Real sloppy joe sandwiches should require a fork and knife.
They also should be packed with a mouthpuckering combination of sweet tomatoes and savory spices that envelopes tender ground beef. And there should be just a hint of heat.
Achieving this perfect sloppy joe sandwich required dissecting common recipes and weeding out any ingredient that would distract from the essentials. Celery, for instance. Though a traditional ingredient, getting a mouthful of crunch seemed wrong for this recipe.
For that same reason, the technique used to prepare the onion (in which the beef is sauteed) matters greatly. Most recipes call for finely chopping, or even mincing. Which is fine, if you do it really well, and really uniformly. A food processor is much easier.
This method reduces the onion (especially once cooked) to a soft pulp, imparting plenty of flavor but little texture.
For the savory notes, a blend of smoked paprika, chili powder, yellow mustard and cumin provide deep, smoky flavors. These are balanced by the sweetness and acidity of the tomatoes and vinegar.
A teaspoon or so of hot sauce is the traditional source of mild heat in sloppy joes, but adding pickled hot or sweet peppers (such as jalapeno or Peppadew) offered superior flavor. And by tossing them in the processor with the onions, their flavor was uniform.
And if for some reason there are leftovers, consider tossing them with warm pasta for an amazing second-day dish.
Start to finish: 30 minutes
1 small onion
1 tablespoon chopped pickled hot or sweet peppers (such as jalapenos or Peppadews)
3 cloves garlic
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon chili powder
1/2 teaspoon dry yellow mustard
1 1/4 pounds ground beef (not lean)
1/2 cup ketchup
1 1/2 cups tomato puree
1 tablespoons cider vinegar
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
4 hamburger buns
Bread and butter pickle slices, for serving
In a food processor, combine the onion, hot or sweet peppers, and garlic. Pulse until very finely minced. You may need to scrape down the sides of the bowl several times. Set aside.
Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onion mixture and saute for about 4 minutes. Add the paprika, cumin, chili powder and mustard powder. Stir well and saute another 4 minutes, or until the onions are very soft.
Add the beef and saute, breaking up the clumps with a spoon, until the meat is just browned, about 5 minutes.
Meanwhile, in a large measuring cup, whisk together the ketchup, tomato puree and vinegar. Add this to the meat, bring to a simmer, then lower heat to medium and cook, uncovered, 10 minutes, or until slightly thickened.
Season the sloppy joes with salt and pepper. Arrange each bun on a serving plate, then spoon a quarter of the sloppy joes into each. Serve with pickles.
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