Ain’t no French sandwich

Maybe it’s more French than French onion dip. But it’s not more French than French’s mustard.


Read Time: 7 minutes

I bet you’ve heard of a French dip, but if you haven’t, please keep reading. Hopefully, I’m going to present you with a useful demo of how I make French dip sandwiches at my house.

A French dip sandwich is typically served warm, and it contains sliced roast beef in a French-style sub roll. Sometimes it’s served with a side of au jus in a container that you could dip your sandwich into and sometimes the sandwich is pre-dipped for you in the restaurant kitchen. Most of my experiences with ordering a French dip in a restaurant include a small container of au jus on the side for dipping.

What is au jus?
In French, au jus means “with the juice.” In cooking situations, it refers to the juices that are released when you are cooking meat.

Where did the French dip come from?

Not France. Nope. Not there.

There are two theories about where the French dip originated. Both origination stories start in Los Angeles, California. Two restaurants, Philippe the Original and Cole’s Pacific Electric Buffet (usually just called Cole’s or Cole’s French Dip) have claimed to have invented the French dip sandwich.

I don’t exactly know who to credit with the French dip invention, and it seems that other folks can’t figure it out either. But we can take our favorite parts of each restaurant’s sandwich and apply it to something we’d like to make and eat.

Here’s how the two (still open) restaurants compare.

Philippe the OriginalCole’s Pacific Electric Buffet
Restaurant established19081908
Sandwich inventedClaimed to have invented sandwich in 1918 Claimed to have invented sandwich sometime after 1908
Dipping processDefault sandwich is dipped in au jus prior to being servedDefault sandwich is served with a side of au jus for dipping
MustardOption for house made spicy mustardOption for house made spicy mustard
Cost$9.65$19.00
Bounded by Buns: once again attempting to justify adding tables to websites since 2021.

And here’s how these sandwiches are listed on their official website menus/order forms.

Philippe’s online order page
Cole’s online menu

Basically, if you ignore claims to the invention of this sandwich and you ignore the price discrepancy between these two restaurants, they’re mostly the same. The main difference is that Philippe’s typically dips the sandwiches prior to serving and Cole’s serves the sandwiches with a cup of au jus for personal dipping. I tried a combination of dipping options in the sandwiches I made as you’ll see below.

Let’s whip up all the ingredients and make our own French dip sandwiches!

The French-ish bread

My bread recipe for this sandwich is based on French bread, but it’s not really a baguette.

I’ve written about enriched breads before, and this is most definitely not an enriched bread. The ingredient list for my French-style sub rolls is just flour, yeast, water and salt. Because there’s no butter, sugar or eggs, the rise time might be a bit slower. There’s also less ingredients that are actively adding flavor, so we start this bread the night before baking with an overnight starter of yeast, flour and water. This overnight starter should add flavor to the final rolls.

Batch two or three of this recipe. Lily is approving.
These rolls, when proofed properly, pick up a nice golden color and crispy, crunchy crust while still maintaining a soft interior.
I’ve baked five or six batches of this recipe recently. I even baked a test batch over the holidays for some family members.

Below is a three-photo slideshow of the rising/cook process for these rolls. I’m not sure how helpful these rise time slideshows are for readers, but I enjoy taking photos that allow me to compare dough sizes with the time stamps. It helps me to see if the dough has doubled or not. It might help you in your baking too.

IMPORTANT BREAD THING: I learned something during the process of baking the different versions of this recipe. If you do not let your dough rise until it is fully proofed, it will not brown as quickly in the oven. You should not rush this bread. Let it go the full length of time for proofing and rising. If your shaped rolls have clearly doubled, you’re probably good to bake. But if you don’t know for sure, you can try the poke test where you poke a risen roll firmly (a half inch or so down) and if the dough springs back almost all the way to where it was, it’s probably good to bake.

Remember, we’re dealing with flour, yeast, water and salt and there’s no sugar added. All the sugar that is in this bread is created by the yeast mixing with existing flour and breaking them down into simple sugars which the yeast then eats. If we don’t give the dough enough time, there will be no simple sugar to help with browning the bread. There’s also an issue with giving the dough too much time to proof, but hopefully you won’t experience that with these longer rise times.

This isn’t a beginner bread recipe, but if you’ve baked before, it’s not terribly difficult. There’s a little bit of stretch and folding time and you need to set up your oven with a hot pan full of steaming water which helps create a crispy crust.

