Recipe: Sloppy Joes Without the Manwich

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Sloppy Joe

Oh, Sloppy Joe, let's get married. I love you so.

Sounds like the makings of a bona fide country song, doesn't it? It's a food love affair our entire country can identify with -- the Sloppy Joe is an American favorite.

Eat your history:
The original Sloppy Joe sandwich was invented at Sloppy Joe's Bar in Key West and was popular enough to make its way across the U.S. in varied forms, including mass-produced processed foods. While we referred to Sloppy Joes as Dynamites and Whimpies growing up in Massachusetts and Rhode Island, each state adopted its own term of endearment for this favorite comfort food. Then Manwich marketing mania came to town and embedded itself into pop culture history. From that point on, most of America made Sloppy Joes from a can. I know! I'll give you a minute to get a tissue and dry your eyes.

Today, we're smarter than that. Today, we're getting back to basics -- back to original recipes and back to real food. We figured out that somewhere within those cans of processed Sloppy Joe sauce lies the basis of real ingredients, and heck, we may even have some of those real ingredients in our fridge: tomatoes, peppers, onions, vinegar, sugar and seasonings. Yes! And if, for the sake of pop culture nostalgia, you're partial to the flavor of Manwich, it can be recreated exactly, using those simple ingredients, without the chemicals and thickeners.

Sloppy Joes

Yields: 4 Wicked huge servings or 6 regular
Method: pan frying, sauteing
Allergy Info: soy-free, dairy-free; buns contain wheat/gluten

Ingredients:
1 pound ground beef, 80/20
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 onion, chopped, 1/4" pieces
1 green bell pepper, chopped, 1/4" pieces
1 small clove garlic, minced
1 tablespoon tomato paste
3 cups crushed tomatoes
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
2 tablespoons organic sugar
1/4 teaspoon allspice
Kosher salt and freshly cracked black pepper to tastev 4 - 6 buns (any kind)

Directions: Melt butter in a large skillet over medium heat, add ground beef and brown. Remove the ground beef, set aside, and drain all but 1 teaspoon of beef fat from the pan. Add the olive oil, onion and peppers, saute until the onions are soft and translucent. Adjust the heat as needed to prevent the vegetables from browning.

Add the garlic and stir to incorporate. Immediately add the tomato paste, stir to mix with the garlic, and allow to cook in the pan for 30 seconds. Add the crushed tomatoes, vinegar, sugar, allspice, salt and pepper. Simmer for 10 minutes on medium-low heat. Taste and adjust the seasonings.

This is the point where you become chef! Up until this point, you've followed a recipe. But now you need to taste and adjust the vinegar, sugar and spices to your liking -- this is where you become chef! Taste the tomato mixture... if it's not tangy enough, add more vinegar, 1/4 teaspoon at a time. If it's not sweet enough, add sugar, one pinch at a time. If you want more garlic, salt, pepper, add it, but only a little at a time. You can always add more, but you can never take away. Allow the tomato mixture to cook for a few minutes before tasting again and readjust as needed.

Once you have it perfect, add the ground beef to the pan, stir to incorporate and allow the mixture to warm, on very low heat, for 10 - 15 minutes. This will allow the flavors to meld. Taste one more time before serving, adjust seasonings as needed, and serve on warm, toasty buns.

Tomato consistency:
The crushed tomatoes, depending on the brand you buy, can be chunky, completely pureed, or somewhere in between. Think about how you'd like the consistency of your Sloppy Joe sauce to be. If you don't mind it a little bit chunky, you can use your tomatoes, unadulterated, out of the can. If you prefer a super smooth puree, you'll need to whirl your tomatoes in a blender, food processor or hit them with an immersion blender for a few seconds to break up the flesh and pulp, until the desired consistency is reached, before adding them to the pan.

What kind of bun?
You can use any bun you'd like. The texture of soft, eggy buns works really well with the ground beef, vs. a crusty hard roll or French-style roll. I grew up with Sloppy Joes served on hamburger buns, but have since converted to Challah-style buns -- I love the sweet, soft texture of them. The Sloppy Joe, pictured above, is on a Kaiser roll, which is my other favorite -- it's in between a soft Challah and a crusty French-style bun.

Hey, what about the Manwhich flavors?
You've got it all there in the pan, all you have to do is adjust the sugar/vinegar ratio until it tastes like the store-bought saucy stuff you grew up with. It won't quite have the same cornstarchy-glossy-thick texture or appearance because we didn't add guar gum, xanthan gum, carob bean gum or a man-made glutamate, but the flavor will be spot on. Your body will thank you later.

Try some of our other favorite comfort food recipes:

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