One of the ways I’ve always approached the creation of new menu items, whether it’s for a food truck or a casual restaurant, is to start with something super familiar and approachable, and then make creative twists and additions to create a whole new dish. That’s the kind of sentence that made a lot of sense when it only existed in my brain, but now seems super trite and obvious now that I’ve committed it to type. But this approach to menu design works in two ways.
First, presenting what may be new foods in a familiar way makes them super approachable for someone that may otherwise be reluctant to try something new. You can put braised beef cheeks, pickled ramps, roasted Hen of the Woods mushrooms and gorgonzola crema (hang on, I should write this down) into the most artful arrangement on the plate as you can imagine, and there’s a certain portion of the population that will refuse to try it, no matter how carefully you’ve smeared your sauce on the plate or arranged all of your dish’s elements into little festive piles. Stack all of that same shit on a hand-pressed corn tortilla and present it as a taco, however, and more people will be more willing to try it. Everyone knows what a taco is, or a grilled cheese, or a pizza, and couching your ideas in a “safe” vehicle can make them more approachable.
Second, it’s a whole lot of fun. When your brain has settled on “cheesesteak,” for example, it knows what it’s getting: Some shaved steak, some sautéed onions, a river of melted Cheez Wiz. The original is great, sure, but pulling this kind of last minute switcheroo on your idiot brain is one of the fun parts of eating.
This sandwich takes that familiar form, with a few palate-confusing changes that elevate the humble cheesesteak to gourmet meal. We use Cambozola (a soft, rindy triple cream cheese, with a thin vein of gorgonzola running through the center), thin-sliced charred ribeye steak, baby portobello mushrooms, deep-fried crispy onion strings, and a thin layer of store-bought fig jam, because soft cheese and fig jam are best friends that go together like, well, soft cheese and fig jam.
The resulting sandwich owes a debt of gratitude to the Philadelphia classic, while managing to be something entirely new: Intensely earthy and smoky, with the hints of fire and funkiness that make food worth eating, and surprise hits of sweetness from the fig to cut through all of that richness.
It's like a cheesesteak, only better, with plenty of stinky, creamy cheese, earthy mushrooms, and a layer of fig jam to cut through the richness.
- 1 yellow onion, thinly sliced
- 1 cup buttermilk
- 1 cup flour
- canola oil, for frying
- salt and pepper, to taste
- 1 big ribeye steak
- 4 oz Cambozola cheese, room temperature
- 8 ounces baby Portobello mushrooms, sliced
- 4 tbsp fig jam or spread
- salt and pepper, to taste
- 2 submarine sandwich rolls, sliced lengthwise
Heat oil in a deep fryer or dutch oven to 375 degrees. Dip sliced onions in buttermilk, then dredge in flour. Fry until golden brown, then transfer to paper towels to drain. Season with salt and pepper, to taste, and set aside.
Preheat oven to its highest setting, probably 550 degrees for most home appliances. Heat a tablespoon of oil in a cast iron skillet over high heat until it just begins to smoke, then add steak. Season liberally with salt. Cook for three minutes on one side, flip, then transfer to oven to cook for another three minutes. Remove steak from oven, and transfer to plate to rest while you cook the mushrooms.
Using the same skillet, sauté mushrooms in beef drippings on stovetop over medium high heat until mushrooms begin to brown and release their liquid, about four minutes. Remove from heat and set aside.
To assemble sandwiches, spread each cut side with about a tablespoon of the fig jam or spread. Slice steak as thinly as possible, and layer into sandwiches with the Cambozola and sautéed mushrooms. Top with crispy onions and serve immediately.