Everyone has a tale about what the lunch ladies ladled up in the school cafeteria: Chicken nuggets so rubbery you swear theyd bounce if you threw one on the floor. Mystery-meat tacos. The dreaded (in our house, anyway) Brunch for Lunch. And, of course, greasy, tomato-y, oozing-from-the-bun sloppy Joe sandwiches.
Love em or hate em, the messy chopped meat and tomato sauce sandwich -- I dare you to try eating one of those babies without staining your fingers or shirt -- are for many an iconic lunch food of childhood.
For meat eaters of a certain age, they also showed up fairly often on the dinner table at home, too, usually with tater tots and sometimes an iceberg-lettuce salad, if my mom was feeling especially fancy.
I grew up in the Manwich era, so forgive me if I wasnt always a fan of the sloppy Joe. I always found the canned sauce, introduced by Hunts in 1969, a bit too sweet and soupy -- more like an unsuccessful marriage of barbecue sauce and ketchup than the slightly tangy, slightly spicy sauce that the kitchen gods intended.
But I could be in the minority: The sandwich is so beloved that it merits its own National Food Holiday (March 18), and somehow, I dont think everyone who celebrates is cooking from scratch: ConAgra sold more than 70 million cans of Manwich last year.
But a homemade Joe? That can be a beautiful thing, not to mention a quick and easy way to get a filling (and inexpensive) dinner on the table.
The origins of the sloppy Joe sandwich are almost as messy as the dish itself, in that nobody knows for sure where or how it arrived on American tables.
Some food historians believe the lunchroom staple -- typically made with ground meat, tomato sauce or ketchup, onions and spices and served on a toasted hamburger bun -- as American as apple pie.
Noting that similar beef concoctions have graced the pages of cookbooks since the turn of the 12th century, The Oxford Encyclopedia of Food and Drink in America reports it may have evolved from a popular dish first served in Muscatine, Iowa, during President Calvin Coolidges administration.
However the sandwich came to be, by the late 1930s it was a popular dish on dinner tables across the United States because it helped home cooks stretch scant meat supplies during the Great Depression and World War II.
So many of our relatives ate so many sloppy Joes that the dish even was mentioned in several 1940s movies, including Citizen Kane.
The first printed recipe that officially dubbed the hamburger dish sloppy Joe was in 1963, in the McCalls Cook Book. It called for sauteing half pound of ground beef in a skillet until it loses its red color, and then adding a can of beans in barbecue sauce and1/4 cup catsup. The simmered mixture was served on toasted hamburger buns.
For people who think theyre too busy to cook, theres always Hunts Manwich sauces, of course, which now come in Bold and Thick & Chunky flavors in addition to the 1960s original.
If you absolutely, positively dont want to lift a finger except to push the microwave on button, theres also a pre-mixed, pre-cooked Manwich product that comes in a heatable plastic container. (A lunch lady hairnet to wear while serving it is optional.)
Youre going to be browning ground beef (or turkey or pork) anyway, so why not give the sandwich a nutritional boost with fresh veggies and seasonings? Its so much better tasting, and not that much harder. Your kids might even enjoy doing the mixing and chopping.
Another plus to cooking your sloppies from scratch: If youre willing to be just a bit adventurous with the meat and seasonings, youll create a dish that will become legendary in your kids minds for all the right reasons.
SLOPPY JOE RECIPES
TRADITIONAL SLOPPY JOES
1 pound lean (at least 80 percent) ground beef
1 medium onion, chopped ( 1/2 cup)
1/2 cup chopped celery
1 cup ketchup
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon ground mustard
1/8 teaspoon pepper
6 burger buns, split
In 10-inch skillet, cook beef, onions and celery over medium heat 8 to 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until beef is done. Drain.
Stir in remaining ingredients except buns. Heat to boiling; reduce heat. Simmer uncovered 10 to 15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are tender. Spoon into buns.
ASIAN SLOPPY JOE SLIDERS
2 tablespoons canola oil
2 medium red onions, finely chopped
1 cup finely chopped celery
3 tablespoons sambal oelek or other Asian chile sauce
2 1/2 tablespoons minced garlic
1 tablespoon peeled, minced fresh ginger
Freshly ground black pepper
1 pound ground chicken thighs
1 pound ground pork
1 cup hoisin sauce
1 cup drained canned diced tomatoes
1/2 cup fresh lime juice
20 brioche dinner rolls, split and toasted
Shredded iceberg lettuce and spicy pickles, for serving
Makes 20 sliders.
In a large, deep skillet, heat canola oil until shimmering. Add onions, celery, chili sauce, garlic, ginger and a generous pinch each of salt and pepper. Cook over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are softened, about 8 minutes.
Add ground chicken and pork and cook, stirring occasionally to break up the meat, until no pink remains, about 5 minutes. Stir in hoisin, tomatoes and lime juice and bring to a boil. Simmer over moderately low heat, stirring occasionally, until thickened, about 20 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.
Spoon about1/4 cup of sloppy-Joe filling on the bottom half of each roll. Top with shredded lettuce and pickles and serve.
