Tucked away in the corner of a parking lot, the grease trucks deliver eponymous offerings: unconscionably slick, brim-filled, meathead sub sandwiches. Known for blockbusters like philly-cheesesteak-and-fries subs and chicken-fingers-and-mozzarella-stick subs, I think of the consummate grease truck sub as being the one my friends always used to get, that Jersey Shore classic: sausage with peppers and onions.
This post is part of the Eating New York series.
There's nothing more Exit 9 than the grease trucks. You can locate anyone in the state of New Jersey by asking "What exit?" to which they'll either reply with a number, occasionally followed by a letter, or else "No, the Parkway," which tells you everything you need to know. Exit 9 was my unfortunate answer to Jersey geography, and if you have no idea what I'm talking about, believe me, there's a reason for that. Exit 9 is the worst of Jersey (not counting South Jersey, obviously): far from the city, but not far enough to be close to anything else, ugly, boring, and aggressively trying to get into the Ivy League. But it does have grease trucks, and that's a lot.
As befitting their moniker, getting grease trucks involves downing monstrously huge and oily sub sandwiches, heavily tinged by Italian and Middle Eastern vibes (Central Jersey has long been home to many Italian-, Syrian-, and Lebanese-Americans). While associated specifically with subs that feature an entire meal between the bread, like mains and sides and fixings all jumbled together, here we're going for a more classically Jersey sub done the grease trucks way: big, loud, and fried. Oh, and you're welcome to call it a hoagie or a grinder, just not around here. Hero is borderline okay. Represent.
A few key ingredients for this Jersey classic (other than onions and olive oil, obviously):
- Italian sausage, sweet or hot—I gather that regular Italian sausage is raw and needs to be cooked (i.e., in the casing). I've not seen kosher Italian sausage that is raw, however; all the brands I've used have come cooked, like hot dogs. If you're using raw sausage, boil it in water before browning. You can use either sweet (that is, un-spicy) or hot (as in, spicy) Italian sausage.
- Cubanelle pepper—This mild Italian pepper looks like a light-green poblano and has great, mellow flavor. (Well, caveat, peppers all originate in the Americas, but this one is associated with Italian and Italian-American cuisine). If your market doesn't carry cubanelles, you can substitute a regular green bell pepper.
- Cherry pepper, banana pepper or pepperoncini (optional, but recommended)—all three of these are mild-to-medium Italian-cuisine peppers. They have somewhat different flavor profiles and look completely different, but here they play the sidekick role. So don't sweat it if you can't locate any. They add nice depth if you can find them. You can also use pickled pepperoncini and spike the pan with a bit of juice from the jar, too.
Preparing the peppers, onions, and sausage
This is street food, you make it in a single hot pan and that's that. Start with the onions and when they're starting to look good and soft and rough around the edges, add in your peppers. Season, let everything char a bit in a good glug of olive oil, then push it all to the sides and brown the sausage in the center of the skillet. For authenticity's sake, you need to cut each sausage into 4-5 pieces on the diagonal. It's not optional. Especially if you want more searing surface area, eh?
A proper sub roll should be oblong, somewhat oversized (meatheads and college students, remember?), light and bright, with just a hint of crackle when bitten into. You can hunt down sub rolls in a bakery (good luck outside of the tri-state area) or make your own.
Sausage and Peppers Grease Truck Sub (meat)
- 12 oz sweet Italian sausage, cooked - 340 g
- 2 Tbsp olive oil
- 2 cloves garlic, crushed
- 1 large onion - thinly sliced
- 2 cubanelle peppers (light green mild Italian peppers) or 1 green bell pepper
- 2 hot cherry peppers, banana peppers, or pepperoncini - optional
- salt and pepper
- ½ Tbsp white or red wine vinegar
- 4 sub rolls
Sauté the onions and peppers:
- Heat the olive oil over medium heat in a large skillet. Add the onions and sauté until softened, 3-4 minutes.
- Add the pepper and season with salt and pepper. Cook until the peppers begin to soften, 3-4 minutes more.
- Add the garlic and stir to combine. Continue cooking until the onions are well browned, another 5 minutes or so.
Sauté the sausage:
- Slice the sausages into 1“ pieces on the diagonal. Push the vegetables to the sides of the skillet, add a bit more olive oil to the pan if needed, and add the sausages to the center. Sear the sausage on all sides.
- Deglaze the pan with the vinegar and remove from the heat.
Assemble the subs:
- Pile the peppers, onions, and sausage on sliced rolls.