Pepperoncinis Are The Flavorful Ingredient Your Italian Beef Sandwich Needs

Have you ever taken a first bite of what you're sure is the perfect Italian beef sandwich only to realize it's missing a little extra kick? Some subtle heat does wonders for practically any kind of sandwich, and if you're looking for something milder than a cherry pepper but stronger than a banana pepper, you'll likely love the addition of pepperoncinis. You can add as few or as many as you can handle, but as long as they're present in any capacity, they'll add noticeable flavor.

More specifically, pepperoncinis have a subtly sweet heat that pairs perfectly with almost any Italian dish; the acidity from the peppers creates a great balance with rich, fatty Italian foods like cheese and meat. Plus, they add a textural crunch that mixes well with softer foods, only adding to their importance as a sandwich topper. Next time you want to ramp up the flavor in that Italian beef sandwich, you'll know exactly where to turn.

Why Italian beef sandwiches need pepperoncinis

Acidic ingredients are often used to combat the richness in a dish, such as adding lemon to a cream sauce or hot peppers to a slow-cooker beef sandwich. Pepperoncinis max out at only 500 Scoville units, meaning that even the hottest pepper won't have you chugging a glass of water, unlike other types of peppers (cherry peppers, for example, max out at 5,000 while jalapeños can get up to 8,000).

You can add pepperoncinis to your Italian beef in one of two ways. You can either do so directly into the slow cooker, or you can add some freshly sliced peppers as a sandwich topping. Adding them into the sandwich just before serving will help the peppers keep their crunch, so if you're looking for a texture contrast, this is the better option. 

Pepperoncinis also have a strong vinegar flavor, and they can sometimes be filled with juice. To keep them even milder, slice them rather than adding whole peppers to your sandwich. Otherwise, you'll get that burst of vinegary, spicy juice every time you bite into one (which some people love).

More about Italian beef sandwiches

The Italian beef sandwich is a kind of cousin to the French dip. It involves thinly sliced or shredded roast beef that's often mixed with some kind of au jus, though it's typically slow-cooked alongside an Italian element for added flavor, such as giardiniera (also known as pickled vegetables). The beef is fatty and usually cooked with beef broth for a rich, deep flavor, which is why pepperoncinis make for such a perfectly-placed add-on.

To cook the beef with pepperoncinis, simply add them into the pot alongside the giardiniera and beef broth. As the beef cooks, the peppers' flavor will infuse into the broth as well as into the meat. When you shred the beef, you'll be able to taste that sweet, vinegary bite. Interestingly, the sandwich did not originate in Italy; rather, it was first developed in Chicago more than 100 years ago. And while the original recipe reportedly calls for green bell peppers, we think pepperoncinis are a much more exciting addition.