What could be more American than a Sloppy Joe? Sweet and tangy – a little spicy and a whole lot messy! But it’s a new year and there are ways to elevate this familiar sandwich from its mid-century America Manwich roots if you put your mind to it. Instead of settling for conventional ground beef, you could follow chef Daniel Holzman’s lead and choose ground lamb. Lamb Sloppy Joe’s! While you’re at it, why not top that Joe with something special too. Coleslaw is a good way to go. So are fried onions. Maybe even guacamole. Use your imagination.
What’s so amazing about this sandwich is the familiarity of it. Yes, I realize the Sloppy Joe sandwiches of your youth were not made from lamb. But it’s not the choice of ground protein that makes a Sloppy Joe so familiar.
It’s something more basic than that.
Some foods are memory triggers. For me, sandwiches have the ability to take me back to childhood more than any other category of food. Sloppy Joe’s are no exception. They’re like time machines transferring me back to my middle-school hot lunch line, where hair-netted lunch ladies ladle heavy spoonfuls of tomatoey meat onto sesame-studded hamburger buns.
Lamb Sloppy Joe’s
The familiarity doesn’t stop there. At least not for me. Daniel Holzman’s Lamb Sloppy Joe’s are served very much like the lunch lady versions from my adolescence. By that I mean plain. Even in those days, I tended to personalize my food. Most of the boys scarfed these sandwiches down without even peeking under the bun. That’s because in middle-school the lunch hour is practically as competitive as P.E. class, and often just as stressful. The more aggressive boys at my table were typically in a race to see who could eat the sandwich the quickest. When that form of domination began to bore them, they’d run off to see if they could trick the lunch lady into a second sandwich – just so they could prove their superiority all over again.
Not me, I’d sit quietly (out of their peripheral vision) and lift the bun to consider how I could dress up this boy’s version of a Manwich. Potato chips, crunchy pickles, or maybe something from the salad compartment of my indented lunch tray. You just never knew how creative I could get with a Sloppy Joe. Though I admit Lamb Sloppy Joe’s were (at that point in my life) a little beyond my imagining.
Today however a Lamb Sloppy Joe feels just right to me. So I peeked under the bun of Mr. Holzman’s recipe and chose a few creative additions of my own. I don’t think he’ll mind my adaptations. Because what really matters is the place your mind goes when you pick up one of these Lamb Sloppy Joe’s and take a bite. Once you taste the crunch of cabbage and feel that slow drizzle of tomato sauce slipping down your chin, you’ll feel just like a 12-year-old trying to avoid the loud boys at lunchtime. GREG