I inadvertently jumped into the middle of a food controversy this week.
Well, really, it was Joey’s fault. He found a video recently of someone making a sandwich called a “chopped cheese,” and because it looked delicious, we decided we needed to give it a try in our own kitchen.
Upon doing some digging, I came upon a 2016 New York Times article by Eli Rosenberg, outlining the debate amongst some New Yorkers about the traditional dish and specifically whether you can make a gourmet version of the sandwich and still call it a true “chopped cheese.”
“The sandwich, also called a chop cheese—ground beef with onions, topped by melted cheese and served with lettuce, tomatoes and condiments on a hero roll,” Rosenberg writes, “has long been a staple of bodegas in Harlem and the Bronx.”
At a normal price point of $4 to $5, that’s a great, cheap meal in New York City.
Now, regardless of any controversy, and knowing we skipped some of the traditional ingredients, Joey and I pushed forward with making our own version of a chopped cheese sandwich. These were so good, we’ve already made them twice.
This recipe was inspired by a video by online creator “Grillnation,” but Joey definitely tweaked everything into its final version.
Chopped Cheese Sandwich
- 1 tablespoon oil we used canola
- 1 bell pepper any color, sliced
- 1 small yellow onion sliced
- 1 to 1 1/2 cups fresh mushrooms sliced
- 1 pound ground beef
- 1 teaspoon garlic salt
- 1 teaspoon onion powder
- 1/2 teaspoon paprika
- 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
- 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes optional
- 4 to 6 cloves garlic minced
- 4 to 8 slices cheese we used cheddar and provolone
- 4 hoagie buns toasted
- In a large skillet, heat the oil over medium heat. Add in the bell pepper and onion and saute until they are soft.
- Add in the mushrooms, and continue to saute for a couple minutes until they start to cook down.
- In a small bowl, combine the garlic salt, onion powder, paprika, black pepper and red pepper flakes.
- Split your ground beef into four even parts and flatten each portion to around 1/4-inch thick. Season one side of the patties with half of your seasoning mixture.
- Move your veggies to one side of the pan and place the four patties, seasoning side down, into the skillet. Season the patties with the remaining seasoning mixture.
- Using your spatula, chop the patties so that they’re in large chunks but still mostly together. Once the patties are nicely browned (it should cook fairly quickly, since the patties are thin), carefully flip them over to the other side.
- While the second side cooks, add the minced garlic to the veggies in the pan to give it just a little color.
- When the patties are almost done, place one to two slices of cheese on each patty. Add an equal portion of the vegetables on top of the cheese, and then scoop the patties onto a toasted hoagie.
- Serve immediately with your favorite burger condiments and fixin’s.
This does reheat pretty well, so if you don’t need four portions when you initially make the chopped cheese, you can always refrigerate the leftovers for later.
The New York Times notes that while the origins of the chopped cheese aren’t completely known, it likely got its start from someone trying to recreate a Philly cheesesteak with some slightly less expensive ingredients.
Regardless, this sandwich makes for a darn good meal, and it’s just enough different from a normal hamburger to break from the routine. Plus, it comes together quickly—and cheaply—which is a nice bonus.
I’m sure any New Yorker who might stumble upon my column would say that I in no way re-created the iconic sandwich in my own kitchen, and they’d probably be right. After all, there’s a lot of flavor that gets imparted from a well-used grill in a small restaurant, but until I manage to travel to the Big Apple to try the real thing, this will just have to do.
This piece first appeared in print on Feb. 23, 2023.
Spice Up Your Life is a weekly newspaper column written by Lindsey Young in south central Kansas. If you are interested in sponsoring this column, please contact us through the “Contact Lindsey” link at the top of the page.