I’ve heard that residents of the fine little town of New York City do not like it when you compare their second favorite sandwich to the Philly cheesesteak so I will NOT be comparing them.
Here’s a comparison table for comparison.
|Philly cheesesteak||thinly sliced ribeye||cheez whiz or provolone||wit||peppers, mushrooms|
|NYC chopped cheese||ground beef||American cheese||yes||lettuce, tomato, ketchup, mayonnaise|
I don’t know how else to interpret this table, but these are clearly two different sandwiches. So, let’s get going and we’ll chop some cheese.
What is chopped cheese?
A chopped cheese sandwich (sometimes just called “chop cheese”) is browned ground beef, sauteed onion, and melty American cheese. Optional additions: lettuce, tomato, mayonnaise, and ketchup. Sometimes, hot sauce is added for those folks who like an adventure.
Here’s a quick informative video focused on the “Blue Sky Deli,” an East Harlem bodega that locals call Hajji’s. Turns out that Hajji’s is well recognized as the birthplace of chopped cheese.
Our friends at the Sandwich Tribunal covered chopped cheese back in 2020. They wrote some good, informative content so go read it if you want to know more. There are lots of photos and a good how-to video there too.
This is one of the more straightforward sandwiches to make/prepare that I’ve tackled on this blog. But that doesn’t mean it’s boring or uninteresting. The chopped cheese is one of those high return for investment meals that you can get on a plate in 15 minutes if you’re quick and the results are super satisfying and tasty.
The semolina hero roll
Chopped cheese is typically sandwiched on a hero, or hero roll, which people in other parts of the world might call a hoagie roll or sub roll. Depending on the bodega or food truck in from which you are ordering your chopped cheese, they might also have an option to order a smaller and slightly cheaper sandwich on a round “hard roll” or Kaiser roll. For our chopped cheese, we’re aiming for the long version on a sesame seed-coated hero roll with a bit of semolina flour in the dough.
What the heck is semolina?
Semolina flour is made from durum wheat. This is different from the type of wheat that is what makes up all-purpose, self-rising, or bread flour; those are made with something called “common wheat.” Semolina is coarser and more yellow in color than the flours made from common wheat.
Semolina is very glutenous so it’s not something that people with gluten intolerances or Celiac disease would want to experiment with. This elevated amount of gluten is what leads to semolina’s higher protein content.
Because semolina is around 13% protein content, it makes a pretty good flour ingredient for my typical hoagie roll, because I most often use 12.7% protein King Arthur Baking bread flour. These higher protein content flours will lead us to a finished bread roll that has a little bit of chewiness, while still having a soft center. This is exactly what you would want for a sandwich with soft ground beef and cheese as the filling.
Rolling in the seeds
Once we have these dough rolls formed into torpedo shapes, I roll them through sesame seeds to get a good, full coating. This is done prior to the final rise, and it means you’ll have some seeds on the bottom and on top, and you don’t need an egg wash to make the seeds stick.
Once the seed-rolled torpedoes have risen, they’re baked like normal. I typically score them right down the middle from end to end to give them a consistent appearance.
Here’s my semolina hoagie roll recipe. It’s based on another of my sub roll recipes but with the addition of some semolina in place of part of the bread flour and then each dough log gets a roll through some sesame seeds prior to final rise and baking.
The griddling process
I used my cast iron griddle for this process. Someone once asked me where I got it and to be clear, I don’t know. I won it as a present in one of those holiday gift/swap exchanges. I remember that the price limit we were all supposed to spend was around $25 bucks, so you can find these inexpensively. If I was going to buy a new one, I would buy this Lodge cast iron griddle because Lodge is a solid company, and this looks like a pretty good purchase. It fits over two burners on your stove and is great for cheesesteaks, smash burgers, or pancakes and you can even flip it over to use as an indoor grill.
One cool feature of this griddling method/pan is that since it’s straddling two different stove burners, you can set yourself up with a hot zone and a cooler zone. If you run both burners at the exact same temp, the middle does get a bit cooler than the spots directly above the burners, but if you put the front burner high and the back burner lower heat, you can push things from the front to the back to a cooler zone.
Chopped cheese griddling slideshow
At first, the photo below might look like absolutely nothing, but it’s the start of a slideshow of my chopped cheese cooking process. Swipe through the photos for more.
Basically, the gist of the cooking process is that you griddle some onions and ground beef that has been seasoned with adobo seasoning until the onions are soft and the beef is cooked through. Then the cheese is added and cheese meltage starts. Add the beef, onions, and cheese to a hoagie roll with some shredded lettuce and sliced tomato, and then it’s condiment time.
Condiments are typically mayonnaise and/or ketchup and occasionally hot sauce. But since you’re making this at home, add whatever condiments you want. Make yourself happy.
Wrap it up
The chopped cheese is another sandwich that greatly benefits from being wrapped in paper or aluminum foil before eating. Wrap the sandwich up tightly and go procure your beverage and maybe some chips or pretzels. These extra few seconds or minutes will help to steam all of the ingredients, incorporate the melty cheese even more, and marry the condiments together. Wrap it up.
Chopped cheese sandwich recipe
Here’s an awesome sandwich recipe. Make sure to keep scrolling for more chopped cheese photos!
- 1 tablespoon canola or vegetable oil
- 1⁄4 onion, diced
- 1⁄2 pound ground beef
- Adobo seasoning
- 3 slices of American cheese
- 1 six-to-eight-inch hoagie roll (sesame seed topped roll is preferred)
- shredded lettuce
- tomato, sliced
- ketchup, mayonnaise (optional)
Cook the beef and onions: place a large pan or griddle over medium high heat. Add a tablespoon of canola or vegetable oil.
Once the oil is shimmering, add diced onions and cook for 2 minutes, stirring occasionally.
After two minutes, add the ground beef to the onions. Season with a good dash of adobo seasoning and cook until the beef has browned, and the onions are soft, about 6 or 7 minutes.
When the beef is fully cooked and browned, add your slices of cheese on top of the beef/onions and allow the cheese to soften for 2 minutes.
Chop the cheese: after the cheese is softened a little, using a spatula, stir the cheese into the beef and onions.
Split your roll and open it up. You can add condiments to the bread now or wait until the end.
Using your spatula, scoop the beef and cheese mixture into your split roll.
Add shredded lettuce and sliced tomato and any ketchup or mayonnaise that you would like.
Serve and enjoy.
Chop more cheese!
Put these sandwiches on your list of quick weeknight meals. They come together quickly and are easy to make.
Check back next week when we’re making a sandwich that even one of those vegetarians can eat!