The Seahawks ended their season on Sunday so our game day gatherings have come to an end. It was a fine finale. In addition to being an intense playoff match, it was Jeff’s birthday celebration. Of course, I obsessed about the food for far too long. I even asked for suggestions on Facebook. I wanted a special menu that catered to Jeff’s tastes, but was still suitable for eating in front of the big screen.
Jeff’s birthday menus are always challenging. By mid-January we are sated with formal feasting and special event fare. Now that we are doing the football thing, many of our favorite comfort foods have come and gone. It’s not quite time to usher in our Heart-Healthier February tradition. The trouble is that Jeff is a really nice guy who is perfectly happy with almost everything. My suggestions tend to be met with “Sure, that sounds good”. Ugh. “Perfectly happy” isn’t good enough. A spouse’s birthday meal needs oomph. I had resigned myself to making fish tacos. I was making a mental shopping list when my thumbs twitched and texted Lamb Sloppy Joes? Bingo! His response was an immediate triple-smiley-face-emoticon-party. YES!
Jeff loves Sloppy Joes. They were celebration food for his family. Personally, I don’t get it. They are just so….sloppy. Over the past 25 years I’ve tried to make them a handful of times with disastrous results. I even bought the canned stuff once. Horrible. This time, I vowed not to try and recreate the mythical family recipe. I would just make a top notch, meaty ragu and spoon it onto good buns. I printed out this Chowhound recipe as a framework and started tweaking it instantly. Instead of ground beef, I trimmed the fat from a whole leg of lamb and coarsely ground it myself. I used green, red, and jalapeño peppers, tomato puree, and more spices. I cooked the stew low and slow for 4 hours, let it rest overnight, and then cooked it for another two hours on game day. I layered in flavors at every step until it was thick, rich, and complicated. Shortly before service I glugged in what might be considered an alarming amount of Tabasco sauce for acidity and bite and added fresh rosemary and parsley for perfume. When our guests first heard that I was serving Sloppy Joes, their smiles plasticized. We were soon groaning converts.
There’s a good chance I won’t make these again. They were really good, but two day, freshly ground lamb Sloppy Joes aren’t going to rise like cream to the top of my recipe rotation. Luckily, everyone also loved the peanut and cabbage slaw I threw together as a crunchy accompaniment. It took less than 10 minutes, so it will make regular appearances on our midweek dinner table.
Spicy Peanut Slaw Dressing
I tossed this dressing with 5 cups of thinly sliced white cabbage and 1 cup of finely julienned carrot and then let it rest for about 30 minutes to soften. I stirred in the peanuts just before serving, so they stayed crunchy. If you don’t have sambal oelek, use a good pinch of red chile flakes and 1-2 cloves of pressed garlic, or substitute sriracha sauce. I think a good slaw should be bright and salty, but you can cut back on the salt, sugar, and vinegar if you like. Double check that your oils are fresh! Nothing can spoil a fresh dish like this faster than rancid oil. I’m curious to try this dressing tossed with grated celery root and green onion.
Yield: about 2/3 cup
1 tablespoon natural peanut butter
1 tablespoon sambal oelek or more to taste
½ teaspoon grated ginger
3 tablespoons unseasoned rice vinegar
2 tablespoons peanut oil (I recommend Lion & Globe brand, available at Asian markets)
2 tablespoons light vegetable oil
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1 tablespoon brown sugar
2 teaspoons kosher salt
In a medium bowl, whisk together the peanut butter, sambal oelek and ginger together. Gradually add the vinegar. Keep whisking it until it is evenly combined, then gradually whisk in the oils. (I didn’t actually do this, and instead had to keep whisking until the globs of cold peanut butter worked their way into a cohesive dressing. Live and learn.) Season with the sugar and salt.
NOTE: Unlike the recipes published in Mastering Sauces, My Spontaneous Sauce Recipes are quickly jotted down and not meticulously tested. Please make adjustments as you see fit.