Sandwiches are the people’s food. Infinitely adaptable. They can be meaty. They can be vegan. They can be cheap. They can be expensive. Some people think hot dogs are sandwiches. They aren’t.
But sandwiches are wonderful and I’m on a quest to get the culinary giants of Oklahoma to make me their best, with a few tips and tricks for the rest of us on how to up our sandwich game.
Who is Eric Fossett?
The owner of Scottie’s Deli in the historic Tower Theatre is not a classically trained chef. Originally from Chico, California, Fossett made his living as a petroleum geologist, but sandwiches were always in his blood. (He has very thick blood.)
IAO: What’s your first sandwich memory?
Fossett: I don’t know about my first, but there’s kind of one big collective memory of going to my grandma’s sandwich shop, Big Johns. A modern day version would be a Jersey Mike’s, I guess. Big Johns was nothing groundbreaking; they just made big subs. I mostly remember summers with grandma, she’d take me up to the shop and I’d get a sandwich, a bag of chips, and a drink. I just loved being around the shop.
IAO: What are some of your favorite sandwich places?
Fossett: Everywhere I’ve lived, there’s always been that one outstanding sandwich. In Chico, we had two or three places. Then one opened in Humboldt. In Vegas, there was the original Capriotti’s. Houston had Katz’s Deli and Lenny & Ziggy’s. But when I moved here, there wasn’t an outstanding sandwich shop. So I decided to open one.
IAO: Why make sandwiches your business?
Fossett: They’ve always been accessible in my life. James Beard said, “Too few people understand a really good sandwich.” I think, with sandwiches, you don’t realize how important a great one is until there isn’t one.
IAO: What’s your favorite sandwich?
Fossett: This is weird, but I layer pepperoni or salami and I microwave it for a minute. Take two pieces of toasted bread—white or whatever’s available—and I put on mayo, mustard, and crispy fried pepperoni or salami. That’s my comfort food.
Fossett’s CCV (culinary curriculum vitae)
I worked at a place when I was 15 or 16 called Basque Norte. That’s where basque garlic tomato soup on our comes from. But I was just a dishwasher there.
I worked briefly at Taco Bell before I was fired. Then I worked at McDonald’s until I was fired.
In Humboldt, there was a place called Roi’s. I worked in the deli, making sandwiches. That’s where the idea for the basil vinaigrette came from.
After that, I got my degree, so I stopped working in restaurants. I worked for Exxon-Mobil in Houston for 5 or 6 years, then in California for 5 or 6 years. Then for Devon for a year and a half as a petroleum geologist, which is how I ended up in Oklahoma. I saw which way the market was going and I decided to open my own sandwich shop, Scottie’s Deli.
Get to the sandwich already!
Sandwich name: Tri-tip sandwich
Ingredients: Baguette, grilled beef tri-tip roast, pico de gallo, prepared horseradish, lettuce, tomato, onion
Look for a nice size tri-tip. I like them about two and a half pounds. They should come trimmed, but if not, I like to trim the fat on top to a quarter inch or a little less.
Take the tri-tip out of the fridge at least 30 mins before cooking, but I try for about an hour.
For seasonings, I generally go with just coarse sea salt and fresh cracked pepper on all sides. Season just before cooking so the salt doesn’t draw any of the moisture out of the meat. You can also use marinades or any rub you like, but I like the salt and pepper approach.
I use a Weber grill, so if you use gas or other types you will have to experiment a little to see what works best for you. I light some charcoal in a chimney, wait for the coals to get a nice grey coat of ash, then do two small piles on either side of the grill. I then place a couple of small wood charcoal chunks on it to add a little smoke flavor.
I usually place the tri-tip directly over the coals for three or so minutes on each side, just enough to give a little char, then place it to the side for indirect heat. I know my grill and it is generally 20 to 25 minutes per side. Start with the fat side up to allow the fat to keep the meat moist and provide more flavor, then flip at 20 or 25 minutes.
The goal is to reach a medium rare (about 130-135 degrees Fahrenheit) so I usually take it off the heat at 125-130 degrees and then let it rest for about 20 minutes.
When it comes time to slice it, you will notice that most tri-tips have two grain directions. The thickest part usually has a grain and about two-thirds of the way towards the long point, you’ll notice a different grain. Just note this difference and always cut across the grain, because it makes the meat more tender. Cut it with the grain and it ends up chewy. Slice thickness is up to you. I like a thin slice on my sandwiches, but I’ll do thicker cuts if I’m going to serve it like roast beef.
Speaking of sandwiches, I like mine on a fresh rustic baguette. You know: a little crunch on the outside, soft and chewy on the inside, like the kind we have at Scottie’s Deli. I don’t like the softer or flaky stuff you see at many stores because I’ve noticed it doesn’t stand up to the meat and juices.
I make a garlic bread out of the baguette and serve it with some fresh or prepared horseradish (horseradish mayo, for those who don’t like the strong stuff). That said, the traditional way to serve it in California is usually with your favorite BBQ sauce…I prefer a smoky BBQ sauce rather than a sweet one when I go this route. Pico de gallo is another very traditional accoutrement. Lettuce, tomato, and onion are also acceptable.
Tips from the chef: Timing is everything when you’re serving a hot sandwich. Using the deli as an example, we have to time orders just right so we can toast the bread correctly while getting the meat heated correctly. It’s almost like two orders in some cases. Time becomes critical. As quickly as possible.
For our beef dip. We cook our roast beef to medium rare, closer to rare really, and the reason is we slice it up thin, so when someone orders the beef dip, we have it finish cooking in the au jus. That retains the tenderness of medium rare beef with the added flavor of the jus, plus the jus drips into the bread to soften it.
The same thing happens at traditional New York delis, where they’re steaming corned beef and pastrami. We’re not set up for that, so we had to find different ways to heat up the meat without overdoing it. Our pastrami is warmed up in a blend of pastrami seasoning, mustard, jus, and a few secret ingredients to keep flavor profile correct.
Literally, when you’re warming meat up for a sandwich, you only need it in the liquid for 10 or 20 seconds. Doesn’t need much heat at all for a hot sandwich. Too much and you’re cooking it instead of warming it.
Greg’s notes: Tri-tip is a very popular grilling cut in California that has slowly filtered out to the rest of the country. Currently, you can still get pretty affordable tri-tip roasts, but prices are going up as it gains popularity.