich beefy flavor is (hopefully) already roasted right in. See? Everywhere, there are options.
Add the yeast to the sugar and warm (not hot) water in a large mixing bowl. Mix this gently together to dissolve the sugar and let it stand for about 5 minutes until it is starting to get frothy. Beat the single egg yolk with the oil and then whisk it into the mixture along with the salt.
Pour the flour into the bowl with the liquids and stir it together until it starts to form a scrappy dough. Turn the mixture out onto a lightly floured surface and knead it, adding as little additional flour as possible, until it comes together in a sticky dough. Don’t worry if the dough is not as firm and elastic as bread dough that you have made in the past, because you really want it to be moist, soft and tender. This is a pillowy dough, so don’t punish it by drying it out.
Pat the dough together into a rough ball and put it back in the bowl. Cover the bowl with a clean tea towel and put it in a warm, draft free spot to rise for an hour and a half so that it can proof.
In the mean time, peel the onions and cut them lengthwise into quarters. Slice the onions horizontally a scant 1/4″ thick.
Warm the oil up in a large heavy bottomed skillet set over low heat. Add the onions and start to gently sweat them out for about 12-15 minutes. The key here is that you want the heat to be low and slow so that the onions start to caramelize and release all of the deliciously sweet flavor that you know is hiding inside. You don’t want to saute or brown the onions, so if they look like they’re picking up color to quickly you want to turn the heat down.
In the mean time, slice the mushrooms and mince the garlic rather finely. Add the mushrooms and garlic when the onions are soft, sweet and golden. Turn the heat up slightly to medium low.
Let the mushrooms cook for about 5 minutes, stirring frequently, until they are soft and browned. Cut the green pepper into a fairly small dice and add this to the skillet with the cooked mushroom and gently caramelized onion. The peppers will only need 1-2 minutes to cook until they are tender-crisp. Turn the heat up to medium.
Finally, the moment that you’ve been waiting for; add the beef to the pan and season liberally with salt and pepper.
The thinly sliced beef cooks quickly, particularly over the medium heat. Stir it frequently, turning the beef over and around in the pan, until it is mostly cooked through with just a wee blush of pink every now and there (that will cook out as the meat rests). Take a wee nibble and check the seasoning, adding more salt or pepper as necessary until you have perfectly seasoned shaved meat.
Let the meat mixture cool completely (I mean that! Completely!) and then stir in the Provolone cheese, cut into small cubes. The meat must be at room temperature or it will melt the cheese too soon and yield greasy buns. Mind you, these are Philly Cheese Steak buns, so maybe greasy is acceptable.
When the dough has risen enough that the volume is slightly over double, punch it down in the bowl and press an “X” in the top to divide the dough into four (4) equal pieces. Cut out one quarter of the dough at a time. Roll it into a cylinder and then cut it into four (4) equal pieces. Roll each piece up into a ball.
Roll each of the 4 balls flat into a 4-6″ round and set them aside while you prepare the second set. You do this so that the dough has a chance to relax after the first role, making it much easier to handle.
Back to those first rested rounds! Roll them out gently again until you have a 5-6″ round which is somewhere between 1/8 – 1/4″ thick. You don’t want the rounds to be too thick or your buns will be doughy (and really, it’s all about the cheese and meat). Then again, if you roll the dough so thin that it is semi translucent it won’t be able to support the filling and the you’ll get tears and leakage. Nobody likes tears and leakage, regardless of the context.
Squeeze a small dollop of ketchup, about 1 teaspoon, onto the center of the dough. Use the back of a spoon to spread it to within 3/4″ of the edge. Dollop a generous softball sized portion of the cheese and meat on top, really heaping it up high. You want 1/16th of the filling in each bun, and you could divide it up in advance if you liked but that’s a bit too OCD even for me.
Dip a finger into cold water and trace around the circumference of the dough to moisten the edge. Gather the bread up like a purse and pinch the dough closed to seal it well. The top should be sticking up like a Hershey’s Kiss right now. Turn it and gently press down so that the top is twisted and flat. Set the completed bun seam side down on a baking sheet.
Continue this process with the rest of the buns until all are stuffed. Make sure that there is adequate room (at least 1.5″) between the buns to allow for expansion. Cover the buns on the baking sheets with a clean tea towel and leave them to rise for 45 minutes, or until they look puffy and bloated.
Preheat your oven to 375ºF while the bread rests.
Whisk together the remaining egg with 2 tbsp of ice water. When the bread has risen, brush each bun with the egg-wash and sprinkle poppyseeds on top if you wish.
Bake the bread in the center of your hot oven for 30 minutes, or until the dough is a gorgeous golden brown and the buns feel firm and set.
You could wait for them to cool for a few minutes before digging in, but take a look at those sweet buns and tell me that you’d be able to show restraint.
Gently tearing through the soft and tender pillow of dough releases the cheese filled goodness of shaved steak, sauteed mushrooms and sweet onions. I promise that you cannot eat just one.
You will not make these buns for a party, because then you would have to share.
You will not bake these buns for a potluck unless you’re the host, because there’s winning and then there’s winning.
You will, however, craft these rolls before every picnic on the beach this summer. You will savor them during every early evening baseball game that you’ve been convinced to attend under the pretense that they’re giving away free beer, and you will grudgingly pull out the recipe before football season starts again next fall.
As for me, I have a feeling that the next time I ask Mike to go to Foody Land with me he’ll whinge and wail and feign a broken foot, but it will all be a scam to earn him some apology Philly Cheese Steak rolls upon our return. And really? That’s just fine by me.