MAD MENUS: HEY JOE

by John Idstrom on April 20, 2013

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It was one of those days, a day when you stand in front of your Foodie-Approved Stainless-Steel Kitchen Cooling Compartment and ask the existential question, “What are you hungry for when you don’t know what you’re hungry for?” I had ill-advisedly skipped breakfast, and it was now two o’clock on a Saturday afternoon. Low blood sugar had me at orange alert.

No culinary chords having been struck, I was reaching for some ho-hum leftover pork roast when I saw it. There, almost forgotten in the back of the fridge, was the last remaining cup of a largish batch of Tom Douglas’s Dahlia Lounge Ancho Chili Barbeque Sauce that I had whipped up at home some months prior. Douglas is now best known as a restaurantrepreneur, a vocation at which he excels, but when I copped this recipe from a newspaper article about his Dahlia Lounge in 1993, he was still new to the game. Half a dozen homemade gallons later, I still strictly adhere to his recipe and its proportions, unable to improve upon its perfection. And that did it: I saw barbecue sauce, I saw leftover pork roast, and inspiration whacked me upside the head. That inspiration? Sloppy joes — or in this case, a Nouveau Joe.

If you grew up in any proximity to the 1960s and ate hot lunch at your school cafeteria, then you understand when I say that Sloppy Joe Day was the best day of the week. Accompanied by a handful of potato chips and perhaps a garbage-can-destined fruit cup, this comprised my most anticipated déjeuner de midi. Even better was the odd parental date night, when a batch of sloppy joe mix would be left for the sitter. Often a picky eater, my appetite was boundless when it came to this dish.

Sloppy joes in the 1960s were tailor-made for the convenience-seeking cook. A bit of ground beef sautéed with onion, a packet of powdered spice mixture, a couple cups of H2O, and voila. A few Wonder buns and a twin-pack box of Old Dutch chips completed the meal, the onions in the Joe mix rendering a vegetable side redundant.

Until the other day, it had been four decades since I’d indulged in a sloppy joe. Long story short, I shredded the pork, mixed it with the sauce, and served it on a toasted sweet Hawaiian bun (a/k/a “a slider bun”) with some Monterey Jack cheese melted on top. Oh my. Eschewing the traditional cherry Kool-Aid, I downed my Nouveau Joe with an Anchor Steam and abandon. Bliss. I was at once transported back in time and launched forward.

Nouveau Joes could be made any number of ways, so let your imagination off its leash. You’ll want a great barbeque sauce for the base, of course, so if you make one that you like, use that. Most stores now carry decent (if spendy) sauces, but I prefer to make my own. Pork works great as a substitute for the ground beef (a slow-braised picnic roast would be outstanding), and I am going to try it soon with some shredded brisket. Should you be able to procure lamb tongue, I believe it would be over-the-top fantastic. In a pinch, go with some high-grade ground chuck. Shredded duck confit, anyone?

Under no circumstances should vegans attempt this dish with tofu. As for drink, your favorite beer is an obvious choice, given the palate-limiting barbeque sauce; a spicy Santa Cruz Mountains Zinfandel (I am especially fond of the Ridge label) is a great option for those wishing to sally forth with vino. A savory broccoli slaw would be a pleasant departure from the traditional cabbage version.

I suggest listening to this song as you’re prepping your joes — it will help you focus on your task and get you in that late-60s Mad Men mood:

Eat well, and enjoy the show!

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John Idstrom thinks and writes about food at http://www.meezenplace.com.

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