Not Your Average Joe: “A sandwich is a sandwich, but a Manwich is a meal.” -Hunt’s advertising slogan
In the grocery store recently, I picked up a can of “Manwich” sauce and the memories came flooding back.
Bear with me.
I was born in Lima, Peru, and grew up traveling throughout the world. The whys and wherefores of my life’s circumstances are better left for another time and place, but it might serve to look at my life through the prism of foods.
Vagabond that I was as my parents traced the globe, I put all kinds of things in my mouth. My mother, being big on teaching me proper manners and having a watchful eye, ensured that I actually swallowed most of these alleged delicacies. Some foods are really best appreciated by an adult palate. Even now, with experienced taste buds quite accustomed to caviar and Limburger cheese, some foods still give me pause, if not fully engaging a gag reflex. Escargot are still snails, no matter how much garlic, butter and white wine you drown them in; carpaccio is still raw beef; and tempura-battered calf-brains, while immensely popular around the foothills of the Andes, are still not high on my list of go-to appetizers.
Of course there was the upside as well. Paella served piping hot under the arbors of a Spanish finca, Coquille San Jaques in a riverside Parisian bistro, Bangers and Mash in London pubs, but nothing delighted my childhood appetite so much as the bounty we would enjoy when we returned to America on holiday.
Memorable moments of my young and gluttonous life include: My first Hot Pastrami Sandwich. Corn Dogs. And, forever a red-letter day – the day on which I was introduced to both French Dip and Carrot Cake in the same meal. I couldn’t believe so much flavor was possible in one sitting.
At the house, revelation continued. Hamburger Helper. Frozen Pizza. Ice Cream Sandwiches.
Yes, we scoff now and eschew the sodium and unpronounceable additives, but to this child, these were foods fit for Mount Olympus. Still, the undisputed high point of my childhood gastronomique was the crowning jewel of family dinners: Sloppy Joes.
Even the sauce was inspiring. “Manwich” Sloppy Joe Sauce. To a nine-year-old boy, this was a call to arms, a herald of greatness. It was my personal pride and pleasure to engage the electric can opener and release that sweet tomato goodness onto the browning ground beef, inhaling the intoxicating aroma, feeling myself grow more manly with each deep breath.
Cheryl well understands the old adage that “the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach” and practices it with aplomb. A couple of days after my tin can nostalgia, I arrived home to be greeted by a secretive grin and a glint in her eye. There waiting for me on the kitchen counter lay a paper plateful of my childhood dreams, complete with chips and a pickle. Sometimes I marvel at how lucky I am.
Poor sloppy Joes. They often get a bad rap due to those lackluster versions served up by hair-netted lunch ladies in sterile cafeterias. This recipe happily returns the cherished sandwich back to its well-deserved place in the category of Cozy Comfort Food at its best when you long for a quick and easy supper on a bun.
Real Sloppy Joes
- 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 medium onion, diced
- ½ cup small-diced red bell pepper
- ½ cup small-diced green bell pepper
- kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 3 garlic cloves, minced
- 2 pounds ground beef
- 2 cups ketchup
- 2 tablespoons tomato paste
- 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
- 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
- 1 tablespoon light brown sugar
- 3 teaspoons chili powder
- 1 teaspoon ground cumin
- 1 teaspoon dry mustard
- crushed red pepper flakes, to taste
- 6 sandwich buns
- In a large frying pan, heat the oil. Add the onion and peppers, season with some salt and pepper and cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables begin to soften, about 5 minutes. Stir in the garlic and cook for another minute.
- Add the beef and season with some salt and pepper. Cook, stirring with a wooden spoon to incorporate the vegetables with the beef and to break up the beef. Continue cooking the beef until no longer pink. Drain off any fat.
- Stir in the ketchup, tomato paste, vinegar, Worcestershire, brown sugar, chili powder, cumin, mustard and red pepper flakes. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer, stirring frequently, for about 15 minutes to blend the flavors. Taste for seasoning.
- Serve on toasted sandwich buns.
…from the Picture-Perfect kitchen:
Planning: Put a spin on it – Sloppy Joes can be made with ground turkey or ground chicken, too.
Product Purity: Many, many store brands of ketchup are made with high fructose corn syrup but Hunt’s now makes one without (and advertises the fact on its label). Worcestershire sauce is another one of those sneaky pantry staples that can also contain high fructose corn syrup. I buy Annie’s organic – it has a big, bold flavor.
Presentation: For a fun and a little less sloppier way to serve the sandwiches, make mini bread bowls with slider buns. Simply cut around the top of the bun and pull out some of the bread. Fill with the Sloppy Joe mixture and serve with kettle chips.