RECIPE: Enhancing Store Bought Italian Beef
Being a first generation Italian and a lifelong Chicagoan, Italian beef for me is fact of life, like blizzards in winter or construction traffic...just as messy BUT WAY more yummy and enjoyable. If you are ever in my hometown, I urge you to partake in the MANY Italian beef stands across the city, and perhaps get involved in the national debate of which stand is better. The two contenders are often Al's and Mr. Beef. So far, Al's is in the lead at my workplace, but I have a soft spot in my heart for Mr. Beef. It is so dangerously close to our office, like, around the block. Dangerous.
But sometimes, you can't afford to cater from these places for a party, OR you don't live in the metropolis of all things MEAT like I do, and you have to go with a store bought Italian beef. Usually, these products are pretty good, some better than others. One of our favorites is Papa Charlie's and a local favorite, Vienna Beef, is a good product, too. However, sometimes I find that the juice provided in the container is more salt and water than flavor. I decided to take an extra step the day before my party and enhance my store bought beef with some home made flavor. It turned out to be a huge success, and I just brought leftovers into the office and everybody is raving about it. So I think it worked out pretty well. I think you can make this juice a few days ahead and just refrigerate before using it on the party day. This juice provided enhanced flavor for 2 5lb. containers of Italian beef (10 lbs. total). Refrigerating the juice will allow the fat solids to harden, and you can discard a lot of it before adding it to your beef when you are reheating it, keeping some of the fat content down. But let's face it, it's Italian beef. You are not eating it because it is healthy! You are eating it because it is DELICIOUS.
Enhancing Store Bought Italian Beef
1 quart of hot, boiling water (4 cups)
1 1/2 Tbsp. beef base
3 cups hot water
2 large beef soup bones
1 tsp. fresh ground pepper
3 bay leaves
3 2" sprigs fresh oregano
1 rounded Tbsp. fresh basil leaves, torn up
1 tsp. red pepper flakes
pinch of nutmeg
3 garlic cloves, minced
2 5lb. container store bought Italian beef, thawed overnight
Dissolve the beef base in the 4 cups of hot, boiling water. Add it to a large sauce pan with all other ingredients. Boil on medium high heat for 2-3 hours. Liquid will be reduced to about 3-4 cups. Remove from heat. Using a slotted ladle, pick out most of the large basil, oregano, soup bones and bay leaves and discard. (Can be refrigerated for a few days at this time).
Add beef and container juices and your home made juice to a slow cooker or large stock pot and heat according to package directions. Keep on warm while serving. Careful not to overcook, beef will get tough.
* note, juice might be even richer if you brown the soup bones with a little olive oil at first before adding all the other ingredients and cooking it down.