TIME TO GO HIGHBROW: CHEESE AND ONIONS TRADING PLACES
The Philly cheesesteak is delicious so maybe it could be even better if we raise the level of ingredients. We stuck with the rib eye for the beef because that is already great.
Instead of regular onions we substituted in shallots. As for cheese, we needed something creamy but not overpowering so we send with a classic but standard French Camembert.
Execution is the same as all the other versions and having everything ready to go before starting is always the key. We stuck with a neutral oil (safflower or canola in our case) because we didn't want to influence the nice beef flavor and the shallots and Camembert would add enough extra flavors anyway.
Interestingly, expectations were not high for this sandwich because of the experience with the foodie attempt at the Masters pimento cheese sandwich. In that case, we learned that the simple humble original ingredients had a certain magic that just worked.
This was a good sandwich. You could definitely taste each element of beef, shallot and Camembert and none overpowered the other. Surprised and happy.
THE WINNERS ARE ...
Not surprisingly the classic "Whiz wit" and "Provolone wit" were the best of the bunch tested here. Of the classic versions, the American cheese was the blandest and it didn't seem to add much to the sandwich. Like in Philly, whether you prefer Cheez Whiz or provolone is simply personal preference. I was surprise how much I liked the Cheez Whiz version (maybe it's the maltodextrin, maybe its the sodium alginate or even the oleoresin ... but there's something magical in there!).
In hindsight, it is not that surprising because we learned long ago that even the upper echelons of Philadelphia society love and understand the purity of a simple sandwich.
However in this case, the foodie version was also a very good sandwich. I suppose it is not that surprising when you take a bunch of great but simple ingredients and put them together (especially if they involve beef and cheese).
There was an interesting point brought up by the panel (i.e. my lovely wife in this case): for the foodie version, the insides almost tasted too good to be in a sandwich. There is a lot of truth to this. Perhaps the feeling was accentuated by having tested several other cheesesteaks at this particular sitting. In other words, while the foodie version was a great sandwich, maybe the corresponding thought of having these quality items on their own is too strong. It's likely more satisfying to have a seared medium rare rib eye steak with some fried shallots on the side along with some camembert on some thin baguette slices. To take it to the extreme, it is probably why the idiotic arms-race over expensive high-end/$50+ burgers made from kobe beef, fois gras and shaved truffle burgers has died down over the past 12 years in New York (thankfully). There is no point in wasting amazing ingredients together in the form of a burger. It is food out of context.
In other words, a great sandwich is greater than the sum of its parts. That is part of the magic of a Philly cheesesteak.
Of course this would all go down great with a Yuengling or a homemade Arnold Palmer (easy recipe here).