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How to make a delicious Philly roast pork sandwich

For the best of Philly, try this roast pork sandwich recipe

DiNic’s roast pork. Image used with permission by copyright holder

The cheesesteak might be Philadelphia’s most famous culinary item, but for many natives, there’s another sandwich considered to be the true taste of Philadelphia — the roast pork sandwich. Made from slow-roasted pork, sharp provolone, and sautéed broccoli rabe or spinach, the roast pork sandwich is a beloved culinary staple throughout the city.

What makes a Philly roast pork sandwich special?

The Philly style of roast pork sandwich is believed to have originated from the Italian American community in South Philly, either from Italian porchetta or from leftover weekend pork roasts. Whatever the origin, the sandwich has remained popular and relatively unchanged for decades.

Compared to the cheesesteak, a roast pork sandwich is less heavy, with a cleaner taste that’s complex in both flavor and texture. The pork is usually massaged with a spice rub that contains some combination of garlic, salt, pepper, thyme, rosemary, and fennel. The addition of sharp provolone and broccoli rabe gives the sandwich a slightly bitter and intense flavor that marries well with the natural sweetness of pork. The roast pork sandwich has also remained a hyper-regional specialty and difficult to find outside of Philadelphia. Keep reading for an awesome Philadelphia roast pork sandwich recipe.

Image used with permission by copyright holder

Roast pork sandwich by High Street Philly

(By Christina McKeough, Executive Chef of High Street Philly)

For Pork:

Ingredients:

  • 1 boneless pork shoulder
  • 1/2 cup salt
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/2 bunch thyme
  • 4 sprigs rosemary
  • 1/2 cup chopped garlic
  • 2 tbsp black pepper
  • 1 tbsp red pepper flakes.

Method:

  1. Rub pork all over with salt, sugar, thyme, rosemary, chopped garlic, black pepper, and red pepper flakes. Let cure, and refrigerate for 2 days.
  2. Wipe cure off, place in a large cast iron pan, and sear in 450 degree Fahrenheit oven for 15 minutes or until browned with 2 tbsp of oil.
  3. Turn oven down to 300 F, and continue roasting for 2 hours. Pork should be tender and read 143 F on a thermometer when ready. Cool/rest for an hour before slicing.

For broccoli rabe:

Ingredients:

  • One bunch of chopped rabe (stem and leaves)
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 small sliced onion
  • 1 tbsp chopped garlic
  • Salt and pepper.

Method:

  1. Sauté one bunch of chopped rabe (stem and leaves) with 2 tbsp olive oil, sliced onion, and chopped garlic until wilted and tender.
  2. Season with salt and pepper.

For rabe kimchi:

Ingredients:

  • 2 bunches broccoli rabe
  • 3 cups water
  • 3 tbsp salt
  • 1 cup chopped green cabbage
  • 1 tbsp ground horseradish
  • 1 shredded daikon radish
  • 1 bunch chopped scallions
  • 2 oz lemon juice
  • 3 chopped anchovy filets
  • 2 oz sriracha
  • 1 tbsp chopped garlic

Method:

  1. Submerge rabe in salted water (brine) and let sit out at room temperature for 24 hours.
  2. Remove from brine and mix with chopped green cabbage, ground horseradish, shredded daikon radish, a bunch of chopped scallions, lemon juice, chopped anchovy filets, sriracha, and chopped garlic. Combine well, and let sit in a covered container, refrigerated for at least 3 days.

For sandwich assembly:

Method:

  1. To assemble the sandwich: slice pork and layer on a fresh roll with sharp provolone, sautéed broccoli rabe, and 1 tbsp of rabe kimchi.
  2. Warm in a 350 F oven until the cheese begins to melt and the sandwich is warmed through.
Image used with permission by copyright holder

Don’t want to cook? The best places for a Philadelphia roast pork sandwich

John’s Roast Pork

Opened in 1930, this South Philly institution is a family-owned restaurant famous for its iconic roast pork. The bread is crusted with sesame seeds and features sharp provolone and sautéed spinach instead of broccoli rabe. A word of advice — the sandwiches are large so bring a hearty appetite.

Browse the Menu

highstphilly/Instagram

High Street Philly

High Street Philly is a modern bakery and restaurant serving plenty of Philadelphia classics. Because it’s a bakery, their roast pork sandwich features a house-made artisanal loaf. The sandwich has an interesting twist on tradition — the broccoli rabe is fermented in a mixture of lemon, anchovy, and chili. The result is a deliciously innovative yet classic-tasting roast pork sandwich.

Browse the Menu

Image used with permission by copyright holder

DiNic’s Roast Pork

Located in the vibrant Reading Terminal Market, DiNic’s roast pork is one of the most popular food stands in the market. On a busy Saturday, DiNic’s can sell up to 1,000 pounds of pork. The sandwich is also especially juicy and goes perfectly with the slightly bitter broccoli rabe.

Browse the Menu

Photo of the Philadelphia skyline taken from the South Street Bridge, showing Penn Park in the foreground.

Get more of the taste of Philly with these foods

While the roast pork sandwich and the iconic cheesesteak (always with the Whiz!) are at the top of the Philadelphia food chain, the City of Brotherly Love is more than just sandwiches. Here is a list of some other Philadelphia foods that should be on your menu.

  • Hoagie: Philadelphia’s slang for a sub or hero sandwich. It generally has meat, cheese, veggies, and some kind of spread on a long torpedo roll.
  • Soft pretzels: While warm soft pretzels are found just about everywhere, they are exceptionally popular in Philly. Served with spicy brown mustard, you can pick them up at a neighborhood bakery, or better yet, grab one from a street vendor.
  • Water ice: It’s a basic recipe — fruit or syrup mixed with shaved ice — and it’s a Philadelphia summer treat you can get at shops all over the city, featuring flavors from the basic to the exotic.
  • Scrapple: Stay with us here. Scrapple is a mixture of pork scraps that are left over from processing. The meat is mixed with cornmeal and then pan-fried; it’s most often served at breakfast. Don’t ask about the makeup of the meat; the standing joke is that scrapple is made from “everything but the oink.”
  • Tomato pie: Don’t call it a pizza. Philadelphia tomato pie is made up of a thick dough baked into a rectangle. then covered with tomato sauce, grated parmesan cheese, and oregano. Tomato pie is generally served at room temperature or chilled.

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Hunter Lu
Hunter Lu is a New York-based food and features writer, editor, and NYU graduate. His fiction has appeared in The Line…
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