While I was working in restaurants on the east coast, there always seemed to be a few cooks in the kitchen from New York City. The NYC cooks always bragged up the street food from back home. As everybody knows, New York City street food definitely is worth bragging up!
Sub shops and Italian delicatessens in the Big Apple nearly always have local neighborhood nicknames for food items on the menu. Sometimes the slang name for a food item is printed on the menu, instead of a traditional name for that dish.
Local customers know what a "Greaser" menu item is in some NYC neighborhoods. When a customer that is new to the neighborhood walks into the sub shop, more than likely the rookie would ask "What is a Greaser?"
The sub shop cook's response might just have a little bit of NYC attitude in the mix. "Awe c'mon! You mean to tell me that you don't know what a Greaser is?" Then the deli cook would shake his head in disbelief over the thought, while describing the sandwich to the neophyte customer in a way that successfully promotes an instant sale. Next thing you know, the new customer in the neighborhood is hooked on Greaser sandwiches and hanging out at the local sub shop! A local name for a sub sandwich that has a catchy ring to it does inspire customer loyalty.
Traditionally, a greaser is made by placing an Italian sausage with large pieces of bell pepper onions in deep fryer basket, then repeatedly dipping the ingredients in the hot deep fryer oil till the the ingredients are fully cooked. When the onions and peppers are caramelized with brown highlights and the sausage is cooked brown, the New York Greaser is ready. The ingredients in the fryer basket are dumped directly onto an open Italian sub roll without shaking off any excess fry grease. Henceforth, the name New York Greaser is apropos!
The "Greaser" nickname for this sandwich is appropriate, because there is enough grease drippings from the sandwich to slick down one's own hair, just like the Greaser Hair styles from the 1940's through the 1960's. Those greasy slick men's hair styles from the 1960's is what this sandwich was named after. One simply does not need Brylcreem or Vitalis to slick down one's own hair, when eating a Greaser Sandwich at an old fashioned New York Italian sub shop!
According to the NYC cook that whipped up a few Greasers as an employee meal for us cooks one day, cheese was the only option for this sandwich. The only sliced cheese options in old school New York Italian sub shops used to be provolone or mozzarella.
God forbid the thought of a naive customer walking into an old school NYC Italian sub shop and asking for American Cheese on a Greaser Sandwich. The response from the cook would be one of shaking his head in disgust while saying something like, "You actually eat that stuff?!!!"
Obviously, a New York Greaser is not a sandwich that is meant to be eaten everyday. Today's Greaser sandwich does bring back memories of the good old days when street food was fun!
New York Greaser:
This recipe yields 1 hearty sandwich.
The deep frying method for making a New York Greaser can be done in a home kitchen, but the pan frying methods is good too. Either way, the ingredients only take 1 or 2 minutes to cook.
• For the deep frying method, load the sausage, peppers and onions in a fryer basket, then dip the basket in the hot oil till the ingredients are fully cooked and caramelized on the edges.
Step 1: Place a large 8 to 10 ounce Italian Sausage on a roasting pan that is lightly brushed with oil.
Roast in a 300ºF oven, till the sausage is fully cooked and very lightly browned.
Set the sausage aside.
Step 2: Split an Italian sub sandwich roll open lengthwise.
Place a few thin slices of mozzarella cheese on the sub roll.
Bake the roll in a 300ºF oven, till the bread is lightly toasted and the cheese melts.
Keep the sub roll warm on a stove top.
Step 3: Heat a deep cast iron skillet over medium/medium high heat.
Add enough vegetable frying oil, so the oil is about 1/2" deep. (Blended olive oil can be used if the blend has a high smoking point.)
Adjust the temperature so the oil is 360ºF.
Step 4: Add about 1/4 each of:
- Large bite size pieces of red bell pepper.
- Large bite size pieces of green bell pepper.
- Large bite size pieces of onion.
When the peppers and onions are halfway cooked, add the whole baked Italian sausage.
Pan fry the sausage, peppers and onions, till the sausage is browned and caramelized brown highlights appear on the vegetables.
Turn off the heat.
Step 5: Use tongs to place the sausage on the prepared sub roll.
Use a slotted spoon or fryer net to gather the peppers and onions, then place them directly on the sub roll. (Do not drain off the excess grease! This is a New York Greaser!)
Sprinkle 1 pinch of dried oregano over the sandwich.
Step 6: Place the sandwich on a plate.
Serve with some Italian Pickled Giardiniera.
Serving a New York Greaser Sandwich with French Fries would be "grease overkill!" Just forget about asking for French Fries in an old school New York Italian sub shop. The response would be a sub shop cook shaking his head in disgust while saying, "French Fries? What's the matter you? This is an Italian sub shop, not some kind of a French restaurant or something!"