Sunday, March 18, 2012

Picadillo Joe.

A hot mess, no matter what you call it. © Ryan Schierling
A few weeks ago, I got to thinking about soup sandwiches. Not soup or sandwiches, or soup with a sandwich, but a home-cooked sloppy-joe knock-off that I remembered from childhood. There was ground beef, probably some tomato paste and worcestershire, and a can of Campbell's condensed vegetable soup (with the alphabet pasta!), cooked down into a thick, saucy filling and spooned onto cheap, white hamburger buns. It wasn't a Manwich, it wasn't a sloppy joe. It was a soup sandwich, and it was a messy delight. 

I was probably feeling more nostalgic than actually craving a sloppy joe, or whatever you want to call it, but I just couldn't let it go. I stood at the grocery store looking at the cans of Manwich sauce and the generic sloppy joe sauce, and thought that, despite not having eaten a soup sandwich in more than 20 years, I had to be able to do better than a pre-packaged, super-corn-syruped sauce that was basically nothing more than spiced ketchup. I thought about similar ingredients and the textures and flavors I was hankering for. I imagined making a grown-up sloppy joe that, despite a few challenging additions, even kids would want to eat. 

I started thinking about picadillo, and the similarities and differences between the Spanish, Mexican and Cuban versions of the dish. 

I was thinking too much. 

I mean, picadillo is a peasant food no matter which country it comes from, and not much more than a ground meat hash served over rice, or scooped into a tortilla. The list in my muddled head kind of clarified itself after that – I grabbed a pound of 80/20 ground chuck from the butcher and a container of PikNik Original Shoestring Potatoes from the chips and salty snacks aisle. 

Wait, what? 

Sorry if I lost you there for a second. I may be going to fancy up your sloppy joe with this multi-cultural homage, but we're also still catering to my nostalgia here. See, when we had sloppy joes at grandma's house, there was always a side of those tiny little fried shoestring potatoes that went perfectly with a saucy, savory soup sandwich. All I'm doing is taking the diced potato that's usually in the Campbell's vegetable soup, or in most versions of picadillo, and fiddling with it a little. And, you know, for me to serve this without those crispy little potato snacks would be unconscionable.

Aside from the beef and shoestring potatoes, we had everything else in the fridge or pantry. But when I laid out potential ingredients on the counter, I was a little afraid, because there were some big, unmistakable flavors – capers, green olives, golden raisins (from Spanish and Cuban picadillo)... adding jalapeño and adobo (variations on Mexican picadillo) and chili sauce (my own diversion) into the mix was either going to result in a overly-fussy-food fight or some serious culinary kumbaya. Thankfully, after rolling the dice, everything played well together and I ended up with exactly the grown-up soup sandwich I was looking to get all over my face, and hands, and shirt... aaaaaand the floor.

Picadillo Joe 

1 pound 80/20 ground chuck*
1/2 of a medium onion, chopped (1/2 cup)
1 clove garlic, minced
1 large carrot, diced (1/4 cup)
2 jalapeño peppers, seeded, diced (1/4 cup)
1 1/2 cups chili sauce
1 cup water
1 teaspoon chile powder
1/2 teaspoon cumin
2 tablespoons adobo sauce (from a can of chipotle peppers in adobo)
2 tablespoons worcestershire sauce
1/3 cup sliced green olives
1 heaping tablespoon capers, drained
1/4 cup golden raisins
PikNik Original shoestring potatoes 

In a large skillet over medium heat, brown ground beef with chopped onion. Drain any additional fat off once the beef is cooked and the onion is soft. Add garlic, carrot, jalapeño pepper, chili sauce, water, chile powder and cumin, adobo sauce, olives and capers. Give the mixture a good pinch of salt, stir well and cover. Simmer over medium-low heat until the carrots are just al dente, about 25-30 minutes. Take the lid off the skillet, add the raisins and stir again. Simmer, uncovered for another five minutes. The mixture should be thick and able to hold its shape when spooned onto a bun. If it's still a little loose, simmer uncovered until the correct consistency is achieved. Adjust seasoning to taste. 

Butter and toast hamburger buns under the broiler in your oven, scoop the picadillo onto a bun and top with shoestring potatoes. Napkins will be mandatory. 

*I also used a 12-ounce package of Lightlife Smart Ground "original veggle protein crumbles," in place of the ground beef, for a second preparation of this dish (for Julie). It tasted close enough to the original version that I didn't make any additional alterations except adding a few glugs of olive oil to sauté the onion and Smart Ground in since there's not really any fat to it. 

Serves 6.

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