"This sandwich will be sweet and moist from the onions, savory and chewable thanks to the thoroughly cooked cecina, and as spicy as you dare prepare."
What's true of a steak is not necessarily true of a steak sandwich. I like my stand-alone steak bleeding rare and cut from the rib, but slap that prime, pink flesh between two pieces of bread and I struggle both to taste and to chew the thing. A steak sandwich is the one time I want my meat thinly sliced and cooked through, to break down fibers and build up flavor.
Carne cecina, the salted, sun-dried beef traditional to central Mexico, is my favorite taco filling at my local taquería. Yet, despite living in a very Mexican part of Brooklyn, where cecina is sold alongside cigarettes, I had always resisted buying the raw ingredient. In its uncooked form, the meat has an off-putting, greyish-brown cast; it seemed easier to pay somebody $2.25 to put it in a taco for me. And then it occurred to me: Thin sheets of cecina, with their intense, almost jerkylike flavor, would make one hell of a steak sandwich. This one, I'd have to cook myself.
To make The Steak Sandwich to End All Steak Sandwiches, you will need:
1. Good, crusty baguette, slit along one side, leaving a fine hinge.
2. Caramelized onions. I really do mean caramelized, so don't be impatient. You want to get every last hint of sulfur out of those onions, until they're limp, tangled and almost mahogany in color. Towards the end of cooking, a splash of red wine vinegar and a spoonful of sugar will make them sing.
3. Cecina*, seared in very little oil until cooked through; no need to season. The thinnest parts will be almost crisp, which might be sacrilege for a ribeye but is just perfect for this cured, partially dried cut.
4. Creamed horseradish or good, strong mustard for spreading. To assemble, stuff your condiment-smeared baguette with as much cecina as you think you can handle, and the same amount again of caramelized onions. The sandwich will be sweet and moist from the onions, savory and chewable thanks to the thoroughly cooked cecina, and as spicy as you dare prepare.
* Mexican cecina is not to be confused with the cecina from Spain, which is smoked, fully air-dried and quite similar to bresaola.