What could be more American than a Sloppy Joe, right? Well, maybe. When we think of Sloppy Joes, we think of Joe as in a cup of Joe or GI-JOE. And of course; All-American average Joe – the guy on the street whose opinion of the world really mattered. The last thing we think of is Havana, Cuba.
Yet, as one story goes, that’s exactly where we should begin our search for the origins of the Sloppy Joe. Way back somewhere around 1917 or so, a guy named José Abeal Otero opened a bar in Havana. The regulars to his establishment called him “Sloppy Joe”. (For reasons I’d rather not speculate on since he was in the hospitality industry, but whatever). Now José had the reputation as a smart businessman and saw a great marketing opportunity to be had simply by changing the name of his bar to “Sloppy Joe’s”.
As the story goes, José decided to add food to his Cantina. He put together a simple sandwich filled with ground beef that had been stewed in tomatoes. Mr. Otero took his inspiration from two Cuban dishes; Ropa Vieja, a dish of shredded beef with tomatoes and spices, as well as Picadillo, a comfort food of ground beef mixed with capers, olives and raisins. According to those in the know, the Sloppy Joe sandwich came to America thanks to Ernest Hemingway, who loved Sloppy Joe’s in Havana. Hemingway’s friend, Joe Russel, opened a bar in Key West, Florida, in the 1930s called the sliver Slipper. Hemingway convinced his friend to change the name to Sloppy Joe’s, and to start serving the sandwich from Havana. To this day, the Key West bar still serves their signature Sloppy Joe Sandwich, boldly claiming that they are the original. Sound good, right?
Now like all good food folklore, there’s another story out there. This one is pure American, as in Midwest America, as in Sioux City, Iowa. Way back in the 1920s, people were consuming a Loose Meat Sandwich. It’s sort of like a Sloppy Joe, but without the sauce that makes Joes Sloppy. As the theory goes, a guy named Joe, a cook at a restaurant in Sioux City, came up with the idea of mixing tomato sauce with ground beef, transforming the Loose Meat Sandwich into the Sloppy Joe.
From the 1940s through the 1970s, cookbooks across America featured recipes for Sloppy Joes. The sandwich was so popular that in 1969, the canned Sloppy Joe Sauce burst onto the scene as the Manwich, reminding us that “A sandwich is just a sandwich, but a Manwich is a meal”.
The Sloppy Joe of today hasn’t evolved much. Oh sure, some have more spice than others, but the basic concept remains the same. Ground beef smothered in some sort of tomato-based sauce squished between two buns. That’s it. So here’s to the Sloppy Joe!
Salsa Sloppy Joes
1/4 White Onion, minced
1 lb Ground Chuck
2 garlic cloves, minced
Kosher Salt to taste
1/2 teaspoon Ground Cumin
3/4 cup Hot Salsa
1/4 cup Ketchup
4 Kaiser Rolls or Hamburger Buns, lightly toasted
Peel and mince 1/4 of a white onion. Set aside.
Heat a large cast iron skillet over medium high heat until almost smoking. Break up the ground chuck, spread over the bottom of the skillet and top with the chopped onions. Brown the ground chuck and onions together while continuing to break the meat into small pieces. Cook til meat is cooked through and onions are tender. Drain off any excess fat.
While the meat and onions are cooking, peel and finely mince the garlic cloves. Set aside until the meat has been cooked through and drained of any excess fat.
Add garlic, salt, and cumin. Stir the garlic until fragrant, about 30 seconds.
Add salsa and ketchup to the skillet. Mix well, lower the heat to simmer and let cook for about 10 minutes.
White the Joes are simmering, light toast the buns on a griddle with a little butter.
To serve, pile about a quarter of the mixture onto the bottom of four buns, cover with the top bun and serve with plenty of napkins.