September 2, 2011
or, Moribund the Hamburgermeister
One of the many marvelous things I acquired on the single greatest day of garage sale-hunting in American history was a meat grinder. Not a hand-cranked jobbie, no: I’ve got one of those – an ancient piece of work from the 1930s. I’m sure it works, but it’s more decorative than anything, and, more than that, I can’t really find any surface in my apartment to attach it to.
No, what I acquired was a never-before-used Krups Butcher Shop – a fully-automatic, electric plug-in combination meat grinder, pastry extruder, sausage-maker, and ice-crusher. Also makes julienne fries (no it does not). They don’t make the Butcher Shop anymore, which is a shame. Krups pretty much only makes coffee machines now, and coffee-and-spice grinders.
But I bought this fabulous workhorse, capable of grinding 2.2 pounds of meat per minute (it says so on the box!), and my mind flooded with ideas.
When you use it as a pastry extruder, it’s possible to make cookie sticks, which is probably one of the most dangerous phrases you will read in your entire life. We’ll cover cookie sticks when the weather gets cooler and I can start baking again in earnest, as opposed to what I do now: hatefully turning on the oven, giving myself a sweat-bath, and pulling some hard-won chunk of breadstuff out of the hotbox, cursing all the way.
But the best idea yet came to me after Michael and I cased a museum. My friend Michael stayed with me for a bit, recently: we made beer together, beer from which I developed my spent-grain bread recipe. I’d send him out on the town during the day while I worked, and we’d adventure at night. I should explain about the casing the museum: I’m writing a book, a YA book in which teenagers have to pull off fabulous heists in famous Chicago locations. To that end, Michael and I went to a Particular Chicago Museum that houses a Particular German Sea-Vessel. My friend [redacted], who was kind enough to give us a tour, was wise to our scheme, and pointed out various things on the U-505 that we could steal. You know. In the book.
Anyway, Michael and I were in the car, windows down, headed north on Lake Shore Drive up from the museum, on the way to meet his friend (now my friend) Sharon, for dinner. And out of nowhere I hollered, “MICHAEL!”
He went, “What!?”
I said, “TINY HAMBURGERS.”
“What about them?” His long hair seemed to form a question mark in the breeze.
“WE’RE MAKING THEM. TOMORROW.”
“From scratch?” he said.
“Oh yes,” I said. “Everything from scratch.”
It should be noted that, when it comes to food, Michael is almost as, but not as insanely, devoted as I am. Like me, he keeps a jar of schmaltz in his fridge. Like me, he’s willing to take on absurd food adventures at a moment’s notice. Unlike me, he’s apparently pretty good at making pork chops.
Needless to say, sliders were nothing the two of us couldn’t accomplish with our combined powers.
First, a definition:
Slider. /ˈslaɪ.dər/ Noun. Americanism. A small, round sandwich, usually two to three inches in diameter, generally with a ground-beef filling. Named for the way they are said to slide down one’s gullet. Slyder™, with a y, was once a trademark of the fast food company, White Castle, which is known for its tiny hamburgers.
2011: D. Rheinstrom, The Clean Platter 9/2/2011, “Let’s go make some friggin’ sliders.”
We knew we wanted to grind our own meat. It’s safer, because you know what you’re putting into the meat, it doesn’t stay compromised and uncooked for long, and you get to control precisely the proportion of fat and lean tissue that goes into the mix.
We decided we were going to do several different kinds of sliders – The Classic - American-cheese and grilled onion burger – the Beet’n and Bleu, which, well, features sliced, cooked beets and bleu cheese, and the You Go Your Way, I’ll Gomae Way, which features wasabi mayonnaise, Japanese gomae spinach salad, and a single slice of pickled ginger (gari).
We also did a last-minute Edamame Burger, which I wanna call Ed’yo-mame’s-so-dumb-she-doesn’t-know-veggie-burgers-are-delicious. But I won’t. Because it’s too long.
Slider Day had four components:
1. The Buns
2. Curd-istani Corn Salad
3. Cheater’s Gomae
4. The Burgers
Setup 1: Buns
You certainly don’t have to make the buns, which we made from this King Arthur Flour recipe; just make sure to make the buns half as small as the recipe directs you to, and when it says 2 tablespoons of butter in the ingredients list, it means 2 tablespoons of melted butter.