3 hours and 30 minutes
French-style sub rolls

An overnight starter sets these French-style bread rolls to be extra flavorful. A hot water bath in the oven provides a hearty crunch to the crust, while leaving a soft interior perfect for sandwiching.

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The beef and au jus

This is an easy recipe for roast beef. You will need a roasting pan or an oven safe pan. It’s best if you have a baking rack that will lift the beef up off the bottom of the pan, but you can do without. Then you simply need to rough chop some veggies and find 7 cups of beef broth to help build your au jus. If you do not have a roasting rack, you can place the meat on top of the veggies in the broth. The rack just helps to make sure the beef has heated all around and cooks through properly and consistently.

If you don’t have a rack, you can also channel your inner MacGyver and make a “rack” out of twisted up aluminum foil to lift the meat up.

Roughly chopped onion, carrot, celery with garlic and thyme make up most of the flavorings in the au jus.

I set a target temperature for 135 in my temperature probe and when you are roasting meat you should always expect there to be some carry-over cooking.

How it started.
How it’s going.

It took my oven about an hour and a half to get 3 pounds of beef chuck roast from 40 degrees F to 135 F. Your mileage may vary slightly. A probe thermometer is your best chance at nailing this recipe.

This was cooked to 135 F which is medium-rare. If this is too rare for you, you can cook yours longer. BUT remember that you’re dunking this into hot au jus so it will cook a bit more if you slice it thin.
You can obviously see I cooked this to the temperature that I wanted, but you can also see that I sliced these first two or three slices with the grain. You must pay attention to that, and it will help with the sandwich tenderness if you slice against the grain.

One you have your meat cooked; you need to let it rest for at least 30 minutes before you slice. Slicing would be much better and thinner with a restaurant-style meat slicer, but I’ve held off on buying one since most people reading this probably don’t own one. I still pull out my long 14-inch slicing knife I bought via Amazon for a little over 30 dollars for slicing projects like this one and slice as thinly as I can.

The au jus should be strained from the roasting pan and can be reheated on the stove top if necessary. When you’re ready to make sandwiches, you can simply dip the meat into the warm au jus to heat up and place the meat between the rolls. You can also be a bit more fancy with building the sandwich as I will get into down below.

The hot mustard

This mustard recipe requires several days of rest in the fridge for the best flavor. In my first tests of this mustard recipe, I would taste and sample along the process. It was NOT GOOD the first day because of the bitterness from the mustard. But after four or five days or more, the flavors bloomed, and this became a condiment I add to a lot of sandwiches (in small portions – it’s spicy and will clean out your sinuses if you let it).

Recipe Card
15 minutes
Hot mustard

This hot mustard will open your sinuses. It is important to make the mustard and let it sit in your refrigerator for four or five days to allow the dried mustard powder to bloom. The flavors will develop over time in the fridge.

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This is a French dip being dipped.

Now we assemble

We have the mustard, the beef, the au jus and the bread. Sometimes cheese is added and sometimes it’s skipped.

This is the simplest version of the French dip that I had. Just meat, au jus and bread. And it was still great. Heat up the au jus in a pot. Dip the meat it in, when the meat is warm, add it to the bread and serve with a side of au jus for dipping.

The French dip sandwich recipe

If you want to make my French dip recipe, I have added it below.

French dip sandwich view printable page for this recipe

This recipe is built for 10 or 12 sandwiches. I wrote the recipe with the expectation that you'll make 2 or 4 sandwiches and then have leftover beef. We're talking about 3+ pounds of beef. Check the notes section for what to do to reheat if/when you have leftover meat/au jus.

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Ingredients:

Roast beef and au jus
  • 3 to 4 pounds beef chuck roast
  • 1.5 tablespoons salt
  • 1 tablespoon black pepper
  • 1 carrot, chopped
  • 2 celery stalks, chopped
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 2 large garlic cloves, smashed
  • 2 sprigs of thyme
  • 5 to 7 cups beef broth
Sandwich assembly

Directions:

Roast beef and au jus: Unwrap the beef and allow it to sit on the counter for 30 minutes to come closer to room temperature. 

