Thursday, April 7, 2011

Oh Sweet Mercy…Loose Meat Sandwiches!

loosemeat sandwichGrowing up in the 80’s, I watched Roseanne a lot. One thing I was always curious about was the mysterious “Loose Meat” Sandwich. Several months ago, I searched for the recipe and found one. It was pretty tasty. Last night, I couldn’t think of anything that sounded good for supper. Then all of a sudden, Loose Meat dropped into my head and set my saliva glands into overdrive. I searched again for a recipe, this time finding a different one – and boy am I glad I did! This recipe blows the other one away…(Click on the picture to get a nice close-up view of this amazing sandwich!)

I have completely fallen in love with the Loose Meat Sandwich. Totally. Utterly. Head-over-heels, even. I’m eating them for breakfast right now as a matter of fact. And yes, I said ‘them’. I won’t elaborate on how many that entails…

It’s a fairly simple sandwich, although there is a technique involved and it does take a bit of time. But it is worth every second slaving over that hot stove to create this amazing little Midwestern delicacy.

They are known by several names. Maid Rite. Nu Way. Tavern Sandwiches. Apparently, they originated in  1924 at the Ye Olde Tavern in Sioux City, Iowa. I’ve never heard of them in my neck of the Midwestern woods, but I tell you…after making The Blue Mill Tavern Loosemeat Sandwich recipe I found last night on, well, let’s just say I wouldn’t be opposed to spontaneously jumping in the van and driving to Iowa for lunch. Seriously, they’re THAT good! Only, I won't have to because I can make them at home.

There are a few other recipes floating around out there, but plantfreek, who posted the recipe, says:
“If you see a recipe for loosemeats that contains tomato juice-run! A loosemeat is a sloppy joe without the slop-so stay away from anything tomato-ey please!” (Be sure to check out the original recipe here and read the "About This Recipe" on the right...very informative and a great read!)
The first recipe I tried contained ground beef, onion, salt and pepper. That’s it. It was really good! Sounds kind of plain, but really, the way it’s cooked (especially if you use a cast iron skillet) and the toppings make it taste amazing.

And then…there’s The Blue Mill Tavern Loosemeat. With just a slight twist on the first recipe I found, it moved from an amazing sandwich to Sweet-Mercy-I-Have-Lived-Come-Take-Me-Now-Lord-delicious. My taste buds nearly leaped off my tongue in anticipation of delving into this was all I could do to keep from rushing the process and derailing perfection. Yeah, I love them that much!

Ok…I’ve extolled the virtuous taste of these sandwiches long enough. Let’s get to the meat of the matter…
  • 1 pound good quality ground chuck, round or sirloin
  • (if using round or sirloin) 1 Tb lard
  • 2 tsp salt, just enough to lightly coat the bottom of your skillet
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • 1 Tb yellow prepared mustard
  • 1 Tb white vinegar
  • 1 Tb sugar
  • water, enough to cover
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • hamburger buns
  • dill pickle slices
  • yellow prepared mustard
Get out a cast iron skillet. They absolutely are the best...if you don't have one, borrow one! Pre-heat skillet over medium heat. When skillet is heated thoroughly, sprinkle salt in the skillet and add ground beef.
**IMPORTANT** Using the back of a wooden spoon, crumble the meat as it cooks. It's essential that the meat is cooked in little crumbles. I don't have a wooden spoon...odd as that sounds (I'm waiting until I can get a good set of olive wood utensils) I used a metal spatula and kind of chopped it as it cooked, and that worked just fine. Add the onion and cook while browning the meat. Keep using the spoon or spatula to crumble the meat as it cooks.
When the meat is cooked, drain off any fat and return to the skillet. One of the comments left on this recipe said when you think the meat is done, cook it for five more minutes. Then cook it for one to two minutes more. This gives it a crispy crunchiness and tavern flavor. 
Next, add the mustard, vinegar, sugar, and enough water to barely cover the meat. Simmer, stirring occasionally, until ALL the water has disappeared...about 15 to 20 minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste.
Loosemeats are traditionally served on steamed buns, some like them toasted. I've made them both ways and they're both delicious. I think steaming them is quicker...toss them in a steamer basket for about 20 seconds and that's it.
Put some of the meat on the bottom bun, generously top with pickles and mustard. Top off with the top of the bun. Cast off all restraint and dig in!

Two comments that helped the most in the original posting of the recipe are what I noted above about cooking the meat until it's kind of crispy and crunchy. I'm not talking about cooking it until it's hard little pellets, but you'll start to notice the crumbles getting brown and crispy on the edges. The other comment that was helpful was regarding the simmering. The commenter stated to simmer, simmer, simmer and simmer some's essential that ALL the water is cooked out. This kind of leaves a carmelized coating on the crumbles. I tasted the meat at several stages during the cooking process and truly, the flavor you're after doesn't fully develop until the last few minutes. Be patient. If you's worth it!
Plantfreek also said don't mess with the least not the first time you make it. It's a very authentic rendition of the actual Blue Mill Tavern recipe, so make it like this first to experience it then tweak it if you think it needs it. Honestly, as a habitual recipe-tweaker, it was hard not to start adding things like garlic or whatever, but after making this, I wouldn't change a thing. It's perfect as is!
Of course, if you don't like pickles or mustard, you won't like the traditional way these are served: with plenty of both. I, however, love both and the slightly sweet taste of the meat balanced out with the salty, vinegary pickles and mustard are an absolute delight to my taste buds!
This wasn't as nourishing as I aim for because I used commercially-prepared hamburger buns made with white-death flour. But, I used good-quality locally raised ground chuck, sea salt, and home-canned pickles. So, it was mostly nourishing...and sometimes, that's the best that can come out of my kitchen. If I had planned ahead, I would have made my own hamburger buns and used grass-fed beef. There's always  next time...and this is one recipe I will make as often as I can get away with! I'm hoping that  means I can make them a lot since my husband said, in response to my comment about if we ever find ourselves in Iowa I want to eat the real deal there, "we could always move to Iowa..." 

Seriously, they really are that good!

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