21 June 2010

Recipe: Tropical Teriyaki Mini-Burger

What's in a name?

One constant I see online whenever anyone mentions the infamous "slider" is an instant outcry for a name change. Usually from people from NJ. Or anyone who has ever eaten at White Castle.

I had an inkling I knew what they meant when they said things like "Calling them sliders is so gross, can we come up with something new?" however I wanted to confirm my suspicions. Lo and behold, one of the common explanations for the origin of the term "slider" is definitely on the unappetizing side. Most of the stories I've read do agree on one common aspect of these petite beef patties: they're greasy. The grease allows them to slide. Where they are sliding to, from, or through is the point of contention. Some people claim the term was coined by the US Navy; some claim it was White Castle (which is what I've always heard).

OK, so I haven't come up with anything new or clever. Whoever thought up the original name and why, shame on you (but thanks for a delicious quick dinner)!

The process

My slider obsession began pretty recently, when I read this article on Serious Eats. Kenji, or as I like to call him "St. Kenji, patron saint of burger-liciousness," put his keen mind to the challenge of coming up with the perfect slider, to pay homage to all the greasy spoons and burger joints that are so popular in New Jersey (the highest authority on diner food in the USA. Seriously, they have more diners per capita than any other state - look it up).

The traditional slider method consists of marrying 3 very simple ingredients: bun, meat, and onions (and of course, the optional additions of cheese, pickles, and condiments). The beef is often cooked over the onions, and/or the onions are mashed into the burger for big caramelized-onion flavor. Through trial and error (and surely, another mark against his already burger-strained marriage) he came up with the perfect, fool-proof method for these tiny treats.

I made his tiny burgers that night. No American cheese here in Germany, but aged gouda is a great substitute; it gets all gooey, and has a subtly sharp tang that balances out the richness of the burger (and it's, you know, real cheese). 

It Starts...

Well, that clinched it. Now I'm hooked. Since that first fateful night I've experimented with a few variations of his method. (You may need to read his article before mine, just to understand his basic method, and the why's behind it). I figured, if you can use onions to steam the burger and infuse it with oniony goodness, why not try some other aromatics? Mix and match with cheeses. Oh yeah...

And thus, my Tropical Teriyaki Burgers were born. Now, I'm not really in a position to grind my own meat (sorry Kenji, maybe once I'm back in the States with a kitchen larger than a broom closet), but I try to make up for it with flavor. Our store here sells a beef-pork mix, so I use that for my burgers and meatballs. Great flavor, although it can be a little greasy.

Since a proper serving of meat is technically 3-4 ounces (that's a quarter-pounder, friends), I buy the 250 gram (about a half pound) package of meat to feed the 2 of us. Two burgers apiece, that makes 4 patties, appx 2 ounces each.

Tropical Teriyaki Burgers

(Adapted from Serious Eats' Burger Lab "The Ultimate Sliders" by J. Kenji Lopez-Alt)

Servings: 2 Prep Time: 15 min. (including marinating) Cook Time: 15-20 min.

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Here's What You Need:

1 cup fresh pineapple, none of that junk from a can, please!. Take a fresh pineapple, slice off the top and bottom, and carve off the outer skin with your knife. This is what you'll get:

Slice off the top 2 inches, by way of 3/4" - 1" slices. Cut out the core, and slice into chunks. It looks a lot like what you get in the can, but trust me, it's so much better!

1/4 cup teriyaki sauce - from a bottle or make your own (it's easy)

2 tsp minced fresh ginger - again, I can't stress enough how important fresh is. Powdered won't cut the mustard.

1 clove garlic, minced

2 small or 1 large onion, medium-dice

8 ounces ground beef, or half beef half pork - I prefer the half-n-half for this particular application. The pork gives it a depth of flavor that's rounded out really nicely by the sweet and savory flavors we're adding.

salt and pepper

4 slices cheese - aged gouda is great. It's flavorful ithout being overwhelming, and melts really nicely.

4 small buns (appx 3" across) split

Optional: 4 slices of ham, or 8 slices cooked bacon

Important equipment: 
Pan large enough to hold your burger patties (for 4 patties, appx 8" skillet); you want to be able to just fit your patties, with very little room to spare.

Nice sturdy slotted spatula - sturdy because these burgers will have some heft, and slotted so excess liquid (and fat) can drain out

Here's what you do:
Get your prep work (a.k.a. mise en place) done first:

Sprinkle your diced onions with a few dashes of the salt shaker and set aside until pungent fragrant (About 10 min.)

In a zip-top bag, mix your teriyaki sauce, garlic, and ginger. Add your pineapple and allow to marinate for at least 10 minutes, up to an hour.

Get your pan on the stove preheating to medium-low, and  prepare your patties: separate your meat into even fourths, and GENTLY form your burger patties, taking care not to over work them; keep chilled until ready to cook. Don't season them yet!

If you get all this done, and have everything set out (except the meat which should stay in the fridge until you're ready for it) then this dinner will be a breeze.

Now you're cooking!:

Add your salted diced onions to the preheated pan. There should be a nice low sizzle. Cook until translucent, about 5 minutes. Remove the pineapple from its marinade, reserving the liquid, and dice. Add to the pan with the onions. Cook until the onions reach a light golden color, about another 5 minutes.

Ensure the bottom of your pan is evenly covered with your onions and pineapples. Salt and pepper both sides of your burger patties, and place carefully on top of your steaming onion mixture. If you're not seeing much steam, add some water and a little bit of the reserved marinade to the pan (about 2 teaspoons should be fine, since the burgers will release some juices into the pan as they heat up).

Top your raw patties with the cheese and top half of the bun. Stagger the bottom halves of the buns around the pan (cut side down) so they can absorb the steamy flavor.  
A note about bun placement: Traditionally, you stack meat-cheese-bottom bun for a slider, so when your burger is finished, you slide it all onto the top of the bun, meaning it's assembled upside-down. This puts the cheese on the bottom to protect the bun from the burger juices. While I appreciate the tradition, the hubs and I agreed that we prefer the cheese on top of the burger. Not really sure why, but that's why you'll see the picture below arranged thusly.
Allow your burgers about 5-10 more minutes in the pan - the juices will run clear, indicating the burgers are steamed through. You can opt to cover the pan loosely with a little aluminum foil - the burgers will steam faster this way, but the buns can get a little oversteamed, making them a little chewy.

 When I started writing this post, I got this inexplicable craving to make these burgers again. As per usual, I changed some things around this time. The first time I made them, I sliced the onions - hence the difference difference from the last photo to this one. Plus, the bakery didn't have our usual tiny-burger buns which is what you see above; the sunflower seeds on the whole-grain rolls you see in the final photo were actually quite complimentary!

Make sure to keep an eye and ear on your pan - The pineapples have a lot of sugar, so if you hear the sizzle start to fade, add more liquid to avoid over-caramelization (a.k.a. burning).

    PLATING: Remove the burger-bun-bottoms from the pan, invert, and place on a plate. Top with your ham/bacon if desired. Slide your sturdy spatula under a burger, making sure to get all the tasty goodness that steamed it, and place on the bottom bun. You now have a fully assembled burger, ready for a side of Asian noodles, and a drink with a little umbrella peeking out!

    Yes, the cheese is on the bottom here... we tried both, liked it better the other way (taste-wise) but this was just a better picture. In the end, assemble however you prefer. I won't tell.


    1. This is a wonderful idea :) thank you!
      BTW - diggin' this blog!

    2. Thanks so much! I'm working on a few more variations, so I hope you'll stay tuned :)


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