While the beef rests, combine salt and black pepper in a small bowl to form your dry rub. With one hand (clean hand), sprinkle the beef roast all over with the seasoning. With your other hand (dirty hand), spread and rub the dry rub into the beef to make sure it's stuck all over and there are no spots without seasoning. You can use your clean hand to keep adding more dry rub while your dirty hand stays dirty, rubbing the rub into the meat.

Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees F (177 C). 

In a roasting pan, add the carrots, celery, onions, garlic, and the beef broth/stock. Add the roasting rack and then place the beef on the rack. If you don't have a rack, you can place the beef on top of the pile of vegetables.

Roast at 350 degrees F in oven until the internal temperature reaches 135 degrees. This takes my oven almost exactly 1 and a half hours to go from beef internal temperature of 40 F to 135 F. Your oven might vary. 

Once the beef hits 135 F remove it from the oven and allow it to rest prior to slicing. I usually let it rest 45 minutes to an hour (If you're not planning to eat the meat immediately, you can refrigerate and slice when it is cold).

Once the beef is sliced or placed into the fridge to cool, strain the liquid from the roasting pan, and reserve the liquid. This is your au jus.

When you are ready to make sandwiches add your au jus to a pan on the stove on medium heat. 

When the au jus is slowly simmering, place four sandwich sized piles of beef into the pan with the au jus. This will warm up the beef.  

Sandwich assembly: once everything is ready, slice all the rolls you need and add any hot mustard or other condiments to the bottom roll. 

Add cheese to the bottom slices of the rolls.

(This step is optional but very good)
Place the bottom slices of the rolls with the cheese under the broiler for 3 to 4 minutes until the cheese is melty. 

With tongs, remove a sandwich sized amount of beef from the pot with the au jus and place it onto the cheese on each of the bottom slices of the rolls. 

Dip the top slices of each roll into the au jus and place it on top of the meat to form sandwiches. If your pot is too small, you can always spoon a couple of spoons of au jus onto a plate for top-bun-dipping time. 

Serve and enjoy. 

Notes:

If you are eating these as leftovers on the second day, add your au jus to a medium sized pot over medium low heat until the au jus is just starting to simmer. 

Then you can add enough sliced beef for the number of sandwiches you plan to make to the simmering au jus. After about a minute or two, the meat should be warmed through. Using tongs, remove the meat from the au jus and add it to each sandwich. 

Serve the au jus on the side or dip the bread prior to serving, right in the pot with the au jus. 

If I added cheese to my French dips during this week, it was Swiss. I would briefly slip the meat/cheese under a broiler for melting opportunities.
Sometimes you have oranges and limes to help your photos look better.
And sometimes you just use an open jar of homemade hot mustard.
It’s a rare occurrence to get a sandwich post with TWO Lily appearances. She thinks you should consider yourself lucky!

Best French dip technique

After seven or eight French dips consumed for this blog post, I think I have determined my favorite tactic for making a French dip sandwich at home. This is not the traditional way to make a French dip, but I honestly think making it this way ensures a better sandwich experience.

  1. Slice your French sub roll
  2. Add mustard to the bottom roll and layer cheese on top of the mustard (on the bottom slice of the roll)
  3. Place cheese topped bread in the broiler and broil for 3 minutes or so to melt the cheese
  4. Heat up some au jus in the microwave or in a pot on the stove.
  5. Select the meat that will fit on your sandwich and dunk it with tongs into the warm au jus.
  6. Add the dunked meat on top of the melted cheese.
  7. Dip the top bread slice in au jus to soak.
  8. Add soaked bread on top of sandwich and go to town.
The beef has been dipped through warm au jus and then I added some jus to a plate and soaked the top bun in it.
This technique brings all the experience of a sloppy French dip and makes it a bit less messy to eat.

Preparing the sandwich this way keeps the bottom slice of bread safe from all juice and it still has the cheese flavor in every single bite. The biggest sandwich failure in French dips is when the bottom of the roll becomes too soggy, and everything falls apart. The top of the roll is soft and juicy, which drips down and soaks into the meat a bit more. You can still serve au jus on the side, but in my experience with the top bread slice dunked, you don’t need it.

And that’s my attempt at making French dip sandwiches. Other than the bread (which you could buy at the store), this is an easy to put together sandwich. There’s only one big component and that cooks in the oven for an hour and a half or so and then you’re ready to go.

Check back next week and I’ll be writing about another sandwich, and you’d be a jerk to miss it!


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