I’ve called this the ultimate recipe because it’s really how I feel about it. I don’t have the words to describe how this recipe came out – it tastes exactly like I wanted it to; it’s sweet, it’s tart, it’s meaty and sumptuous and packed full of flavors, both complex and simple at the same time with the perfect consistency. As a title that would be too long – so Ultimate Sloppy Joe it is!
In England we don’t eat Sloppy Joe, in fact I would probably never heard of it before I came here except for the fact that an upscale pizza chain, Pizza Express, introduced a pizza that I loved – the Sloppy Giuseppe! I learned it was a take on the classic American Sloppy Joe but with an Italian twist -it contains the standard spicy beef, green bell pepper and onions but there is no sauce component and it’s served with mozzarella on a pizza! So not much like the original Joe.
The origin of this now iconic meat sauce is unconfirmed; some say it’s named after a line cook called Joe from Floyd Angell’s cafe in Sioux, IA, others believe it originated in a club in Havana, Cuba called Sloppy Joe’s Cafe.
Wherever it came from, most people agree the basic ingredients are ground beef, green bell pepper, onions, tomato sauce and, crucially, a little Worcestershire sauce. Depending on where you are in the country, there are a lot of regional variations with a little added “something”.
There’s “Sloppy Jane’s” – a healthier take on the Joe using ground turkey instead of beef – I’m not convinced.
In North Dakota a Sloppy Joe is called a slush burger (which sounds pretty unappetizing) or barbecues. In Nebraska it’s known as Yum yums.
My own preference for additions are vinegar and mustard powder. In the correct small quantities they pack a powerful zing.
The ingredients here are super simple and easy to come by; ground beef of course, onion, bell pepper and garlic, ketchup, tomato paste, Worcestershire sauce and apple cider vinegar, and the flavor mix of chili powder, ground mustard, brown sugar and a little dried chili flakes for a kick. That’s it!
The first step is to brown the meat. Set the skillet heat to medium-high as the aim is to get a brown crust on the beef by frying it in hot oil rather than letting it boil in it’s own juices that leaves you with the grey, hominy mince that doesn’t have the same flavor.
After browning the meat, it is essential to fully drain off all of the fat! The way this dish comes together means that if you miss this step out, the result will be a grease-fest- still delicious but oily and full of blobs of fat.
Add the onions, bell pepper and as much garlic as you dare – I use three large cloves.
Once the onions and peppers have softened – around 5 minutes – it’s time to add in the magic.
All the other ingredients go in at this time – it really is that simple! The aroma of the vinegar and chili powder with the garlic and onion smell is just wonderful at this stage. All that’s left to do is left to do is leave this to simmer for 20 minutes or so, adding a little water if it starts to dry out. I like to add my chili flakes towards the end after I’ve had a taste of the almost finished product.
You should end up with a tart and sweet Sloppy Joe and if it’s a little too sweet for you, add in a pinch of salt, pepper, mustard and chili powder until you get the balance that you want.
And there you have it – the final result – a fantastic meal in a pan, just add a bun and maybe some cheese. No, wait – definitely some cheese. White cheddar is currently my favorite.
I love to make chili con carne so the basic idea of a Sloppy Joe is not unfamiliar to me, a lot of the ingredients are similar. The addition of sugar initially confused me but when paired with the vinegar and other spices it makes perfect sense.
Traditionally, this is a sandwich I know. But this meat sauce is so much more versatile than that. The first thing I did with the leftovers is put them in a perfect baked potato and top with cheddar cheese. Fantastic, I swear!
Next use for leftovers was… Shepherd’s Pie like you’ve never seen. Just take my recipe here and add the Sloppy Joe instead of the filling I used. Cover in mashed potato, add Parmesan and cheddar and bake!
How about a Sloppy lasagna? Not tried this yet but I think it might just work. I’ll let you know.
Please do try this out and then try to tell me it’s not the best Sloppy Joe you ever had. I won’t believe you but I promise I will let you make your case…