Friday, May 27, 2011

Snacking State-by-State: Illinois III - So hungry I could eat a Horseshoe

Chicago may be the food center of the Midwest, but it is by no means the only city to feature its own favorite dishes. Just a few hundred miles south of the Windy City lies the capital, Springfield, and the local specialty: a shoe named after equine footwear.

Official Name: State of Illinois
State Nicknames: The Prairie State; The Land of Lincoln
Admission to the US: December 3, 1818 (#21)
Springfield (6th largest city)
Other Important Cities: Chicago (largest in the state and the Midwest; 3rd largest in the US); Aurora (2nd largest); Rockford (3rd largest)
Region: Midwest, Great Lakes; East North Central (US Census)
RAFT Nations: Cornbread & BBQ, Wild Rice
Bordered by:
Wisconsin (north); Lake Michigan (northeast); Indiana (east); Kentucky (southeast & south); Missouri (southwest); Iowa (northwest)
Official State Foods and Edible Things: popcorn (snack food); GoldRush apple (fruit); white-tailed deer (animal)
Some Famous & Typical Foods: typical Midwestern foods, especially corn; Native American and pioneer foods; state-specific foods (horseshoe sandwich, shrimp de Jonghe, Chicago dog, Italian beef); also note: deep-dish pizza and hot dogs were first made popular in Illinois

Springfield has its own signature dish, called the "horseshoe sandwich", an open-faced sandwich consisting of thick bread topped (in order) with some kind of meat, then French fries and finally a cheese and beer sauce. The horseshoe sandwich is found in many restaurants in the area - so note Jane & Michael Stern of the previously mentioned The Sterns' book Roadfood Sandwiches gives the skinny - er, the lowdown (there ain't nothin' skinny about this sandwich) on this fabled sandwich that is not found anywhere else in the Midwest, much less the country:

The original, as invented in 1928 at the Leland Hotel [in Springfield], was built around a slab of ham. Since then, hamburgers have become even more popular as the meat of choice. Other local options include corned beef, walleye, grilled vegetables, turkey, chicken, tomato, and loosemeats [blogger's note: loosemeats will be addressed in a few weeks when we get to Iowa] [Stern & Stern 2007:115]
The Sterns' reprint their recipe from the Springfield Irish pub D'Arcy's Pint, and it is this recipe that I tried out here. Contra their suggestion, I did try it with a hamburger first, but ended up liking it better when I just took their advice and used a few big slices o' ham.

The recipe: Horseshoe Sandwich

I won't reproduce the recipe here (again, copyright), but I can tell you what goes in it:

* a few slices of bread (the thicker the better - the Sterns recommend using Texas toast, but all I had on hand was Wonder Bread. That's Midwestern enough, isn't it?)
* French fries (I got a small from the local Boardwalk Fries & Burgers while visiting the folks in Lansdowne. NB: Watch out for a Back to the Beltway post about Lansdowne & Arbutus when gas prices go back down)
* some kind of meat (I have two beautiful burgers pictured here, but eventually liked the version with meat better)
* The rest of the ingredients go into the legendary cheese sauce that covers the whole thing: cheddar cheese (I used the whole block), two egg yolks, Worcestershire sauce, dry mustard, and lager beer, in this case Victory. If you aren't close enough to a heart attack, you should also add butter. Yes, you will melt the cheese in the butter.

The most tedious part of the recipe is the making of the cheese sauce, and it isn't that tedious unless you are too impatient to wait for cheese to melt.

First, melt the cheese and the butter together (told you). In a separate dish, combine everything else, mix well, and add it to the fully melted cheese.

Once melted until smooth, or as smooth as you can get it, you will assemble the sandwich:

First the bread,

Next the meat (here, a hamburger patty cut lengthwise just because I can't bring myself to eat two hamburgers at once)

Then the French fries

And finally the cheese sauce.

And there you have it. As I said before, I also did this with ham, which I liked better.

I don't think I could eat this again. It is too much food and fat for me. Oh sure, it's decadent in its own, extreme eating sort of way, but even with ham instead of hamburger (and this was much more manageable mind you) it's just so much food for me! Maybe it's just a Springfield, Illinois, thing, I dunno.


Stern, Jane, and Michael Stern. Roadfood Sandwiches. Houghton Mifflin: New York, 2007.

Some information also obtained from Wikipedia's "Illinois" page and other pages, and the Food Timeline State Foods link to "Illinois".