Sunday, November 18th, 2007
7:35 am - The Cuisine of Northern New Jersey...  
Have been spending the weekend getting back to my culinary roots. I have the upcoming week off, so yesterday at the market I picked up a bunch of cold cuts for lunchs. The first thing I did with them when I got home was make a Sloppy Joe. Now, if you're from anywhere other than northern New Jersey, a Sloppy Joe is ground beef in barbeque sauce on a bun. And until I started working at the Wicker Basket deli after college, that's what I thought it was, too. But there's another kind of Sloppy Joe, and it's terrific.

Take three slices of rye bread and butter all three. The bread should be from a largish deli loaf. You want good sized slices. Place a slice of Swiss cheese on two of the bread slices. (I prefer Muenster, instead, but it was always Swiss back then.) Now for the meat. At the deli we would make about forty of these every morning, then wrap them up and sell them throughout the day. It let us use up the ends of the meat, the stuff that tasted fine, but wasn't as attractive as cold cuts from the center of the piece of meat. The first slice of bread always got some kind of ham, be it boiled ham, baked ham, capicola, etc. Whatever was available. (I usually use honey ham at home.) We used a thin layer, usually just one slice, at the deli, but I'm far more generous at home. The second slice of bread gets a different meat. At the deli we'd use roast beef, corned beef, turkey, and when the boss wasn't paying attention to what the old German guys were doing, beef tongue. At home I always use roast beef. No tongue!

The next step is to spread out a layer of well-drained cole slaw on top of each meat layer. Then spread some Russian dressing on top of that. We made our own from mayo, pickle relish, and just enough chili sauce to turn it pink. I still make it the same way. Time for assembly. Put the roast beef layer on top of the ham layer, and top it all off with the third slice of bread. Cut into quarters. I usually eat them immediately, but if you wrap it up and stick it in the fridge for an hour or two it firms up a little, making it a little less messy to eat. These days I tend to leave out the middle slice of bread, putting the cheese and roast beef (but no cole slaw) on the top slice and carefully inverting it over the ham layer. Still good, but probably sloppier than the traditional recipe. Bread seems to do a better job of keeping the slaw from squirting out.

We also made a larger version, using slices of rye cut lengthwise from a deli loaf. These got sliced up into finger sandwichs.

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For breakfast this morning I had another staple of Jersey cuisine, a Taylor ham and cheese sandwich. In my family we usually make these on English muffins, but I had all this deli rye lying around, so I used that. Nummy.