I kind of knew that sooner or later I would have to rise to the occasion regarding the making of a proper submarine sandwich. Yes, I know it is a tall order and only one of two mandatory items, the other being The Cheese Steak. I’ve tackled that one separately.
First things first. Subs originated in Chester, PA at DiCostanza’s sandwich shop, I believe during the 1940’s. They were called Hoagies to attract the dock workers who were known as Hoggies. The sandwiches had to be large and filled with meats and cheese to address the gargantuan appetites of the dock workers who, let’s face it, had very physical jobs to do and correspondingly giant appetites.
Thus was born the Hoagie, which turns out to be simply a synonym for the submarine sandwich. It doesn’t take much imagination to understand that away from the docks the word hoagie meant nothing, so the shape of the sandwich determined its name.
One thing needs to be established for all time. It was and is an Italian American creation, so the only real subs are Italian American subs made with very specific ingredients. All others are genetic mutants, even a lot of those variants found in present-day Italian sub shops. Remember that.
Having now established precedence and lineage I will proceed to define the perfect submarine sandwich, or, hoagie, whichever you prefer based on your ethnocentric upbringing. Alas, my knowledge is but partial, but I will do my best.
From my youth I recall Coe’s® submarine shops in two locations in Johnstown, PA. Just entering the shop was a blast of garlic and lunchmeat and pungent cheeses and some other herb scents that I simply could not define. All I knew was my mouth watered with desire to sink my teeth into one of those fantastic subs.
It was just my bad luck that my parents had a hard on against anything Italian, so home life did not include Coe’s® subs. I didn’t even taste one until I was 17 years old. I was lucky to have tasted Harry’s Pizza®, for pizza was new to Johnstown in the 1950’s. It only cost a dime for a large slice so I was able to step outside the world of my parents and live … yes, live!
Enough self-pity! Let’s get on with the show. Today, in the here and now, I am a sub critic, for I have learned much about how not to make a sub from third rate businesses who advertise great subs. What fools! Virtually no one outside the greater Philadelphia area has a clue on how to make a proper sub, and I know that to be true as I have sought subs out from high end delicatessens from California all the way to Switzerland!
Okay, enough lead in … here we go …
Ingredients and Directions:
Forgive me but I have to do this as a narrative. First and foremost a very large sub roll, around 18" in length, roughly elliptical in cross section but flat on the bottom and about 4" across the middle is mandatory. It has to be soft and freshly baked. Only a few commercial bakers use the perfect dough recipe and most of them are within 50 miles of the greater Philadelphia PA regional area.
Second, the sub roll will have some of the interior dough ripped out at the sub shop to make room for the essential ingredients. If you buy a sub that hasn’t been so processed you have been screwed, that is, cheated of the right amount of ingredients in the filling.
Third, there will be a liberal sprinkling of olive oil loaded with oregano and basil, all over the surface of the interior of the bread. The oil had a serious amount of fresh garlic minced into it to flavor it when the garlic and herb oil was made, but the garlic was never delivered directly to your sub. Thus, the rich scent of fresh garlic at Coe’s® without ever seeing garlic, though I'll bet they put powdered garlic in the oil too. Oh, yeah … Nirvana!
Fourth, there will be an ample amount of soft but pungent Provolone cheese lining both sides of the interior of the bread, right on top of the oil and herbs. The cheese slices should be overlapped halfway, thus providing a total thickness of four slices of cheese (two per side). Then there will be a very generous supply of at least three kinds of lunchmeats. One is Capicola ham, which is a high quality hotly seasoned ham that has an exterior crushed black peppercorn coating, or sometimes a coating of fine red pepper. Another is thin slices of Italian hard salami, which is intense in flavor and just soft enough to eat in a sandwich (as distinguished from the small 1 ½ to 2 inch diameter hard salamis that would be too hard sliced to be used in a sandwich). It is also important to distinguish the hard salami from what is called cooked salami, which is a soft textured weakly flavored salami, often with peppercorns in it, and you do not want that meat in your sub. The third meat is a good quality lunchmeat style of ham. The slices of meat should overlap each other halfway along the length of the sub and from side to side to create a meat pocket to hold the fresh vegetables, and this will provide two slices of each kind of meat on the entire interior of the sub.
One of the greatest shortcomings of most sub shops today is to cheat the customer by using too little meat and cheese and too much of the fresh vegetables.
Fifth, on top of the cheese and meat will be an ample quantity of freshly shredded lettuce, ripe fresh tomato slices and diced fresh onion. This gives very necessary moisture and flavor and texture contrasts to the other sub ingredients.
Sixth, there are some optional toppings that go on top of the fresh veggies … like sweet and/or hot sliced banana peppers, not that seedy wet red pepper flakes stuff used in many sub shops today. Then there will be a choice of adding pickle slices that are sometimes dill and sometimes sweet but often somewhere in between. People often ask for the topping ingredients to be served on the side in small plastic containers so they can build the final sandwich at home to the likes of each individual.
What is really important is that Food Nirvana now has a recipe for making the sweet sliced pickled banana/Italian peppers, for those pepper slices can't even be found in supermarkets in most locales. You definitely want to make these pepper slices if you cannot buy them. Check out the Sweet Pickled Pepper Slices recipe in the Processed Vegetables menu. As a substitute you can also use the bread and butter pickles per the Food Nirvana recipe.
Finally, the sub roll is forced to close around the substantial amount of ingredients, and it is wrapped in multiple layers of off-white delicatessen paper after having been cut in half diagonally when covered with the few first layers of paper, which keep the sandwich from opening unintentionally.
There you have it … a properly made jumbo Italian American submarine sandwich. Two very hungry young adults with good appetites can eat all of it, barely. Otherwise, it will feed a family of four nicely, if accompanied with some potato chips and some cold sodas.
There are legitimate variations to the sub I just described. For example, sub connoisseurs might order the addition of thinly sliced Proscuitto ham along with the rest of the ingredients, perhaps with a corresponding decrease in the Capicola ham. It is a memorable addition and worthy of your consideration.
How can I be so sure I have this right? Don’t other folks’ opinions matter? Well, frankly no! You see I had actual DiCostanza’s subs … the very largest Italian subs just stuffed with meat, etc. I used to pay around $8 for the largest sub, and it had so much meat in it that I could remove a pound of meat and still have a very respectable sub. No, I am not pulling your leg. This is gospel truth.
All other subs were and are deficient, by definition, as they never came close to the original. Profit trumped quality everywhere. I find it so very interesting that the local Board of Health shut down the DiCostanza’s location in Wilmington, DE. I will not debase you or me by using the words that flow through my brain about that crooked level of favoritism based governmental interference with the American Way. But I cannot have any respect for that kind of government, and so I don’t. You simply needed to hear the ugly truth to counter charges that DiCostanza’s meats were not fresh. Talk about illogical charges! "He who uses the most meat in a sub of all the sub shops will have the stalest meat?!!!"
You now know how to make a great submarine sandwich, if you can find the right quality ingredients. In some locales it is still easy. In others it is impossible. Just try to buy the large bottles of sliced sweet pickled and hot banana peppers made by Italian American producers, outside of the Philadelphia regional area, and you will understand.
Cien mil! (May you live a hundred thousand years!)