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Chicago-Style Italian Jackfruit

Chicago-Style Italian Jackfruit

Hey, kids -

It’s story time. I usually get right into the recipe with little flourish but this one required a bit of a backstory.

Back when I was in high school and for a summer or two when I was in college, I was a vendor at Chicago baseball stadiums. Don’t ask me why. I hate sports and back in those days, I’d much rather be working on my ghostly pallor while listening to The Cure than hustling peanuts - yes, literally, I was a peanut girl - up and down the aisles at baseball games. Cramping my style! Nevertheless, my parents insisted that I have “some kind” of job, and my brother was already a vendor with a handy carpool of his friends from our home in the northern ‘burbs so I just kind of tagged along, like annoying little sisters have done since time immemorial.

I have a million and a half stories from my time as a vendor but some of my favorite memories were when we would go to Taylor Street after White Sox games. (It was the only upside to Comiskey Park over Wrigley Field in my mind.) A couple of times a month, we - four or five guys, usually, and l’il ol’ me - would cram into the car of whoever drove that day and head over to the quaint, old school Little Italy neighborhood of Chicago where the guys would have beef sandwiches at Al’s #1 Italian Beef and I, a vegetarian since 15, would get a plain bun with peppers in it. Usually we were there on a weekend night in the summer so there wasn’t much space at the tiny counter as it’s always busy there, so we’d take our sandwiches outside, sit on the sidewalk or the car bumper, and just kind of enjoy the night. Across the street was - still is, in fact - Mario’s Italian Ice, which is an indescribably colorful landmark and refreshing tradition in Chicago.

The way of the classic Chicago Italian beef is messy: there’s lots of broth, which makes the bread a little soppy - you absolutely must use a sturdy bread for this reason alone - and it’s piled high. At Al’s, you could get it dry, dipped or, yes, double-dipped (not that kind of double-dipping) in the broth, also known as gravy or au jus, though it is technically a broth. I made my sandwich to mimic that experience and, in fact, you could also dip this by tongs in the broth to create the even more messy, drippy experience. Just make sure that you have lots of napkins at the ready, because even the dry sandwiches are not exactly neat.

I used jackfruit for the beef replacement because I can’t do seitan but I would think you could recreate the experience similarly with seitan as well.


Chicago-Style Italian Jackfruit

40 ounces canned jackfruit, packed in water or brine
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 yellow onion, peeled and diced
2 tablespoons tamari
1 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
1 tablespoon nutritional yeast
1 tablespoon minced garlic
3 cups water
1 bay leaf
3 teaspoons vegetable bouillon base or cubes
2 tablespoons tomato paste
2 teaspoons fennel
2 teaspoons red pepper flakes
Salt and pepper to taste
2 bell peppers, any color or combination of colors, seeded and membranes removed, sliced
4 French rolls, toasted, or your bread of choice
Hot or mild giardiniera for serving


Break the jackfruit into smaller pieces with a knife, not too small or stringy.

Heat the olive oil in a large pan over medium heat for a minute, then add the onion and stir often with a spatula until the onion is softened, for 16 minutes. 

Stir the tamari and Worcestershire sauce into the onions and saute for two minutes. Add the water and bay leaf, and  bring to a boil. Add the bouillon and tomato paste, stir to dissolve, cover and simmer for five minutes. Remove the bay leaf and, when cool enough to safely handle, transfer to a blender. Blend until smooth. Return the bay leaf to the pan and add fennel seeds, red pepper flakes, and the shredded jackfruit. Cover and simmer for ten minutes. Season to taste. Meanwhile, in a different pan, sauté your bell peppers until softened.

To prepare sandwiches, remove the bay leaf. Scoop out some jackfruit out of the hot broth and place on toasted buns. Layer with bell peppers and giardiniera for serving.

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