How to Make an Elevated Version of NYC’s Iconic Chopped Cheese
Chef Chris Scott serves his version of the signature NYC sandwich at Butterfunk Biscuit in Manhattan
While it doesn’t receive as much nationwide recognition as the City of Brotherly Love’s cheesesteak, New York City’s signature beef-and-cheese sandwich is just as deserving of your appetite’s attention.
Served hot off the grill at delis and local sandwich shops around the city, the chopped cheese is most prevalent in the Bronx and Upper Manhattan, and is believed to have originated at a bodgea on the corner of 1st Avenue and 110th Street commonly known as Hajji’s.
Typically served on a a round roll or a hero, the budget-friendly sandwich combines ground beef, onions and melted cheese to form a homogenous mixture that’s usually topped with lettuce, tomatoes and condiments.
Though the chopped cheese may sound similar to a cheesesteak, chef Chris Scott, a Philadelphia native, cautions against confusing the two signature sandwiches. “Being from Philly, to me, it’s like night and day. It’s beef and cheese but it’s so very different because of the cut of meat and definitely the bread,” he says. “Also, I don’t really put ketchup on a cheesesteak. Some do, but it’s usually a blend of ketchup and hot sauce. And you definitely don’t put mustard on a cheesesteak either. And I don’t believe that provolone is ever used either on a chopped cheese. As far as flavor’s concerned, it is kind of like a Philly cheesesteak. It’s also kind of like a cheeseburger. If you think of those two sandwiches having a kid, it would be chopped cheese.”
A finalist on season 15 of Bravo’s Top Chef who moved to New York in 2006, Scott spent time in Harlem sampling the sandwich while perfecting his version of the chopped cheese for his eatery Butterfunk Biscuit in Lower Manhattan.
“I like to actually walk the streets of an area and get a feel for the people. You listen to the music that’s playing from the cars and from the stores,” Scott says. “It’s not like I’m sitting in front of my computer. I’m actually boots to the ground in that neighborhood getting to know the people. You can go to almost any bodega in Harlem and they have a version of the chopped cheese. It’s similar to going into a McDonald’s in Kansas City or a McDonald’s in Philly. A French fry there is going to be a French fry there, too. It is sort of like the signature street sandwich of the Harlem groove.”
Given the uniformity of the sandwich, Scott didn’t stray too far from the norm with his take on the chopped cheese, other than adding some key ingredients and serving his version on a biscuit.
“It’s basically chopped meat, cheese and caramelized onion with a little bit of ketchup and mustard on a roll with lettuce and tomato. Picture a sloppy Joe without all that sauce. That’s a chopped cheese,” he says. “You want to keep it true and don’t really want to deviate too far from what it is. Sometimes when I eat a sandwich, I’ll put some chips in it to add nice crunch. I decided to do the same thing with this. I took some crumbled Takis and sprinkled them in between the meat and the lettuce and the tomato. When you bite it, you get the chopped cheese that you know and love, now with the crunch of the spicy Takis. I put sweet-and-sour relish on it too. Those are both items you can find in a bodega.”
If you’re ready to chop the cheese, here’s Scott’s recipe for making four servings of the sandwich.
Chef Chris Scott’s chopped cheese
- 1 ¼ pound Ground Beef
- 1 small onion, diced
- 1/2t chopped garlic
- 1T butter
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 2T sweet relish
- 1/4 cup ketchup and mustard mix
- 4 slices American cheese
- Shredded iceberg lettuce
- 8 slices tomato
- In a heavy Bottom sauté pan, or flattop, brown the ground beef. Add the onion, garlic, butter, seasonings and relish.
- Cook until the onions are a little past translucent but not caramelized. Add the American cheese and chop it all up together until combined and cheese is melted.
- Chop in the ketchup/mustard blend. Immediately place beef in your bread of choice. Traditionally it is placed in a hoagie or Kaiser Roll. I like to put mine in a biscuit.
- Place the lettuce and tomatoes in the sandwich. For an added crunch, add crumbled Takis.
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