Sloppy Joe associations: I once went to a Sloppy Joe themed party. The desperation intrinsic to such an event led to some really poor decision making on my part. Never again. For one thing, Sloppy Joe’s are kind of an awful party food. You can’t eat them while you’re standing around. You can’t hold a pint in one hand and a Sloppy Joe in the other without becoming totally coated in damp clumps of protein. You’d have to have them deconstructed in little cups with tiny spoons, or maybe dolloped onto a blini, or ladled into a bag of tortilla chips. I mean, seriously why not just eat the whole mess out of a bag of tortilla chips like a scout at a jamboree? Hindsight, 20:20.
Going back further, I don’t think it would be a stretch to say that Sloppy Joe’s convey Proustian levels of significance to American children of the 90’s. They are the gateway to a past world, in all of its complexity and dysfunction. The past is a foreign country, am I right? We can’t go back there. Family dinners, Dad’s night to slop tinned sauce onto some low-welfare beef mince. Ladle it onto a spongy white burger bun from which all nutritional value has been extruded, and try eat it before the bun dissolves. O memories of home!
And yet. This flavoursome sauce. So delicious, so simple to make. This isn’t an update exactly or a recreation, but a translation of this dish. Made from scratch, Sloppy Joe sauce is an excellent repository for whatever condiment remainders you have lurking at the back of your fridge: ketchup, mustard, barbecue sauce, the brine from a jar of pickled onions, most types of chutney. Basically, if there is a sweet or sour component, add a tablespoon or two or all of it and see what happens. If you want to bulk out the veg content, add some grated carrot. Extra protein? Red lentils.
Here is a basic recipe for the sauce, which can be augmented in whatever way you please. It makes enough for two dinners.
Sloppy Joe Sauce
Time: 30 minutes
One big glass jar of passata
Two bell peppers
A minimum of two garlic cloves, crushed or finely chopped
A big glug of your oil of choice
1-2 tbsp mild chilli powder
1 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
2 tbsp brown sugar or maple syrup
1- 2 tbsp tomato paste
2 tbsp mustard, yellow or dijon
A generous squeeze of ketchup, because America
A drizzle of sriracha all over the top of the bubbling skillet if you like it spicy. Or whatever hot sauce.
Sauté the onion and bell peppers until soft, then add the garlic and cook until fragrant. To this add the chilli powder and cook a minute or two longer. Now add all wet, saucey ingredients. Simmer aggressively until it thickens a bit, about ten minutes. Hold at a low simmer for a bit longer if you like. This makes two batches of sauce, so freeze or save a chunk of it if you don’t plan to use it in the near future.
To assemble Sloppy Joe’s
You will need:
A protein: mince, rehydrated soya mince, lentils, etc.
Half the sauce
Carbohydrate base (sandwich bread, burger bun, baguette, potatoes, etc.)
Add your desired protein to a hot skillet. If animal-based mince, brown it. If you’re using rehydrated soya mince, I recommend you take the extremely unorthodox step of cooking it in a tablespoon or two of butter, or quite a bit of oil because, let’s face it, this stuff is lacking in depth. Now add the sauce and simmer for at least 5 minutes. If you are using lentils, heat up the sauce in the pan first, then add lentils. Simmer until ready to serve.
To serve: Spoon onto burger buns or whatever carb you have on hand. Tasty with homemade (or frozen) oven chips and salad, sweet potato fries or wedges. You could also have it on a jacket potato or make it into nachos with some tortilla chips and cheese. Let your conscience be your guide. Now throw a party and make everyone it eat.