I remember almost nothing about my first visit to Philippe's restaurant in Los Angeles except for the most important thing: the French dip sandwiches. Before going, this Midwestern girl didn't even know what a French dip was. But after that first encounter, I don't think it's too much of a hyperbole to say that I was completely smitten.
A few years back, Nealey shared with us her homemade version of Philippe's French dip sandwich, but for a recent dinner party with friends, I was looking for a shortcut option. And thus, these slow-cooker French dips were born.
What Is a French Dip Sandwich?
This is a sandwich that rises above all others. Beef is slowly roasted until completely tender, then sliced thinly and tossed with some of the cooking juices. The bun is just as important; white and squishy French rolls are ideal. They get toasted and then dribbled with (or dipped in) more of the cooking juices. Pile the meat on top and add a slice of cheese, and you've got a French dip sandwich. Don't forget the "jus" on the side for dipping.
There is much debate about who invented the first French dip, but my loyalty will stay with Philippe's. If you are ever in Los Angeles, I recommend making a special stop around lunchtime.
Visit the Restaurant: Phillipe: Home of the Original French Dipped Sandwich
French Dips in the Slow Cooker
I won't claim that this is a true French dip sandwich — it's really more of a pot roast that's served in the style of French dip. But let's not quibble — these are too good for that.
In the slow cooker, the beef becomes so tender that it struggles to hold together and both the broth and the beef become fully infused with flavor during the slow simmer. The onions also aren't traditional to a French dip, but in this recipe, they help give the broth a savory-sweet depth. Pull them out and use them for another dish, if you like, or buck tradition and pile them on top of your sandwich.
I also love this technique I learned from Carlsbad Cravings for cooking the roast partway, slicing it, and then returning it to the slow cooker. It's easier to slice the beef at this stage, before it's so tender that it falls apart, and the finished slices are also juicier and more flavorful from their simmering time in the broth. This said, if you won't be around during the day to slice the beef, you can skip this step and either cut or shred the meat at the end.
Take the Time to Sear the Meat
I love slow-cooker recipes where you can just throw everything in the pot and walk away, but with this one, I think it's worth the time to sear the meat before cooking. Think of it as an added-value moment. Searing adds a deeply savory, roasted flavor to both the meat itself and the broth. It also gives the sandwich more of a traditional roasted look.
How To Make Slow-Cooker French Dip Sandwiches
What You Need
For the sandwiches:
3 pounds boneless beef chuck roast
2 to 3 teaspoons vegetable oil
1 large onion, sliced thinly
1/2 teaspoon salt, plus more to season the roast
1/2 cup dry red wine
2 cups low-sodium beef broth
1 bay leaf
Ground pepper, to season the roast
6 to 8 crusty French sandwich rolls, sub buns, or hoagie buns
Sliced provolone or Swiss cheese, optional
6-quart slow cooker or larger
Tongs or slotted spoon
- Season the chuck roast: Remove the roast from its packaging and pat dry. Generously season on all sides with salt and pepper.
- Sear the roast: Warm 2 teaspoons of oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. Add the roast and sear for 5 to 10 minutes, until it releases easily from the pan and has formed a brown crust. Flip and sear the other side. When done, transfer the seared roast to the slow cooker.
- Cook the onions: If the pan is dry, add another teaspoon of oil. Add the onions and a half teaspoon of salt. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions just start to soften and turn translucent around the edges — they will finish cooking through in the slow cooker.
- Deglaze the pan: Still with the pan over medium-high heat, add the wine. As it bubbles and simmers, scrape up any browned bits from the bottom of the pan, then pour the wine and the onions over the roast in the slow cooker.
- Add the broth, salt, and bay leaf to the slow cooker. Stir to combine.
- Cover and cook on low for 6 to 8 hours.
- Slice the meat midway through cooking (optional): If you're nearby at around the 4-hour mark, remove the roast from the slow cooker and slice into 1/4- to 1/2-inch-thick pieces. It's easier to slice the roast at this point, but isn't strictly necessary for the recipe. Return the sliced meat to the slow cooker and continue to cook for the remaining time.
- Toast the buns: When it's close to time to serve, warm the oven to 400°F. Butter both halves of the buns and place cut-side up on a baking sheet. Toast in the oven until the buns are just starting to turn golden, about 5 minutes. Remove from the oven. If you like, spoon a little of the cooking juices onto the bottom half of the buns before adding the meat.
- Lift the meat from the juices: If you sliced the roast already, lift it from the juices with tongs and divide it equally between the bottom halves of the buns. If you did not yet slice the roast, lift it to a cutting board and slice it as thinly as you can, or shred the meat if it will no longer hold together in slices. Divide the meat between the bottom halves of the buns, and spoon a little extra cooking juice on top, if you like.
- Top with cheese and toast: Top the piles of roast beef with cheese, if using. Switch the oven to broil, and toast the bottom halves of sandwiches until the cheese starts to melt, about 1 minute.
- Strain the liquid: Strain the cooking liquid into a measuring cup or serving bowl. Pick out the onions and either serve with the sandwiches or use for another purpose. As the jus sits, skim the fat that rises to the top.
- Serve with jus: Top the sandwiches with the top halves of the buns. Serve with bowls of the cooking juices on the side for dipping.