But you could totally just buy slider buns somewhere. They definitely sell them everywhere.
Setup 2: Curd-istani Corn Salad
A spicy side dish for Wisconsinites, or those who wish they were
A brief prefatory note: I understand this has nothing to do with Kurdish food. I don’t think the Kurds have corn – I would assume that cucumber would predominate more. No, this recipe came about because Carolyn acquired some cheese curds, and, despite not being from Wisconsin (ahem, honey), professes a profound love for them. Okay, fine, she has Wisconsin roots, but she also has a tiny rack of antlers mounted on a wooden outline of the state of Ohio. You can’t serve two masters, Carolyn.
A secondary prefatory note: Some of you may not know what Wisconsin Cheese Curds are. They’re the fresh byproduct of cheese production – small hunks of mildly-flavored curd that squeak between your teeth in a really pleasing way. I popped them into this hot corn salad for fun, and Carolyn was delighted.
- 3 cups fresh corn kernels (about two ears of corn)
- 1/2 an onion, roughly chopped
- 3 garlic cloves, chopped fine
- 1 jalapeño pepper, seeded (or not!) and chopped fine
- 1/2 cup cherry or grape tomatoes, halved
- 1/2 cup fresh cheese curds, or Chihuahua cheese (if this, then cut into smallish chunks)
- 2 tsp olive oil
- juice of half a lime
1. Divest the ears of their kernels: I like to do this by breaking the cob in half, placing the broken, now-flat side down on the cutting board and making stable, slow cuts down the length of the cob.
2. Heat the oil in a medium-sized skillet or pot, and saute the aromatics – the onion, the garlic, and the hot pepper. Stir briskly until the onion has softened, 5 minutes or so.
3. Dump in the corn and heat everything through – you’re looking for a slight change in color, but not much – you don’t have to cook the kernels until they turn brown, just till they brighten a bit. It doesn’t take much to cook corn; I can eat it raw. This should take maybe two or three minutes.
4. Add in the tomatoes and stir to combine. Once they’re heated through, about a minute, kill the heat.
5. With the heat off, add in the cheese and stir – the residual heat should make the cheese slightly melty, but they should retain their essential shapes. Add in the lime juice, as well as some finely-chopped cilantro, if you’ve got it.
Setup 3: Cheater’s Gomae
A traditional dish for people who hate tradition
Horenso no goma ae (spinach in sesame sauce) is a traditional japanese salad. You boil the spinach and then grind sesame seeds with sugar in a pottery mortar (suribachi) with a wooden pestle (surikogi) and add water and soy sauce until they become a fine paste. Then you dress the boiled spinach with the paste.
Well. I have neither pestle nor patience for that kind of tradition. Not when I’ve got pre-made sesame paste in my fridge. That’s right. Tahini!
A very not-Japanese thing.
This is how I make gomae, which, by dint of its inauthenticity, I call Cheater’s Gomae. Let’s go steal a tradition.
- 10 ounces frozen, chopped spinach, or 1.5 lbs fresh spinach
- 2 tbsp tahini paste
- 1 to 2 tsp honey
- 1 tsp soy sauce, or to taste
- 2 tsp black sesame seeds (kuro goma)
- 2 tsp white sesame seeds
1. Either blanch the fresh spinach in boiling, salted water, or defrost and drain the frozen spinach. Squeeeeeze as much liquid as possible out of the spinach.
2. Slice the spinach into ribbons with a knife, or, if you’re using frozen, chopped spinach, skip this step.
3. In a bowl, mix the tahini, the honey, and the soy sauce, until it tastes how you desire it. From here, you can either toss the spinach with the dressing, or keep them separate until service. Regardless, keep them both in the fridge; gomae is best when it’s nice and cold.
4. When you’re ready to serve it, either A) take a clump of spinach and drizzle it with the dressing or B) take a clump of already-mixed spinach and sprinkle it with the sesame seeds.
Setup 4: The Burgers
For people who love themselves very much
For the burgers, Michael and I turned to J. Kenji Lopez-Alt, a man who takes his hamburgers very seriously. We’re talking about the man who had an In-N-Out burger dissected, divided into zip-loc bags, and air-freighted from Los Angeles to New York so he could study the thing in his burger lab.
