Is there a more quintessentially American food than the Sloppy Joe? Okay, so the sandwich, a slurry of beef, onion, and sweet tomato sauce, isn’t exactly the darling of the gourmet food world. Maybe it’s because of that whole “Manwich” association from the 1980s, the canned Sloppy Joe sauce that removed most of the “cooking” from “cooking dinner.” Those old Manwich commercials always had this weirdly aggressive air about them, convincing you that feeding your family any kind of lesser, inferior sandwich meant that you didn’t love them, and that no matter how tired and child-addled you might be at the end of the day, surely you could find the strength to brown some ground beef, dump a tin of sauce on top, and spoon the mixture over a few hamburger buns.
I don’t think I’ve had a Sloppy Joe in twenty years, where I must certainly have had one for hot lunch while in high school. The sandwich has been on my mind lately, because I don’t see any reason why it shouldn’t be great. It’s quick, easy, inexpensive, kid-friendly convenience food, that you can cook by the bucketload and serve all week. It’s like a chili with no beans, served on top of bread, but sweetened to make it palatable to a generation of children weaned on S’mores Pop Tarts. It’s comfort food for the ten-year-old inside of you, the one overwhelmed by the pressures of things like Social Studies, having to take showers, the ever-increasing hostilities of the subnormal older bully that lives down the street, and the seemingly unstoppable powers of the Eggplant Wizard.
For our version of this classic, we wanted to keep the elements that make a Sloppy Joe a Sloppy Joe. We had to include ground beef, onion, tomato sauce, and some sugar. But we also wanted to make it a little bit more interesting for the adult palate, so we also brought in just a touch of heat and spice. We serve it on buns specially made for Sloppy Joes, that are full of cheddar cheese, more onion, and have a slightly crispy, chewy outside that will stand up to the sauce, while staying soft and warm on the inside. To take it over the top, we melt a slice of homemade American cheese and throw a few sliced jalapenos on top. The result? A satisfying, interesting spin on a childhood favorite.
Makes 4 big sandwiches
- 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
- 1/2 red bell pepper, chopped
- 1 yellow onion, chopped
- 2 celery ribs, chopped
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 4 ounces fresh Mexican chorizo
- 1 pound 80/20 ground beef
- 1 15 ounce can whole tomatoes
- 1/4 cup ketchup
- 1/4 cup chili sauce
- 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
- 1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
- 2 tablespoons brown sugar
- Pinch ground cloves
- 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
- Pinch cayenne pepper
- Salt and pepper, to taste
- 4 Sloppy Joe Buns (recipe follows)
- 4 tablespoons butter
- 4 slices American cheese, sliced pickles, or sliced jalapeno, to garnish
In a large, deep skillet over medium heat, add vegetable oil, bell pepper, onion, and celery. Cook, stirring occasionally, until onions turn translucent, about five minutes. Add garlic, stir, and cook for about a minute more. Transfer vegetables to bowl and set aside.
In the same pan, add Mexican chorizo and ground beef, crumbling as you add the meat to the pan. Add salt and pepper and cook, stirring occasionally, until ground beef is well browned, about 7-10 minutes.
Empty canned tomatoes into the bowl of a food processor and pulse until nearly pureed, but still leaving some chunks of tomato.
Add to the pan with the meat, along with the reserved vegetables, ketchup, chili sauce, Worcestershire sauce, vinegar, brown sugar, cloves, thyme, and cayenne.
Let simmer over low-medium heat for ten minutes, adjusting seasoning and consistency with a bit of water, if needed.
While filling simmers, split four buns and butter cut side. Arrange cut side-down on a hot skillet, allowing buns to brown slightly.
Arrange buns on plates, and top with meat mixture and optionally, cheese, pickles, or jalapeno.
Sloppy Joe Buns
Adapted from a recipe by About.com; Makes about two dozen buns.
- 1 tablespoon active dry yeast
- 1 cup warm water
- 2 tablespoons sugar
- 3/4 cup milk, room temperature
- 2 teaspoons salt
- 1 large egg, lightly beaten
- 1 1/2 tablespoons garlic powder
- 1 cup shredded mild cheddar cheese
- 1 small yellow onion, finely chopped
- 1/4 cup soft butter
- 6 cups bread flour
- 1 egg white
- Poppy seeds
In the bowl of a standing mixer, combine yeast, water, and sugar. Let yeast bloom for about five minutes, then add milk, salt, egg, garlic powder, cheddar cheese, onion, butter, and flour.
Using the mixer’s dough hook attachment, knead mixture on low-medium speed until smooth and elastic, about ten minutes. Remove from mixer and form into a ball. Transfer dough to a greased medium bowl and flip dough over so that the top is also lightly greased.
Cover with a clean kitchen towel and let rise for 1 hour until doubled in size in a warm, draft-free place.
Punch down dough, and return to mixer. Knead on low speed for another 10 minutes. Remove from mixer, and roll dough to 1/2-inch thickness. Cut dough into 3 to 4-inch rounds. Place buns 2-inches apart on greased cookie or baking sheet. Cover with clean kitchen towel, and let rise for 45 minutes or until doubled in a warm, draft-free place.
In small bowl, use a fork to lightly beat the egg white. Brush white onto each bun. Sprinkle buns with poppy seeds. Bake at 375 degrees for 20 minutes, or until buns are golden brown. Let cool on rack.