Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Mysteries of Pittsburgh: How to Make a BBQ Chipped Ham Sandwich by Cleo Coyle

Pssst... Want to play confuse the deli guy? Okay, here's what you do. Walk up to your grocery store’s cold-cuts counter and ask for a pound of Chipped Ham. Unless a member of the deli’s staff is from Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood, chances are he won’t have a clue what you’re talking about. 

Chipped Chopped Ham is unique to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, as my husband and I discovered after moving to New York City decades ago--and watching deli guys blink in total confusion whenever we tried to order a sandwich with it.


The whole thing began with a chain of regional stores called Isaly's, a name you might recognize as the original producer of the famous Klondike ice cream bar. 



Little known fact:
The Islay's website actually brags...

"Boston has its Baked Beans. Philly has its Cheesesteaks. Pittsburgh, Ohio, West Virginia and surrounds? We have Isaly’s Original Chipped Chopped Ham."



With retro food as popular as ever, I thought it might be time to take a chance and decode the mystery of chipped ham for a wider foodie public. And so...

For this post, I am going to show you how to create that special sandwich from "someplace special" (what we Pittsburghers call our Three Rivers city). 

The BBQ Chipped Ham Sandwich was one of the most popular lunches served in Pittsburgh's school cafeterias when my husband and I were growing up. It was the retro sandwich of our youth. It was also delicious, easy, and cheap. In fact, cheap is the point!


The "chipping" of deli ham is a great way to make a less expensive brand of ham more tasty. There’s a good reason why it does, too, just keep reading... 


Cleo Coyle, cheap eats 
enthusiast, is author of 
Cleo Coyle's
Pittsburgh-Style
BBQ Chipped Ham
Sandwich


Makes 4 Sandwiches

Ingredients: 

1 pound of "Chipped Ham"
(Below, you'll learn how to order this at any deli.)

½ cup (8 tablespoons) ketchup

¼ cup (4 tablespoons) BBQ sauce

4 soft hamburger buns

(optional garnish) Relish, sweet or dill




Directions:

Step 1: Order the Ham - Although the original "chip chopped" ham was made with pressed ham, you can order up any ham at your deli for this sandwich. Note: Even if you usually order the more expensive black forest or baked Virginia ham, don't be afraid to try the less expensive or "on sale" hams for this sandwich. Here's how to do it...

Simply tell your deli person to shave the ham razor thin. Tell him (or her) not to be afraid to allow the ham to break up into pieces. The deli person is actually "chipping" the meat against the commercial meat slicer blade. Here’s what it should look like...




By shaving (chipping) the meat very thin, the ham is more tender and has more flavor than if it were sliced more thickly. In Western PA, Northern West Virginia, and Eastern Ohio (aka the Ohio Valley), this slicing process is known as "Pittsburgh Style."

Step 2: Make the Frizzle Fry - When you get the chipped ham home, you’re ready to create your “frizzle fry” sandwich. (Okay, from here on, it's stupidly easy. But if you never made a hot dog before, I suppose you'd need directions, right? So here goes...)

A. Heat the Chipped Ham: Place a large skillet over medium heat. Break the ham up into the pan and stir until heated through.

B. Make your Quickie Sauce: Mix the ketchup and (your favorite) BBQ sauce in a small bowl and add to the skillet. (Some people add a little mustard at this stage. We don't, but it's an option, depending on your taste.)


Quick tip: The new "Simply Heinz" ketchup is quite good. I just discovered it, and I'm hooked. No corn syrup. Huzzah! You can really taste the difference. I also like Sweet Baby Ray's BBQ sauce, but you can use any BBQ sauce for this recipe.

C. Combine Ham and Sauce: Stir and cook for a few more minutes. The chipped ham should be evenly coated with the ketchup-BBQ sauce. The ham should be steaming and sticky.

D. Pile it high: Divide the ham up onto the four hamburger buns.

Garnish: My husband eats this simple sandwich with no other garnish. Many people in Pittsburgh, however, enjoy adding sweet relish. I really enjoy it with relish—but I prefer dill relish. So add what you like and…




Eat (and read) with joy!


~ Cleo Coyle


New York Times bestselling author of
The Coffeehouse Mysteries

Yes, this is me, Cleo (aka Alice). 
Friend me on facebook here.
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Visit my online coffeehouse here.



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