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Savory "Upscale" Sliders

Once a bit of military jargon connoting greasy burgers, "sliders" have evolved into small, two-bite hamburgers that are now quite in vogue as "comfort food." Restaurant industry magazines are chock-full of fussy recipes for sliders which use the ground beef patty and the bun as a background for the various condiments, vegetables, cheese(s) and other additions. "Meat-serious" sliders come in the form of sirloin sliders, ground lamb, pork or venison sliders and even kobe beef sliders. What most authentic "sliders" have in common is that they're full of delicious meat fat, and there are often onions insinuated into the meat.

The White Castle hamburger chain originated the idea of very small fried hamburgers with onion in 1921. In my home town of Flushing, New York we called White Castle hamburgers "little soggies" because they were just that. This recipe intends to evoke the beefy/oniony/moist goodness of those burgers.

We serve these sliders in the cocktail lounge at our restaurant on Friday nights. They're simple enough for hard-boiled hamburger lovers but can be dolled up with some Roasted Red Pepper aioli, good Vermont cheddar cheese, Vidalia onions, capers, even crabmeat. Of course, crispy-cool iceberg lettuce and garden fresh tomatoes are de rigeur.

One big fat "chef's" onion (don't use the little yellow ones that come in a mesh bag, they taste awful and don't cook well)

1 Tsp. dried marjoram or a few fresh leaves, minced.

1 Tbs. sea salt

2 Tbs. coarsely ground black pepper

2 lbs. Ground sirloin, preferably "Angus" beef, with at least 30% fat content

   or

1 lb. sirloin and 1 lb. ground chuck — again with about 30% fat content

Oil for frying

About buns: I like to use small, knotted Challah rolls or mini-croissants (in which case I form the patties accordingly). In a city you can find bakeries that sell "slider" rolls which are slightly crispy outside and hold in all the burger-and-condiment goodness really well. Small dinner rolls also work very well. Be sure to butter and toast your slider rolls.

About accompaniments: We serve roasted red pepper aioli (garlic mayonnaise, fresh ripe tomato slices, kosher dill pickle slices, and, if requested, iceberg lettuce. If you want to go really upscale, offer:

Make the burgers: Slice the onion in half, then you'll be able to pull off the skin. Make a notch in the bottom of each half to get rid of the white rooty bit at the bottom of each half. Slice each half into thin, thin slices. Then mince into 1/8" mince with your knife or using a food processor.

Add the onion to a very large bowl. Add marjoram, salt and pepper and mix well. Add the hamburger meat, and, using your hands, insinuate the onion mixture evenly into the beef. Now portion out 2 ounce portions of the meat, rolling in your hands (it coats the outside of each ball of meat with fat) and forming into bun-sized patties.

If you have time at this point, allow the burgers to sit on plates in the refrigerator. This will ensure that the savory marjoram-onion goodness will blossom into the meat.

Heat a very large skillet with a little oil (peanut oil is teh right stuff for this). Add a batch of burgers and fry over very high heat, about 3 minutes, until the first side is crispy (don't flip 'em over and over; handling means loss of meaty juices); then turn over and finish. I cover the skillet with a cookie sheet so the burgers steam a bit during cooking. Keep a pot holder or dry rag in your hand to maneuver the cookie sheet for flip time. I only say this because I have burnt myself more than once grabbing at the cookie sheet. (I just forgot... it couldn't have been the Cabernet Sauvignon I was swilling during the preparation process.)

Once the burgers are out of the pan, let them rest (let 'em sit) for a minute or two or the juice will gush out of them when you bite into them. Check the seasoning (salt and pepper). Serve with the accompaniment(s) of your choice.

About the Wine: There are quite a few good, old-vine Zinfandels out there. That's a superb beverage with these burgers. If you want to be adventurous, try a dry blush wine from Provence.

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