Would you believe that in 28 years of cooking and loving food, last week was the first time I ever made Sloppy Joes? If I am going to make a sandwich out of ground beef, my husband would much prefer a hamburger, hence no Joes of any kind, sloppy or otherwise. Growing up in the Midwest, loose meat sandwiches were common, inexpensive, and filling, but not especially memorable (the school cafeteria variety we hope to forget).
This type of food always reminds me of our favorite restaurant in Hannibal, The Frost Top, now known as Mark Twain Dinette, where they served Made-Rites and root beer in a frosted mug. Truth is it was the root beer we loved, the sandwiches were just the ticket to the prize. On a nostalgic whim, I called the restaurant to see if it was still as I remembered, the gal who answered the phone was Missouri-style personable, asking where I lived now, telling me about the menu, wondering if we planned a trip back anytime soon (sometimes I miss that). They celebrated their 70th anniversary this last year and their menu is pretty much the same.
Loose meat sandwiches have been around since before World War II, adding any number of vegetables or sauces to help stretch the meat with hungry mouths to feed. The no-sauce version was dubbed the Made-Rite, adding a ketchup based sauce turned it into Sloppy Joes. If there were ever a sandwich that needed a name, it is this one—no one wants a “loose meat sandwich”.
Nostalgia aside, neither had been created in my kitchen until last week when I noticed the recipe in The Pioneer Woman Cooks: Food From My Frontier. I liked the way she served it on buttered, toasted buns, which is brilliant. I realize they are called sloppy for a reason, but who wants a sauce soaked bun to fall apart in their hand? With Caramelized Onion Sprouted Buns already in my freezer, I was ready to go.
Ree’s Sloppy Joes recipe has a number of ingredients specified to taste, which is exactly what I would expect, as most folks would have an expectation that it taste a certain way. Sweet, spicy, tangy, tomato-y, there is plenty of room for putting an accent on the flavor you like best (I used yellow bell pepper over green). For me, the sweet-savory flavor of Caramelized Onion Buns is a perfect paring with a classic like Sloppy Joes, of course, sprouted wheat being the healthy way to go. 😉
What about you—are you a fan of old fashioned Sloppy Joes or Made-Rites?
- 2 large sweet onions -- sliced
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- ¼ teaspoon sea salt
- 1¾ cups water 110-115°
- 1 tablespoon active dry yeast
- ¼ cup honey
- 5 cups sprouted whole wheat flour
- 2 tablespoons butter -- melted
- 1 whole egg
- 1 whole egg yolk
- 1¼ teaspoons sea salt
- 1 whole egg white -- reserved, lightly beaten
- poppy seeds -- optional
- extra virgin olive oil
- Heat olive oil in a cast iron skillet over medium heat until oil covers the pan evenly and is hot. Add the sliced onions and stir enough to coat the onions with the oil. Continue to cook onions over medium heat, stirring occasionally until onions begin to brown, about 10 minutes.
- Season with salt and spread onions evenly over bottom of skillet, reduce heat to low. Allow onions to gently caramelize for 30-45 minutes, stirring occasionally to ensure they brown evenly. Onions should be golden brown when done.
- Once done, allow onions to cool, then coarsely chop onions.
- While the onions are cooking:
- Mix the yeast and honey with the water and let yeast soften for 5 minutes. Mix in the butter, egg, egg yolk, salt, and half the flour until smooth. Let dough rest for 20 minutes.
- Mix-in chopped onions, then add enough remaining flour to form a soft dough (up to 5 cups), continue mixing 5-6 minutes in a stand mixer or by hand--dough will be sticky as compared to white flour dough. On a lightly floured surface, with floured hands, lightly knead dough to form a soft ball.
- Oil a bowl with olive oil, place dough in bowl and turn over so that oiled surface is face-up.
- Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and then a towel, and let it rise in a warm spot (above 70°) for 1½ to 2 hours, or until nearly doubled in bulk. (The oven, with the oven light ON is a great place to let the dough rise if the room is cool.)
- With oiled hands, punch down dough and divide it into 8 pieces for large buns, or 16 for medium sized buns, on a lightly floured surface (a kitchen scale can be helpful to make sure they are even). Shape each piece into a round, smooth ball, place on a parchment lined baking sheet, and flatten with the palm of the hand to about 3" across (it helps to have oil on your hands when flattening the buns), it is best if the buns touch when flattened. Allow to rise uncovered in a warm place, away from drafts. If a cover is needed, use a lightweight smooth towel or tented aluminum foil, and let rise for about an hour, or until doubled in size. (Because the dough can be a little sticky, avoid using terry cloth or microfiber cloth which can "grab" the top of the dough.)
- Just before placing in the oven, brush the buns gently with the egg white on all exposed sides, sprinkle with poppy seeds.
- Bake the buns in a preheated 375°F oven until golden in color, about 15 to 18. Cool the buns on a wire rack. Slice once completely cooled.
- *Additional Options: For hotdog buns or hoagie rolls, shape the dough into a cylinder using approximately 2.25 ounces of dough per roll (less for smaller rolls). Substitute sesame seeds for poppy seeds, or simply use the egg wash alone.