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Chopped Cheese is a symbol of New York’s vibrant cuisine. In the heart of New York City, a simple yet flavorful sandwich has gained a cult-like following. The Chopped Sandwich is an iconic creation that has delighted locals and visitors.

Bursting with the bold flavours of ground beef, onions, and melted cheese, this delectable delight continues to captivate taste buds and ignite a craving for its unique and satisfying taste. Join us as we delve into the origins, preparation, and irresistible appeal of the Chopped Sandwich – an enduring symbol of New York’s culinary heritage.

Chopped Cheese
Chopped cheese

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What is Chopped Cheese

Chopped cheese is a type of sandwich that originated in New York City. Found in bodegas throughout Upper Manhattan, Brooklyn, the Bronx, and Queens, it is made on a grill with ground beef (typically pre-formed ground beef patties), onions, adobo or other seasonings, and cheese.

All of these are chopped together on the grill as the meat and onions cook, and the cheese melts. It is served with lettuce, tomatoes, and condiments on a hero roll.

Origin of Chopped Cheese 

The origin of chopped cheese was first created in a Spanish Harlem bodega called Hajjis Deli, also known as Blue Sky Deli. There is speculation that the sandwich was an adaptation of an Arab Speciality, dagha yamneeya, which is essentially cooked chopped meat and vegetables served with Yemeni bread.

Hajji’s Deli claims a former worker invented the sandwich for himself sometime in the 1990s, after which the concept spread to other bodegas.

The sandwich gained significant media attention in the 2010s, starting with a 2014 episode of Parts Unknown in which Anthony Bourdain, a lifelong New Yorker, told a group of students in The Bronx that he’d never heard of a chopped cheese sandwich.

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Chopped Cheese
Chopped Cheese

Ingredients of Chopped Cheese

Here is what you’ll need:

  1. Bread. Hoagie buns, hero buns, or even a hot dog roll if you are stuck. Regardless of what bread you use, ensure it is fluffy on the inside and with a crusty exterior. 
  2. Butter. Do not use oil to fry the meat: it must be unsalted butter! 
  3. Onion. Finely chopped to mix into the beef. 
  4. Beef. Either lean or standard ground beef work (85/15 or 90/10). Do not use extra lean ground beef, as it will lack flavour. 
  5. Salt and pepper. To add flavour to your 
  6. Garlic powder. Adds some garlic flavour without needing actual garlic.
  7. American cheese. Traditional chopped cheese sandwiches use American cheese, but any you have on hand work. 
  8. Mayonnaise. To spread in the buns. 
  9. Iceberg lettuce and tomatoes. It must have fresh salad ingredients.
  • 2 pounds (80/20 blend) ground beef
  • 1 white onion, chopped
  • 4 clove garlic, chopped
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • ½ teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
  • 6 hoagie or bolillo rolls
  • 12 slices American cheese
  • 6 tablespoons mayonnaise
  • Shredded iceberg lettuce for serving
  • Tomato slices for serving

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Chopped cheese
Chopped cheese

Preparation Method

  1. Cook the ground beef: Add your ground beef to a large, dry pot or skillet over medium-low heat. Slowly cook so the fat renders out. Stir regularly, breaking up the beef as it cooks until it crumbles but is not fully cooked (some of the meat will still be pink).  
  2. Add the onions, garlic, and seasoning: Once the beef is browned and most of the fat has rendered out (about 7-8 minutes of cooking), turn the heat up to medium and add onions and garlic. Cook for another 4-5 minutes until vegetables soften. Season the filling with salt, pepper, and Worcestershire sauce. Remove from heat.
  3. Toast the buns:  Slice your rolls in half and toast them in batches over a griddle or in a large skillet over medium heat until browned.
  4. Combine the cheese and ground beef:  For each sandwich, portion out about 1/6 of the beef filling at a time and add to the griddle or skillet over medium-low heat. Let the filling get hot, and then cover it with two slices of American cheese. Let it sit long enough to get the cheese to melt. If you like, roughly “chop” the cheese into the beef mixture with the side of a metal spatula.
  5. Place the roll on the ground beef: Add 1 tablespoon of mayo to one side of your toasted roll and cover the beef filling with a toasted roll by placing the roll, toasted side down, on top of the chopped beef mixture.
Chopped cheese
Chopped cheese

6. Finish the sandwich and serve: After 30 seconds, use a spatula to flip the roll, keeping the filling inside. If any filling falls out, use the spatula to add it back to the roll. Repeat as needed to make other sandwiches.

7. Add shredded lettuce and sliced tomato to the sandwich. Cut in half and serve immediately. 

Leftover chopped cheese filling can be stored in the fridge in an airtight container for 3-4 days. You can add the filling straight from the fridge to a griddle to make a sandwich. 

Only make as many sandwiches as you need to, but if you have leftover filling, that’s great!

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Chopped Cheese
Chopped cheese sandwich

Flavours of Chopped Cheese

The flavours of a Chopped Cheese sandwich primarily come from the combination of ingredients used, such as ground beef, onions, cheese, and any additional toppings or condiments you choose to add. The key components that contribute to its flavour profile are:

  1. Ground Beef

The beef provides a rich and savoury flavour to the sandwich. The seasoning used while cooking the beef, like salt and pepper, enhances its taste.

  1. Onions

Thinly sliced onions add a sweet and slightly tangy flavour to the mix. They also become soft and caramelized during cooking, enhancing the overall taste.

