Sloppy joes! This is one of the many foods we take for granted as kids, and realize way later that we never grew out of it. With good reason: it’s classic comfort food. Deceptively informal, delightfully uncultured, easy to make for a crowd, and of course delicious.
It honestly seems like kind of a cruel meal to give kids– it’s a sandwich destined for disintegration and structural failure from the start. Even I, an adult with adult-size hands and fairly developed motor skills, struggle to keep the party under control when it comes to a sloppy joe sandwich. If the sauce doesn’t soak through your cheap hamburger bun, the meat falls all out the sides; and if you don’t end up with some of it on your clothes, you’re either a genius or not having enough fun.
In college, I was a big fan of the little envelopes of sloppy joe seasoning that were perfect for the kind of cooking that happens in a bachelor apartment. However, similarly to so many food products that were near and dear to my heart, one day I read the ingredients list and it was all over. Those packets have something like 600 confusing ingredients (roughly…) and at least a few of them are MSG. Bummer.
So, with a sense of betrayal from yet another childhood-love-turned-chemical-mystery, and inspired by a Bobby Flay throwdown I watched on a really bored afternoon, I set out to come up with a homemade version that could satisfy my childish appetite, my nutritional conscience, and my foodie palate. This is the surprisingly successful result.
1-1.5 lbs ground beef, I like 80% lean or better
1 onion, minced
1 green pepper, minced
4 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup red wine
1/3 cup ketchup
1.5 tb dijon mustard
1 tb worcestershire sauce
2 cans or roughly 1/2 cup tomato paste
1 tsp oregano
1/2 tsp thyme
1 tsp smoked paprika
1 tb brown sugar
2 tb cider vinegar
Crank up the heat under your pan and give your beef a legit browning. Give it time to sear before messing with it (so says Bobby Flay, and I figure he knows ground beef enough to boss people around). Drain your grease as much as possible.
Make some room for the onions and pepper, and sautee them in along with the beef. After a few minutes, throw the garlic in there too. Deglaze with the wine, then add most of the other things: ketchup, mustard, worcestershire sauce, tomato paste, and spices. Add water enough to make the party sloppy. Continue simmering.
Add the sugar and vinegar and allow a minute for the flavors to diffuse. Taste your sauce and adjust if needed with more salt, sugar, or vinegar if it’s missing those flavors. If the sauce is too runny, cook uncovered for a few minutes until it’s a better consistency.
Serve on some awesome rolls, with whatever you think goes best with this kind of comfort food. We picked oven fries and a spinach salad. What’s your style?