Mike Ditka, ex professional football player, ex NFL coach, has been on a licensing spree lately; in addition to his restaurants, Ditka is now rivaling Donald Trump (including questionable hair) for an expanding product line: wine, steaks, cigars, and now Chicago style foods.
I don’t know shit about football; the closest I ever came to the sport was working a grade school carnival with Mike Singletary and Walter Payton, also former Chicago Bears; our kids all attended the same school. Oh, and I went to the annual NFL game in London one year, for work purposes.
In any case, Ditka’s “Chicago foods” are a recent addition to his line up. Ditka has two different sausage varieties, a hot beef polish, and a tomato/cheese chicken. It’s not likely I’d ever try the poultry one, just not my thing, but I did try the polish when it was launched, and liked it. It’s a big one, too, a third pound,and requires a substantial bun for cradling.
Ditka has now joined the several Italian Beef kits sold in Chicago grocers; after all, it is the official sandwich of Chicagoans. All come with beef and seasonings frozen in a block or tub of au jus, and merely require gentle heating before strategically placing the meat in your choice of roll and dressing it as you are so inclined.
Here’s the important part. I’ve often heard from people how they are disappointed in the frozen Italian beef, and almost universally, upon questioning, I have found out that often the source of their disappointment is that they did not follow the instructions on the package. For this product to turn out like anything resembling the restaurant version, two things must occur: 1) you have to thoroughly and completely THAW the product before heating, in the frig or on the counter top, and 2) GENTLE heating is all that required. Bring it to a boil and you’ll hate the result. So, repeat after me: THAW. GENTLE. Ok, we’re good to go.
Ditka’s ingredients are pretty straight forward, the beef portion contains seasonings, oregano and flavorings. The gravy ingredient list is a little lengthier, and does contain a number of different salts as well as MSG, if you’re a pussy about that kind of stuff. In the pic below of the unprepared product, you’ll note the red color, I’m not sure where that comes from.
The package is 2.25 pounds for five servings, and costs around $9, which is right around the same price point as its competitors.
Heated it for awhile, and ready to consume, I chose a short French roll, for its durability, as an Italian beef can get messy. There’s three ways to order Italian beef in Chicago, dry, wet, or dipped. Dry means they tong the beef out of the au jus and let most of it run off the meat before placing it in the bun. Wet means no dripping, and perhaps a little gravy ladled on the sandwich. Dipped? Beef in the roll, no drip, and dipping the entire sandwich in the au jus. Soggy and delicious. It’s an acquired taste.
You should also specify whether or not you want giardiniera on it, a pickled relish of diced garden vegetables (celery, cauliflower, carrots, jalapenos, oregano, and garlic) preferred by locals. Top or not with peppers, sweet or hot. Feeling bold? Ask for a “beef combo” and that will get you the delicious beef sandwich with a full Italian sausage nestled in the beef!
So back at home, I loaded my bun with a little too much meat, and plated it along side some home made potato chips (I was kitchen-motivated today).
Of the half dozen frozen Italian beef products I am aware of, I’ve got to say, this is my favorite. The gravy is very flavorful, and the beef is a quality cut. Good job, coach.
Mike Ditkas Italian Beef Review