  1. Cheese

American cheese is the traditional choice for a Chopped Cheese sandwich, and it contributes a creamy and mild flavour. However, you can use other cheeses like cheddar, provolone, or Swiss to add different taste profiles.

  1. Bread

The type of bread used, such as a hero roll or sub roll, can influence the flavour of the sandwich. Soft, slightly chewy rolls complement the savoury filling.

  1. Toppings and Condiments

Additional toppings like lettuce, tomato, pickles, mayo, ketchup, or hot sauce can enhance the flavour and add various textures and tastes.

Chopped cheese
Chopped cheese

The Chopped Cheese sandwich is known for its simple yet satisfying taste, with the combination of beef, onions, and cheese forming the core of the flavour experience. The toppings and condiments you choose can add a personal touch and allow you to tailor the flavours to your preferences.

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How to Make Chopped Cheese Sandwich

Ingredients Filling

  • 4 burger patties (or ½  pound ground beef)
  • 1 tablespoon oil
  • 1 sweet onion diced
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt or to taste
  • ½  teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  •  8 slices American cheese or cheddar cheese

For the Bread

  • 4 hero rolls sliced ¾  through
  • 2 tablespoons mayonnaise or to taste
  • 2 tablespoons ketchup or to taste
Chopped Cheese
Chopped cheese sandwich

Topping

  • 2 tomatoes sliced
  • 3 cups iceberg lettuce shredded

Instructions 

  • Prepare the Bread
  • Slice hero rolls ¾  of the way through with a serrated knife.
  • Toast the buns on a large skillet or grill pan. Set aside.

Make the Filling

  • Add oil to a large non-stick skillet over medium-high heat. Add diced onions and sauté until caramelized. Transfer to a bowl and set it aside.
  • Season the patties with salt and pepper.
  • Increase the heat to high, and add burger patties in the same skillet. Cook for about 4 minutes or until the bottom is nicely browned.
  • Flip the burger and cook for 1 minute. Use 2 steel spatulas to chop the burger into small pieces. Stirring constantly.
  • Add the cooked onions and keep chopping and stirring.
  • Divide into 4 even portions and top each with 2 slices of cheese and turn off the heat so the cheese can melt properly.
Chopped Cheese
Chopped cheese sandwich

Assemble the Sandwich

  • Spread a thin layer of mayo on the hero roll. Drizzle ketchup on top.
  • Use a steel spatula and carefully transfer the filling into each roll.
  • Add sliced tomatoes and shredded iceberg lettuce on top of the filling. Season with more salt and pepper if preferred.
  • (Optional) Wrap each roll with aluminium foil. Cut in half, serve warm and enjoy!

Tips for the Best Chopped Cheese

  • Toast the bread: Toasting the bread will prevent it from getting soggy when you add on all the condiments. Either pop it in the toaster or place the sliced faces down onto the skillet before you add in your burgers.
  • Chop the burger patties, NOT the cheese: While the name might imply the cheese itself is chopped, you’ll find yourself in a pretty literal sticky situation if you chop up patties with cheese on them. The best practice is to chop up the beef, arrange it in a pile in the skillet in a similar shape to your bun and then add the cheese on top.
  • You can make it spicy: Bodegas have all the fixings to customize your Chopped Cheese, so don’t forget you can do that at home too! Add some of your favourite spicy seasonings to the ground patty, or top off your sandwich with some spicy condiment.

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Conclusion

The Chopped Cheese sandwich stands tall as a testament to the vibrant and diverse food culture of New York City. From its humble beginnings as a quick and satisfying meal crafted in bodegas and delis to its current status as a beloved street food icon, the Chopped Cheese has earned its place in the hearts and palates of countless food enthusiasts.

Its simple yet harmonious combination of ground beef, onions, and melted cheese, sandwiched between soft hero rolls, create a symphony of flavours that resonates with both locals and visitors alike.

The Chopped Cheese exemplifies the city’s spirit of innovation, blending influences from various cultures and culinary traditions to create a uniquely New York sandwich.

Whether enjoyed with classic accompaniments or customized to individual tastes, the Chopped Cheese remains an enduring symbol of the city’s culinary heritage. It serves as a reminder that great food experiences are often found in the most unassuming places.

FAQs

What is on chopped cheese?

Chopped Cheese is a New Yorker sandwich originating from Harlem and The Bronx. It is made by stacking ground/chopped beef and onions, melted American cheese, lettuce, tomatoes, and condiments on a hero roll.

Why is it called chopped cheese?

It is called chopped cheese because some employees say he invented the sandwich after chopping a cheeseburger so that it would fit a hero roll because he was out of traditional buns.

Can you eat a chopped cheese cold?

A chopped cheese sandwich is a type of sandwich that is made with fried plantains instead of bread. The sandwiches are typically filled with meat, vegetables, and cheese. The New York variation of the traditional Cuban sandwich replaces the bread with fried plantain slices and may be served hot or cold.

Why is it called cheese?

The word cheese comes from the Latin caseus, from which the modern word casein is also derived. The earliest source is from the proto-Indo-European root *kwat-, which means “to ferment, become sour”. That gave rise to cīese or cēse

Who founded chopped cheese?

Chopped Cheese was first created in a Spanish Harlem bodega called Hajjis Deli, also known as Blue Sky Deli.

What’s the difference between Philly and chopped cheese?

Philly cheesesteaks are thinly sliced beef sandwiches with melted cheese, and onions served on a hoagie. While “Chopped Cheese” is a New York City staple, said to have been invented in Harlem, it combines all the beloved elements of a cheeseburger, chopped up and served on a roll or hero.

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