So when it comes to making hamburgers from scratch, Lopez-Alt is the man to consult. After reading a number of his perfect-mix recipes, we decided to use a mix of chuck, short-rib, and brisket, but when I went to the (glorious, marvelous, WHOLESALE) Chicago Meat Market, they were fresh outta brisket. So chuck and short rib it was.
You could totally just use chuck (which is the beef shoulder and neck primal cut), but Lopez-Alt likes the mix of fat and connective tissue that you get from the three meats in combination. To make up for the lack of brisket, I asked politely for some beef fat, and received it in abundance, for something like 20 cents a pound (“what the heck were we gonna do with it anyway?” the butcher said to me. But more to the point, what the heck am I going to do with the rest of it?).
Slider Pre-Fab Meatmix
- 2 parts chuck
- 1 part short rib
- 1/4 part unrendered beef fat
1. Before you begin, freeze everything for at least an hour, including every component of your meat grinder – the die, the chute, everything. It should be as cold as possible so as not to smear the meat, and make sure that everything comes out cleanly.
2. Cut up the meat and fat into one-inch cubes; separate the short ribs from the bones; reserve the bones for stock and throw them into the freezer for later.
3. Grind the meat. Michael and I could only watch, awestruck, as the magical grinder churned out fluffy pink snowdrifts of meat. I was in love.
4. Form the meat into smallish, loosely-packed pucks of meat, and lay them in piles, on a plate. They should weigh no more than two ounces.
Here’s the edamame burger recipe I used, except I switched out the millet with quinoa – it takes the same amount of time to cook. Also, lose the panko – it’ll make them crumble and fall apart. Make this mix well-ahead of time (maybe the day before), or your kitchen will be a god-awful mess.
Now you’ve got everything in order. It’s time for…
I’m pretty sure there’s only one way to cook a hamburger indoors, and that’s in cast iron. You might want to consider getting a splatter screen, though, because these burgers will generate a lot of hot fat (in fact, it might behoove me to eliminate the extra fat in the mix, but I doubt it will), and it will spatter all over your cooktop.
1. Let the iron skillet get nice and hot.
2. Lightly salt and pepper them, and then cook the patties for 2 to 4 minutes a side, until they reach your desired doneness.
3. When one batch of burgers is complete, shunt them off to a waiting (nice and hot) plate.
4. Begin assembly!
The Beet’n and Bleu probably should have had less bleu cheese on it.
The You-Go-Your-Way-I’ll-Gomae-Way’s wasabi mayonnaise requires about a teaspoon or so of dry wasabi powder stirred into a quarter-cup of mayo. Maybe less, maybe more, depending on your preferences. I like to spread mayo on the lower bun, and hot Chinese mustard on the top, with a lil’ bit of gari atop the patty for fun. Plop a little bit of gomae onto the bun and go to town, my friend.
Here’s the veggie version of the Japanese slider! Hello, there:
These sliders will all disappear. Like, immediately. So secure some for yourself, to explore the various flavors you’ve created. And branch out! Invent all sorts of crazy toppings. In fact, don’t even stick to beef, or even hamburgers! Make tiny sausage patties out of pork! Or shrimp! Put crabcakes on a bun! Zucchini latkes! Polenta! The world is your oyster. Oo! Oysters! Make tiny po’ boys.
Whatever you do, tell me about it in the comments.
Enjoy! Have a lovely Labor Day Weekend, America, and happy cooking!
* ON THE SUBJECT OF MAYONNAISE ON HAMBURGERS
It’s really popular to hate on mayonnaise. It’s fun to look at mayo and be like, “Ew, that’s a horrible, boring white-people condiment.” Fine. Whatever.
You know what’s really sexy and cool right now? Aioli. It’s everywhere. It’s on the haughtiest haute-cuisine menus; it’s in neighborhood bars gamely attempting to turn themselves into gastropubs; it’s got 222 hits on the Food Network website.
Guess what aioli is.
Yeah. I dare you.
IT’S GARLICKY MAYONNAISE.
Now get over yourselves and start putting mayo on the bottom buns of your hamburgers. Here’s why – fat repels liquid. A thin layer of mayo will protect the bun from the gradually-seeping meat juices of the burger, which prevents it from getting all soggy, and, as a bonus, creates an amazing, savory sauce that acts as another note in the meat-chord that is burger.