Kachemak Cuisine: Korean-inspired Sloppy Joes adds twist to old favorite

The Other Fisherman and I went to Anchorage recently. We spent time with family, enjoying our little grandkids who grow way too quickly at their ages of almost 3 years old and 9 months. The only shopping trips we made were to tear ourselves away from them long enough to go to the meat market, Fred Meyer and New Sagaya for dinner ingredients. We enjoyed dinner at the kids’ home each evening because taking our very active and inquisitive grandson out to a restaurant is not an option at this point. McDonald’s Playland is better suited to his age group, attention span and energy level.

It’s fun to shop at different stores when I’m out of town, especially for the varied selection and fresher produce. When I travel outside of Alaska, this is always a highlight of any trip I make, whether it’s to Spain or Virginia. My favorite way to get to know about regional specialties, cuisine and culture is to shop at the small grocery stores and farmers markets.

Mark and I were raised in an area of Wisconsin that was populated by German and Polish descendants who brought the art and skills of meat cutting and sausage making with them when they immigrated to America. They passed their trade on to subsequent generations, and when we were growing up, our area held a treasure trove of small, family-run meat markets. Ticker Reichenberger cut fabulous steaks, and sold tasty home-made wieners at his market. Brandon Meats, which is still in business, does wild game processing and makes delicious sausage. The Pipe meat market smokes and sells the best bacon you have ever tasted. Each meat market had their own version of house-made bratwurst, each one a little different tasting due to the spice recipe used.

Grocery shopping in Wisconsin was pretty different a generation ago, ignoring the whole “exchanging money for food” similarity. The trip probably happened in a much smaller store. Carts lacked the convenience of a hot beverage holder. Organic was a twinkle in the produce section’s eye. The butcher who ran the meat department gave little sister and me hot dogs to munch on while Mom shopped, not fruit. I hope that a few of these hand-me down family run markets remain in business for my grandkids to discover someday.

From our Anchorage trip, we brought home thick, smoked pork chops, bacon, and a ham hock that were smoked in-house. Ever since I tasted the smoked pork chops that are house smoked from a little meat market in northern Lake Tomahawk, Wisconsin, I’ve craved them.

The other thing I can’t let go of right now is the spicy taste of Korean influenced dishes. Possibly the hot and spicy flavors are helping to keep me warm this winter — very different from the recipe we loved that Mom made when I was a kid with the tomato base and kick of Worcestershire sauce and onion. She would serve them on soft hamburger buns baked in-house from the neighborhood Super Value with a side of Wisconsin made pickles and potato chips.

One of the first things I do when I visit the mother country is go to the store and buy a jar of Milwaukee’s Best pickles and a box (not bag) of Old Dutch potato chips. What makes Old Dutch noteworthy is a form of packaging that ties them to last generation’s brands. It is something found only in the Midwest. It is glorious, sturdy and picnic-appropriate. It is the twin pack box: two artless, airtight bags tucked into a cardboard box.

Other must haves are Meyer’s Golden Bell wieners and cheese curds fresh from the Union Star cheese factory in Zittau, Wisconsin, only available on Tuesdays. And thank you, yes, I will wash that all down with a brandy old-fashioned cocktail. Can you see me smiling right now thinking about these locally made specialties?

This recipe for Korean-inspired sloppy joes and quick pickles is perfect for a quick weeknight dinner or even to serve during a Super Bowl party. It is generations away from Mom’s. The tasty factor is still there, but Mom’s version will always remain my favorite.

Korean-Inspired Sloppy Joes and Quick Pickles

Adapted from the Food Network – Rachel Ray

Ground pork and beef are mixed with ingredients like pears, sesame oil and gochujang to create this quick, easy, Korean-inspired take on the old favorite sloppy joe. The Quick Korean Pickles add a sweet crunch that rounds out the sandwich.

Ingredients

Pickles:

1 seedless English cucumber

1/4 cup rice wine vinegar

2 tablespoons superfine sugar (if you don’t stock superfine sugar, put regular sugar in a blender and whisk until fine)

1 tablespoon gochugaru Korean chili flakes or chili paste

1 1/2 teaspoons salt

1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil

1 teaspoon toasted sesame seeds

Sloppy Joes:

1 Asian pear or Bosc pear

1 onion, red or yellow

4 cloves garlic

1-inch ginger root

Neutral oil, such as peanut or safflower

1-pound ground beef

½-pound ground pork

Salt and pepper

1 tablespoon soy sauce

1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce, Lea and Perrins preferred brand

¼-1/3 cup gochujang Korean paste (depending on your spice level)

1 cup beef or chicken stock

1 tablespoon light brown sugar

1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil

4 to 6 soft large hamburger rolls (buy quality sesame seeded rolls)

4 scallions, whites and greens, chopped

2 green chilies, fresh finger or jalapeno, or pickled jalapeno peppers

Cilantro

Directions

1. For the pickles: Thinly slice the cucumber 1/4- to 1/8-inch thick. In a bowl, whisk up rice wine vinegar, sugar, chili flakes, salt and sesame oil. Add sliced cucumbers and toss.

2. For sloppy joes: Peel and grate the pear on a wide tooth of box grater. Peel and chop the onion and slice or grate the garlic and ginger.

3. Heat a skillet over medium-high to high heat. Add the oil, 2 turns of the pan, then add the meats and brown and crumble. Season with salt and pepper. Add pear, onions, garlic and ginger and stir a couple of minutes to soften. Add soy sauce, Worcestershire, chili paste, stock, sugar and sesame oil. Bring to a bubble and reduce heat to simmer, 10 to 15 minutes.

4. Serve beef on rolls with scallions and fresh or pickled chili peppers and quick pickles.

* Gochujang is a red chile paste that also contains glutinous rice, fermented soybeans, salt, and sometimes sweeteners. It’s a thick, sticky condiment that’s spicy and very concentrated and pungent in flavor. It is a new favorite addition in my kitchen.

Cook’s note: You can also serve sloppy joe meat mixture in lettuce wraps for a lower carb version.

Reach Teri Robl at easthood.queen@gmail.com.

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