Sunday, November 20, 2011
Let's be honest here - I could eat White Castles for breakfast, lunch and dinner. I've been enchanted with White Castle ever since I had my first slider sometime around 1980 when I ate 20 of them in a single sitting. The Drum & Bugle Corps I was traveling with stopped at a WC and a friend bet me that I couldn't eat a "tall sack". Well, 20 cheeseburgers later I had an army of empty slider boxes and a bit of a sick stomach, but I kept them down and earned $20 bucks on the bet (thanks Nanook!).
Most people cringe at the thought of eating White Castle at any other time of day than 2:00 in the morning after the bars close down. To me, they are an anytime treat. Today, I took my 2 girls to WC in Algonquin, IL and we enjoyed a slider lunch. Later this afternoon, I decided to try my hand at a homemade slider while my earlier lunch was still fresh in my mind. I've browsed a few recipes claiming to replicate the signature White Castle slider, but I could tell from reading them that none them were even close. Just because a hamburger is thin, tiny and has onions does NOT mean that it tastes anything like a White Castle burger. I've probably eaten 100's, if not close to a thousand, sliders over the last 30 years. I've intently watched them grill the delicious burgers from the customer side of the counter and I've savored every one of them. So with that being said, here's my take on a very close to White Castle slider recipe and cooking technique, as well as a few ideas about what I'll do differently next time. It's really pretty basic.
First, the hamburger. I'm using one pound 80/20 ground chuck. Dash of coarse kosher salt and some fresh ground pepper, one egg white. Mix and smoosh together this ground beef very well by hand (about 3 - 5 minutes) until the consistency gets smooth and everything stays firmly together. Layout a sheet of waxed paper. Take about 1/4 of the ground beef and flatten it onto the waxed paper. Put another layer of waxed paper on top of it and gently flatten to a very thin sheet with a rolling pin. It needs to be about as thin as you can get it without the sheet of meat starting to tear apart. It will be about 1/16" thin, seriously. Next, I used a sharp knife to score the meat into squares. These should be about 1/4" larger than the circumference of your bun (we'll talk about buns later -wink wink-). Here's what it looks like:
Next, finely dice/mince a small - medium yellow onion. These pieces of onion should be very small. Then, heat a skillet to medium-low heat. Don't go too hot. If anything, start low and kick it up a little bit if you need to. Splash a small amount of cooking oil in the pan and then add a layer of diced onions, such as:
Now, carefully place your square burger slices on top of the diced onions.
Okay, now that you've gotten this far - HERE IS THE MAGIC KEY TO GIVING THEM THE TEXTURE AND FLAVOR OF A REAL WHITE CASTLE SLIDER!! No other recipe I've seen on the Internet shows this or even mentions this. You MUST cook the burgers with the buns on top of them! I guess now it's time to talk about the buns. I bought these at the Jewel on a whim yesterday and then decided to make some homemade sliders. They are made by Pepperidge Farm (here's a link to their product page)
Separate the top and bottom bun halves, and place the BOTTOM bun directly on top of the as-of-yet uncooked burger slice - inside of the bun facing down. Looks like this:
Then put the top half of the bun on top of the bottom bun, again inside facing down. Looks like this:
To ensure there is enough steam and heat to fully cook the burger slice and soften the onions, I put a lid on top of it all and allowed the steam to mingle all the flavors together during the cooking process. Again, these burgers cook through steam heat, not by sizzling on a hot grill/skillet. The juices from the cooked burger will be absorbed and retained by the bun that's sitting on top of them. That is why the slider is called a slider! Without this, it will taste dry and lifeless. Trust me.
They don't take very long to cook. Only a few minutes, but I probably cooked them for about 5 minutes under pretty low heat just to make sure they were thoroughly cooked through. They were. Now, onto the assembly. Using a spatula, take out the whole she-bang - onion, burger, bun and then place upside down on a plate so that the burger is facing upwards. It's gonna look like this (note the tender, delicious looking burger/bun *entity*)
Every burger gets a dill pickle slice. These are simply Vlasic dill sandwich slices.
Next, if you want cheese, use a half slice of processed American cheese and then cover with the top bun. A whole slice is way too much for me and would overwhelm the slider, in my opinion. The heat of the cooked burger and bottom bun will easily melt the cheese. There is no need to put cheese on these while they are cooking in the pan (another nuance that no one else who posted a recipe seems to grasp). Here's the assembled slider - cut in half so you can see a cross sectional view:
So that's all there is to it. What will I do differently the next time I make these? Couple things. After the onions are diced, I'll give them a light rinse in cold water. That will wash away some of the very strong onion juice and mellow out the cooked onion flavor just a little bit. Plus, the residual water will create some extra steam for cooking. Regarding the burger slices, I think I will make these ahead of time and then freeze them. In the restaurant, they cook the burgers from frozen on top of the onions on a flat-top grill. I will try this, as I'm sure it changes the taste and texture.
If you decide to try this yourself, please leave a comment and let me know how you liked it and feel free to post questions or send me email at ChefJohnnyChicago @ gmail.com. Thanks for reading! Stay tuned and stay hungry, my friends. Until next time...