A series about foods we miss and our quests to recreate them.
I have no idea why the chicken wing was the food to make it out of Buffalo. I mean, I understand the appeal, but its ultimate success is baffling when you consider my beloved hometown’s other signature dish—the beef on weck, which, were this a right world, would be the Buffalo food on every bar menu. It’s a very simple sandwich: roast beef and horseradish, but it’s the roll that’s key. It requires kummelweck, which is hard to find outside of western New York, and that might be what's held the beef on weck back from world domination.
Unfortunately, Buffalo is not a major tourist destination. There are endless reasons to spend a lovely weekend in Buffalo, but that’s a discussion for another time. Let’s face it, most of you probably have zero reason to visit the City of No Illusions.* If you want a weck, you’ll have to make it yourself. Or ask your friends from Buffalo to do it for you (make some friends from Buffalo! Us ex-pats are everywhere and all we want to do is feed you roast beef sandwiches and talk about the greatest comeback in football history**).
The Weck Creation Myth hinges on two main points. The first is that William Wahr, a German immigrant and baker, gets credit for bringing kummelweck to Buffalo.*** Whether this meant inventing it or importing the style of roll is a subject of debate. Either way: hero status.
The second step in its origin is a little murkier. This version is my favorite: at the 1901 Pan-American Exposition, an enterprising saloon owner with excellent location—right outside the exposition gates—wanted to serve a sandwich to fair attendees that would make them order more beer. He used a salty roll and a spicy condiment on a run-of-the-mill sandwich and, well, the rest is history.
I don’t live in the city anymore, and I rarely return home more than once a year. When I do visit, I make sure to arrive hungry. The best weck in Buffalo can be found at Charlie the Butcher, which is right around the corner from the airport.**** This means avoiding morning flights; Charlie’s doesn’t open until 10 a.m. The rest of the year I am utterly weckless, scouring the Internet for pictures of the sandwiches as a sad substitute for the real salty, savory thing. During one of these Google odysseys, around page 7 of image search results, it hit me: this is not a difficult sandwich. I can have beef on weck any time I want!
I made the trip out to Wegmans, aka Supermarket Valhalla, for ingredients, but you should be able to find everything on this list at just about any grocery store. Wegmans is based in western New York, so they carry many area products, including kummelweck rolls, but I went with plain kaiser for our purposes today. Underneath the salt and seeds, kummelweck is at heart a kaiser roll. And the sandwich turned out so well I had one for the next five meals. I’d call that success.
(I find it hard to call these ingredients, as there is almost no cooking involved, just assembly.)
• kaiser roll
• hearty pinch of rock salt (like the kind used for pretzels. If you can’t get this, any salt with granules larger than table salt will do. I used sea salt and it was fine)
• hearty pinch of caraway seeds
• egg wash (one egg, beaten)
• the best roast beef you can find. You can roast a beef yourself if you want, but it’s 97 degrees outside right now. In this weather, minimal oven use is key.
• au jus. Sometimes the deli will have this in little containers, sometimes you have to use the powder in a packet.
• prepared horseradish (not cream, please! Gross.)
• a pickle spear
1. Slice the kaiser roll. Dip the top in the egg wash, then sprinkle the caraway seeds and rock salt on top. Be generous: ideally, your top lip will tingle post-sandwich.
2. In a warmed oven (approx 150 degrees), heat both sides of the roll for three or four minutes.
3. Warm the au jus on the stovetop (or if you’re my dad, on a saucer in the microwave. Whichev.) to somewhere between room temperature and a simmer.
4. Carefully dip the top bun in the au jus. Not a dunk or anything, just enough to moisten the part that borders the rest of the sandwich.
4a. (Optional) If your beef seems dry, dip that in the au jus, too
5. Pile the beef on the bottom bun, slightly higher than you think it will be able to fit in your mouth.
6. Add a heaping scoop of horseradish. Note that the jar of horseradish I used has a beef on weck on the label. Clearly, they know their customers.
7. Assemble sandwich. Garnish with pickle spear.
8. Enjoy sandwich immediately.
Pairing: a cold Genny, some kind of sporting event.
* Other nicknames include the City of Good Neighbors, the Nickel City, the Queen City, B-Snack, B-Lo, and the City of Light. Not to be confused with that *other* City of Light—or Thomas Kinkade, Painter of Light.
** You can watch the whole thing on YouTube, starting here. Totally worth it for the graphics alone. It is also available on Netflix.
*** The city of Buffalo is always fighting about what to do with the gorgeous waterfront property currently occupied by a defunct steel plant. I fully expect that whatever they decide upon will include a statue of Wahr and Teressa Bellissimo holding hands in victory, possibly over a seated Tim Russert.
****Should you fly into Buffalo, take note of the music playing over the PA. It’s the Goo Goo Dolls. It’s always the Goo Goo Dolls.
Previously: My Attempt To Make The Perfect Nebraska Runza
Victoria Johnson also suggests eggs beneweckt, which involves replacing the top bun with a poached egg and a sprinkle of salt & seeds. She’s still perfecting the horseradish hollandaise.