The WHB Special

By • June 9, 2011 21 Comments

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Author Notes: Portland is a nirvana for food carts. I suspect they are more popular here than anywhere else in the country. Over the past couple of years cart pods have sprouted up all over town. Almost every cuisine is represented from Argentinian empanadas to Vietnamese pho, and just about everywhere in between. I get most of my exposure to the carts via my brother who works in downtown Portland and lunches at carts most days. One of his favorites is a place called Wet Hot Beef (sadly, now defunct) with the slogan “We can't wait to put our wet hot beef in you.” When he first told me about the cart I will admit I was a bit disgusted. The name and slogan are a tad off-putting, but his description of the sandwiches made me change my mind. The everyday menu contains 3 versions of the sandwich: The “Naked” containing beef and au jus on a French roll, the “Dressed” adding pickled vegetables and caramelized onions, and the “Indecent” which doubles the au jus and adds cheese sauce. There is also a weekly special with versions like bleu cheese, hazelnuts and arugula or caramelized onion, roasted red pepper, and lemon aioli or my brother's and my absolute favorite which is what I've tried to recreate here. Whichever version you order will be served wrapped in paper and inserted into a white paper cup - a genius move to prevent yourself from dripping jus down the front of yourself. It is truly perfect street food. - hardlikearmourhardlikearmour

Food52 Review: This sandwich is a favorite among favorites. I LOVE a good roast beef sandwich with au jus, and hardlikearmour takes it to a whole new level. Usually when you get a WHB sandwich, the meat has often been simmering in the au jus for hours, and while it's delicious, it's grey and overcooked. With this recipe, you get to completely control how rare you like your beef, as well as the taste of the au jus. I used a bison sirloin roast, and was wary about letting it air dry for a day or so, but it gives a nice crust to the meat when it roasts. The cooking technique of roasting it on a rack of celery and onions lends lots of flavor too - but don't throw away those gorgeous veggies! I saved them for adding to roasted potatoes later. You also get a nice roast dinner out of this dish before you ever get to the sandwiches the next day. Save all your drippings, because the au jus in this dish really makes it work. I made homemade beef stock out of roasted marrow bones, but canned would be fine. Don't skip the red wine, Worcestershire and bay leaf -- let it reduce and taste often as it does. Use good, hard rolls. The peppery arugula, roasted pepper and goat cheese make this one of the best sandwiches I've ever had. - Burnt OfferingsBurnt Offerings

Makes enough beef for 6 to 8 sandwiches (depending on how beefy you like your sandwiches)

For the roast beef & “jus”

  • One 3.5 lb top sirloin roast, tied at 1 ½-inch intervals
  • 1 yellow onion
  • 2 stalks celery
  • 2 tablespoons grape seed or other high smoke point oil
  • kosher salt
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • water
  • ½ cup red wine or dark beer
  • 1 ½ cups beef, mushroom or chicken stock (or low salt broth in a pinch)
  • 2 teaspoons Worchestershire sauce
  • 1 bay leaf
  1. If you have the time you will get better flavor if you can age your beef for 24 to 48 hours. Keep it on a rack over a pan uncovered in the refrigerator. When ready to cook trim off any dried, leathery meat. Allow roast to rest at room temperature for 30 to 60 minutes before cooking.
  2. Preheat your oven to 500º F with a rack in the center.
  3. Remove the ends and papery skin from your onion. Cut the onion in half through the equator and separate each half into 2 sets of rings. Place the rings in the center of a 10- to 12-inch oven safe skillet. They are going to be the “rack” you will be roasting your beef on. Coarsely chop the celery and scatter it around the onion.
  4. If you have not aged your beef, blot it dry with paper towels. Rub the roast with the oil and sprinkle it generously with salt and pepper, trying to get seasoning on all surfaces. Place the roast on top of the onions making sure it is not in contact with the bottom of the pan. Add ¼ to ½ cup water, enough to coat the bottom of the skillet to help prevent burning of the onion and celery.
  5. Place pan in pre-heated oven and set timer for 10 minutes. After 10 minutes reduce the heat to 250º F, and cook until the interior temperature hits 125º to 130º F when checked in 2 to 3 places. This will take about 15 to 25 minutes per pound. Remove from oven and place meat on a rimmed plate or platter then tent with foil. Wait at least 15 to 20 minutes to carve (you can also cool and chill the meat at this point if you are doing it ahead.)
  6. While the meat is resting make your “jus.” Remove the onion and celery from the skillet and discard. If there is more than a teaspoon or two of accumulated fat, skim it off. Place the skillet on burner over medium heat. Add the wine or beer, and scrape the pan to deglaze and incorporate any juices and bits that have accumulated. Let the mixture reduce by about 1/3, then add the stock, Worchestershire, and bay leaf. Bring to a simmer and turn heat to low. Allow to simmer for several minutes. Add any accumulated juices from resting and carving the beef. Taste and adjust seasoning with additional Worchestershire, salt, pepper or stock – you want the “jus” to be pretty salty and strongly flavored. If not making the sandwiches immediately, remove from heat, cool and refrigerate.
  7. After beef has rested carve it into slices as thin as you can muster. There will be a “vein” of gristle running through the roast, trim this away as you are carving. I like to cut the roast in half with the grain, then slice the halves across the grain to make the task more manageable.

For each sandwich

  • 1 French or Hoagie Roll (something with a bit of a crust and a slightly chewy texture and a torpedo shape)
  • sliced roast beef, enough to cover the bottom of the sandwich with a generous layer
  • "jus" (enough to heat the beef in)
  • small handful arugula
  • 6 to 8 thin strips roasted red pepper
  • 1 oz chevre, crumbled
  1. Heat your “jus” to a simmer in the skillet. Remove the bay leaf. Add your sliced roast beef and toss it about with tongs to warm it for a minute or so. Remove from heat.
  2. Cut your roll in half lengthwise. If it is a chubby roll, tear out some bread from the inside to improve your filling to bread ratio.
  3. Pile a layer of the beef with as much “jus” as possible clinging to it onto the bottom of the roll. Drizzle with an additional 1 to 2 tablespoons “jus.” Distribute the arugula, roasted red pepper, and chevre over the beef. Place the top of the roll on the sandwich. Wrap sandwich in parchment paper, leaving top exposed, and tuck the wrapped sandwich into a 16- to 20-oz paper cup. Serve immediately.

More Great Recipes: Beef & Veal|Entrees|Sandwiches

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