Sloppy-Joe filling can be refrigerated for up to 3 days; reheat gently before serving.
LOADED SRIRACHA BBQ SLOPPY JOE FRIES
1 pound ground beef
1 green bell pepper, seeded and diced
1/2 medium onion, diced
1 cup ketchup
2 teaspoons sriracha
1 tablespoon soy sauce
2 teaspoons teriyaki sauce
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1 tablespoon vinegar
24-ounce package waffle cut fries
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
3 green onions, sliced
Serves six to eight.
Cook ground beef in skillet over medium heat. Drain. Reserve 1 tablespoon pan drippings. Cook bell pepper and onion in reserved pan drippings until softened, about 5 minutes. Return ground beef to pan.
Add remaining ingredients except cheese and green onions. Mix well. Reduce heat to low and simmer for 30 minutes.
While sauce is simmering, cook fries according to package instructions. You want them crispy so they wont get soggy underneath the sauce.
Turn oven to broil.
Spoon sloppy-Joe mixture over top of cooked french fries. Sprinkle with cheese. Broil just until cheese is melted. Sprinkle green onions on top. Serve with additional sriracha sauce, if desired.
SLOPPY JOE PIE
1 Pillsbury refrigerated pie crust, softened as directed on box
1 1/2 pound bulk turkey or pork sausage
1 medium onion, chopped ( 1/2 cup)
1 cup frozen corn, thawed
1 cup chunky-style salsa
1/2 cup chili sauce
2 tablespoons packed brown sugar
4 1/2 ounce can chopped green chiles
2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro, if desired
Heat oven to 450 degrees. Unroll pie crust on ungreased cookie sheet. With sharp knife, cut into a circle to fit the top of the pie pan. Cut out squares for a checkerboard pattern. If desired, place cutouts on crust to decorate, securing each with small amount of water.
Bake 9 to 11 minutes or until crust is light golden brown.
Meanwhile, in 10-inch skillet, cook sausage and onion over medium-high heat 8 to 10 minutes, stirring frequently, until sausage is no longer pink. Stir in remaining ingredients except cilantro. Heat to boiling. Reduce heat to medium-low; simmer uncovered 8 to 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until corn is cooked and sauce is desired consistency.
Stir cilantro into sausage mixture. Carefully place warm baked crust over turkey mixture in skillet.
VEGGIE SLOPPY JOES
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 medium onion, diced
1/2 cup diced carrots
1 cup trimmed and diced mushrooms
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon paprika
3 cups canned black beans, drained and rinsed
1 cup prepared tomato sauce
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon maple syrup
Salt and pepper
6 whole-wheat hamburger buns
1/2 cup shredded cheddar or Monterey jack cheese
Heat olive oil in a large frying pan over medium heat. Add onion and carrots and saute until they begin to soften, about 5 minutes. Add mushrooms, cumin, and paprika. Stir everything together and allow mushrooms to soften, 2 to 3 minutes.
Add beans, tomato sauce, vinegar, mustard and syrup, and allow to simmer and thicken for about 15 minutes. Taste and add salt and pepper if you like.
Toast hamburger buns (to make Joes a bit less sloppy). Spoon a generous amount of bean mixture onto the bottom half of each bun and sprinkle with a good pinch of shredded cheese. Put hamburger lid on top and serve.
VENISON SLOPPY JOES
3 tablespoons olive oil
4 pounds venison meat from the leg, shoulder, and/or shank, cut into 1-inch cubes
2 cups small-diced red onion
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon chipotle powder
2 teaspoons cayenne pepper
2 teaspoons smoked paprika
2 teaspoons cumin seeds, toasted and ground
2 teaspoons coriander seeds, toasted and ground
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground allspice
2 tablespoons tomato paste
750-milliliter bottle dry red wine
6 tablespoons sherry vinegar
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons sriracha sauce
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
24-ounce can crushed San Marzano tomatoes, with their juice
1/4 cup chopped fresh oregano
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
10 to 12 soft buns
Serves 10 to 12.
Put a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add the olive oil to the pot and let it get hot. Pat the venison meat dry and season liberally with salt. Begin browning the meat, about 2 minutes per side. You may need to do this in batches so as not to crowd the pot. When browned on all sides, remove the meat from the pot with a slotted spoon and set aside.
Reduce the heat to medium-low, add the onion and garlic along with a pinch of salt, and cook for 2 minutes. Add the chipotle powder, cayenne, paprika, cumin, coriander, cinnamon and allspice and cook for 2 minutes. Add the tomato paste and cook, stirring, for 2 minutes.
Add the red wine, being sure to scrape up the browned bits on the bottom of the pot with a wooden spoon. Once it has reduced by half, about 5 minutes, add the vinegar, Dijon, sriracha and brown sugar and simmer until the sugar is dissolved, 2 to 3 minutes. Add the tomatoes and their juice and bring to a simmer.
Return the meat to the pot and add the oregano and granulated sugar and simmer until the meat is tender, 3 to 4 hours. If the sauce still is a little loose, continue simmering until it reaches optimum sloppy-Joe consistency! Serve on buns.