I made Joe’s Special yesterday, and I did not serve it on a blue plate.
It is not Blue Plate Special, it is Joe’s Special, the San Francisco Treat.
San Francisco has a lot of restaurants named Joe’s (and there are plenty more in the outlying counties, including Marin Joe’s, down the road from me). I don’t know how, or whether, they are related.
But you can bet they all have Joe’s Special on their menus.
Theories abound on the origin of Joe’s Special: it was invented to feed hungry miners during the gold rush; it was a late-night concoction favored by jazz musicians after the dance halls closed for the evening in the 1920s; it was a… who knows? Who cares?
What we do know is that Joe’s Special is eggs, hamburger, onions and spinach, cooked in a skillet with seasonings and served with a glass of house red. And no fancy stemware, mind you; it has to be a juice glass or a milk glass, filled to the brim with plonk. You won’t want a refill.
You probably won’t want seconds on Joe’s Special either, because it’s a manly, hefty, meaty dish served in large portions.
Unless you eat at Cookiecrumb’s house, where it is an ethereal, sweet, locally sourced, beautiful blend.
On Tuesday I praised the recipes of Passionate Eater, and after making her fried rice dish the other day, I learned something.
Well, I attribute this lesson also to something Cranky made not long ago: A skillet melange of asparagus, mushrooms, onions and eggs. He cooked it all in one dish, the way Joe’s Special is traditionally made, and the asparagus oozed out its green liquid, which the eggs absorbed, preventing them from setting properly — and turning them a sickly shade of khaki.
Passionate Eater’s fried rice recipe calls for cooking the beaten eggs first, omelet style, and then setting it aside while you finish building the dish. At the last minute you add back the egg, breaking it up and stirring it through. Beautiful.
So for yesterday’s Joe’s Special, I scrambled my eggs first and set them aside while I fried the hamburger until it was crumbly and still a little bit pink.
The meat came out of the skillet, a bit of fat was poured off, and in went the onions and mushrooms. (Oh. Mushrooms. Yes, they are an acceptable embellishment on ordinary Joe’s, which makes the dish Special Joe’s Special.)
When they were all but done, I put the meat back in and tossed in a few handfuls of roughly hacked raw spinach. Lid on, steam until tender. Lid off, throw in the pristine eggs. Heat for a minute, stirring to get every ingredient flung about equally, and ohmygod, the world’s most beautiful nouveau Joe’s Special.
I call it Not Your Average Joe’s.
Seasoning notes: I’m still playing Eat Locally this month, so aside from a pinch of possibly local salt, I used local chile flakes and a fresh laurel leaf from my tree. The leaf adds so much: greenness, piney-ness, allspicey-ness… It’s elusive and very good. (Cook the meat with the leaf but don’t chicken out and remove it just because the meat becomes so perfumed; let it go back into the skillet with the mushrooms, etc., and then taste for flavor.)