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  • By Blake Royer Ever since writing about New York pizza...
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    What is a slider? A slider is a particular thing. It's particularly American. It's a small subset of our great culinary tradition, the hamburger. But as I explained last week, it's not just a mini-hamburger. To be a slider, it cannot be perverted with expensive ingredients like foie gras or tuna tartar, a cutesy version of a burger for a chef to play with. A slider consists of a thin layer of beef, American cheese, a soft bun, and way more onions than seem necessary or right. At some point in the cooking process, the meat should steam above the onions, turning the patty richly aromatic and strangely beefy considering its small stature.

    That's the secret about the slider, and why I am infatuated with them. It's that strange dichotomy of being petite yet robust, flavorful, and meaty despite its littleness. I can't think of many other dainty foods that have such a seedy reputation.

    And, yes, sliders are rather seedy. The slider joint has a stigma, booths haunted with the funk of cooking onions, a smell that seems to follow you out the door and all the way home. To get right to it, cooking these at home will make your place smell like White Castle. Perhaps this is why there aren't many recipes online for how to do it correctly. "Leave it to the take-out place," seems to be the message, or use just a little onion (or even onion salt). But these recipes are not authentic, nor as delicious.

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    But as I found out, making sliders at home is easy, cheap, and produces one of the best hamburgers I've ever eaten. By the end, it seems like a noble trade off. To be perfectly honest, I kind of like the aroma.

    I could easily show you how sliders are made at a White Castle, where most people have probably encountered them. But you could also find out for yourself, since the whole griddle is showcased behind glass. They just place ultra-thin frozen patties atop a bed of chopped onions. But I wanted to make the burgers from fresh meat. I wanted to do it how White Castle probably used to make burgers, before they switched to frozen patties.

    The question became: how do you get the patty so thin? Luckily, there are some places in New Jersey that still keep the slider flame alive and make them the real way. I need to point out the excellent coverage Nick Solares has done over on A Hamburger Today about this subject. One of his favorite places is White Manna, and that's where this video came from of the griddle man in action. This was my ticket. To my surprise the technique showcased in the shaky YouTube video was backed up by a comment that I got from George Motz, who wrote Hamburger America. I figured he'd eaten a few sliders in his day.

    Don’t pre-cook the onion. Use Vidalia (the way they do in Oklahoma), slice paper-thin on a mandoline so they cook faster, and never use a grind higher than 80/20. Smash the onion into the patty first – don’t wait to flip before you add the onion.

    And that's pretty much exactly how to do it. For the burger aficionados out there, it's like a modified Smash Burger. A small ball of meat is placed on the cooking surface, topped with thinly sliced onions, and then flattened with a spatula to the desired thickness. When the bottom is done, it's then flipped onto the onions to finish cooking. The second part, where the burgers steam on top of the onions, is the genius of sliders and why I love them so much.

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  • Dashi is the base of Japanese cuisine, and crucially important in making a simple miso soup.

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    I just wanted to make a bowl of miso soup.  That's all. It was going to be the first course of a casual dinner party, something that wouldn't require too much attention so I could focus and pull off the main course in a reasonable amount of time.  I figured all I needed was some miso paste, a hunk of tofu, and a seaweed or two to make it look right.  I was wrong.

    This perturbed me to no end. Japanese cuisine is not one I've indulged in that often, feeling far more comfortable across the Straight of Korea in, well...Korea. I find that cuisine brasher and more gloriously hedonistic. I certainly respect Japanese cuisine, but it's not one I've wanted to really figure out. Or at least not right now. Now I have no choice.

    To make a proper miso soup I needed to make dashi.  To make dashi I needed water, konbu, and bonito flakes. As for those last two ingredients?  I had no idea.  I just set off for my local Asian market figuring I'd run across them at some point.  There I spent well over thirty minutes trying to decipher labels with my nonexistent grasp of any Asian language. Finally, after a good 10 minutes sprawled out on the floor looking at the bottom shelf, I got the nerve to ask someone where I might find these things. She just laughed.

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    Konbu is dried kelp, which means my miso was going to have dried kelp and seaweed. Who knew?

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    As for the bonito, it's skipjack tuna that has been smoked and dried into something called katsuobushi.  This resulting wood-like block is then shaved into flakes and sold in plastic bags.  Of course, the bags of them were on the top shelf.

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    What about the miso?  In my mind miso was miso, but it turns out there are various kinds which vary in color and strength.  The recipe I was using called for shiro miso and aka miso.  I have much more to learn about this as well.

    As left the market with a bag of wakame (seaweed), dried kelp, two kinds of miso, a bag of bonito flakes, two packages of tofu, and scallions, I wondered how long this new obsession of mine would take and whether I'd ever get that first course out before the dinner guests got hungry.

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  • By Blake Royer One of nature’s gifts in winter is...
  • Ed. note: This is the third post in a "Repertoire" series on the interplay of food and style, with our friends The Midwestyle. We're helping their readers learn a few recipes, and they're teaching us a few things about doing it in style.

  • By Nick Kindelsperger A couple of Fridays ago, I showed...

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    A couple of Fridays ago, I showed up at my sister's house with a big hunk of pork belly, a pork butt, and some hickory sawdust, and for the next 8 hours I smoked meat.  I thought it would be a carefree time and a big improvement over the first time I tried to smoke meat.  I dreamed of watching the smoke pour out the side of that grill, while taking slow, steady drinks of a cold beer and listening to Hank Williams.  But my experiments don't always go as planned.  The first hour was chaotic.  I couldn't get the smoke to come and tried various ridiculous steps to figure something out.  But once it came, as the above picture does attest, it billowed.  I could do nothing but sit and stare at the smoke.  The moment was among the most satisfying experiences I have ever had. 

    I was spurred to smoke by a great barbecue book called Peace, Love, & Barbecue by Mike Mills and Amy Mills Tunnicliffe.  Their book had a recipe for the perfect pulled pork, which I'll write about that later.  But with the smoke pouring out, I thought I would tackle bacon again.  I needed to right a few wrongs. 

    My previous attempt wasn't necessarily a disaster, it just turned out differently than I had wanted.  That River Cottage approved bacon was heavily salted and perfect for stews, big pots of beans, and other hearty dishes.  But I wanted breakfast bacon.  I wanted a maple syrup tinge and I wanted smoke.  I realized I'd need to hunker down and really figure how to do this right.