As you may know, I’m a proud son of a 20-year U.S. Army veteran. With being a military child, living in Puerto Rico, I spent a huge chunk of my years attending the schools in Fort Buchanan, and after some time in a pretty amazing public school (Escuela Secundaria de la UPR), I graduated from Antilles High School (Go Pirates!). Now, mind you that food in the Puerto Rico school systems is nothing like here stateside. We didn’t get random fast-food-like lunches, we got rice and beans and pork chops, roasted chicken, among other pretty wonderful lunch items. Sorry to say, but I’d take rice and corned beef at the school cafeterias over a slice of government-sponsored cracker-crust pizza any day!
Now, there were some menu items that were just… no. On the other hand, the cooks at our schools cooked a lot of the items with love, and it was pretty amazing that they represented our culture even in the school cafeteria lunches. It’s always awesome to look back on our school cafeterias with the knowledge that they did the best the could with the materials they were given… and guess what? They did pretty amazing work!
The food at our cafeterias was always a blessing, but there was one dish that was served pretty often at schools on post that I could never wrap my head around: the visually unappetizing Sloppy Joe. It was a glob of meat with a weird-smelling sauce on a bun that appeared to be dissolving under nuclear pressure. I don’t know what it was about the Sloppy Joe that never sat well with me, but I always remember asking to go to the “a la carte” line when it was on the menu.
As I’ve grown older and moved stateside, I still don’t go out seeking a Sloppy Joe by any means, but I am enthralled by the evident affection there is for this dish. I see “Manwich” commercials and am bewildered by the believable excitement on the faces of the child actors, and the bun that appears to be melting faster than the Wicked Witch of the West. I mean, the whole thing looks like it would fall apart if you breathed on it too hard! Couple that with the unsightly dogfood-like appearance of the meat inside, and you have a recipe for disaster.
I know I don’t sound super excited up to now about this, but I assure you, I am! We all are!
Enter the Sloppy José, the Spanglish cousin of the Sloppy Joe who is equally as messy as Joe, but on point with amazing flavors. First? Pick a sweet roll! You can go with something like Kings Hawaiian buns or potato rolls. Breads that are firmer are going to hold the Sloppy José with much more consistency, but also provide a platform to absorb the sauce used to flavor up the beef further.
Without further ado… Vamo’ a cocinar!
We went to our local Mexican bakery and bought a sweet roll topped with sesame seeds, it was firm in texture but sweet in flavor, an awesome fit! Could we have done this in our famous “sobao” bread? Yes, but this Sloppy José merited a bun, and this one fit in quite nicely. Now we’ve solved the challenge of holding the sandwich! Olé! But wait… did you say “flavor up the beef”? Here’s where things get interesting…
Remember the post we made about the Puerto Rican ground meat? That’s going to be the base for the Sloppy José! The beef variation is preferable, but if you want to change it up to some other meat, that’s your definite choice! Follow our guidance, and this means the meat has flavor of its own, and the sauce is just a bonus.
I’m sure you’re thinking “What’s the point of the sauce then?”, but the answer is simple: why not layer the fairly sweet sauce on super savory meat? See where we’re heading now? Now you’re probably asking “Do you just pour Manwich sauce on ground beef and walk away?”, the answer to that is a hard, resounding NO!
Ground beef is fun and all, but it needs more flavor, more depth. So we add something dear to our hearts: sweet plantains! Mix the ground beef with a healthy dose of sweet chopped plantains either fried or baked until golden. Now you have some savory-sweet ground beef.
Now pick a sauce! Schools of thought say to use ketchup, others say to douse in Worchestershire, and others lean towards BBQ sauce. Us? We go with a zesty-sweet BBQ like a Bourbon-Chipotle BBQ Sauce or a blend of Honey BBQ with hot sauce. However, you’re welcome to choose your favorite sauce in this case. Now, I see you walking to the cupboard to grab that Manwich sauce… please stop. Stop now. If you’re looking for depth of flavor, we’d recommend a sweet and spicy BBQ sauce to pair with the savory-sweetness of the beef and plantain mixture. Stop with this Manwich nonsense! So go ahead and mix these up in a skillet over medium heat. Let the sauce thicken around the meat so the flavors can start to get along.
Lastly, to make this delicious monstrosity more visually appealing, toss in some caramelized onions and a fresh cilantro garnish. Then, stack this mix onto your carefully selected unafraid bun, chow down and enjoy! This is not your typical Manwich, this is a true Hombre-wich!
- 1lb Spanglish-style ground beef
- 1/2 cup of your favorite zesty-sweet BBQ sauce
- 1 cup of sweet plantains
- 4 sweet rolls/buns
- (optional) 1 tsp fresh cilantro
- (optional) 1 white onion (sliced) and 1 tsp olive oil (for caramelizing)
- Follow our recipe for preparing savory and delicious ground beef, Spanglish-style.
- Drain out any visible excess fat
- Place 1 tsp of olive oil in a skillet and let heat over medium heat.
- Toss in the onions and stir until coated with the oil.
- Cook over medium low heat until browned
- Head the BBQ sauce in a skillet over medium heat until it begins steaming
- Add beef to skillet and let cook together with the BBQ sauce.
- Once the BBQ sauce thickens around the meat, turn off heat and let cool slowly to let any excess moisture escape.
- Slice open the bun/roll, and place a hearty serving of the meat mixture on top.
- Garnish with fresh cilantro and your caramelized onions