Published September 23, 2012
| The Daily Meal
"Crave on!" exclaimed vice president of White Castle Jamie Richardson as he signed off on an email exchange.
We bet you know what craving he’s talking about. It’s that mouthwatering thought of something small, something tender, and something that’s a perfect balance of meat, onion, bun, and pickle — it’s the White Castle slider craving. You don’t really need to say much more than that, because everyone understands. The mini burgers are so unique, original, and delicious that anyone who's enjoyed a White Castle slider can't help but take part in the slider-mania that has spread across the country in the form of restaurants, freezer staples, and even a Hollywood movie.
So what’s so good about them? Well, for starters, they’re the number-one menu item of the fast-food chain that only has 409 restaurants across the country, a far cry from many of the other popular chains. The unique and almost unattainable qualities of the sliders are what make them so special for so many people, and it’s why they crave them, love them, and try to make them themselves.
The story of the slider started back in 1921, when two Kansas folks, Walt Anderson and Billy Ingram, broke bread together. Anderson, a cook, wooed his insurance broker friend Ingram with one of his sandwich creations, a hamburger, and from there the idea of White Castle was born. With "castle" signifying strength and permanence, "white" was meant to signify purity, a counterargument to Upton Sinclair’s 1906 book The Jungle, which cast a negative and impure outlook on beef. White Castle’s popularity picked up immediately, and as the first-ever fast-food chain, their success and mission statement have remained constant through their years of business. "Convenience for customers and an incredibly [delicious] product they can’t get anywhere else," says Richardson, is what defines the company. In other words, desirability.
"We’re the object of desire — part of it is that we are trying to be all things for all people; our taste is distinctive and we have that commitment," explains Richardson.
And, their commitment is to quite a large following. Known as "the cravers," they’re customers that embody the loveable characters of the 2004 movie
Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle, the people who will travel for hours in the middle of the night just to wrap their hands around a tiny, palm-sized slider. They’re the obsessed, and their devotion and praise is one reason that White Castle remains such a prominent fast-food chain in our country today.
So, enough about White Castle and let’s get to the slider already.
At 5 ounces a serving with 140 calories and 6 grams of fat, the slider is, in the words of Richardson, "the perfect blend of beef and bun — the true alchemy is how the flavors meld together, become one distinct taste because of the fresh bun, the hot beef, the onion, and the balance of the perfectly placed pickle."
Because of its strong following, many people have tried to replicate the beloved slider, but few have succeeded. As the cook editors here at The Daily Meal researched the project, we came across scores of recipes, all using different techniques and ingredients. Along our journey, we discovered a recipe by BigRedKitchen blogger Robin Joss that was as close to what we envisioned as possible. We didn’t necessarily agree with Joss' specifics (don't get us wrong, hers is pretty good, too), but we agreed with her craver passion and style, which is why we asked her to work with us on this project. We poured ourselves into the details with Joss, and analyzed every little clue and hint that Richardson provided us.
We’re pretty pleased with the results. In discussing the recipe with Richardson, he suggests, "The closest [you] will ever get [to the slider] is to go to your local grocery store and buy a package of frozen White Castle sliders."
We liked his salesman pitch, but we were unconvinced, and are confident that this recipe will help you succeed in making your very own White Castle slider at home.
This tiny burger, of which 550 million were sold last year, is the ultimate recipe challenge. The slider is so popular that if the amount of the hamburgers sold since 1921 were laid side by side, they would reach the moon and back. To replicate it is a challenging task, but we took it on.
First we start with the beef, which according to Richardson is 100 percent all-natural USDA-approved. A special blend of specific cuts is chosen to create the slider patty, he said, and we decided to go with an equal amount of ground chuck and ground beef.
As Richardson said, the beauty of the slider is how the shape of the patty aligns perfectly with the shape of the bun. We used Martin’s Party rolls, which come in a bag of 12, but any square mini-roll will do, just so long as the patty is the same shape.
A lot of Anderson’s fame is due to his invention of the hamburger patty, which he developed when he flattened a meatball with his spatula because it was cooking too slowly. The beauty of the White Castle slider is its thinness, and we rolled ours out to ¼-inch thick using parchment paper and a rolling pin.
It wouldn’t be a White Castle slider unless it was a square, so we made sure to cut our sheet of beef into 3-by-3-inch squares. We found that a pizza cutter was the most efficient way to cut them up, but a regular spatula will do the job as well.
White Castle is the first and only fast-food chain ever to cook their patties with holes in them. The layout was designed so that the patties cooked faster, and has been patent-protected since 1945. We wiggled a straw into the patties to give them some punctured love.
The Secret Ingredient
So many people think they know what the secret is in a slider, whether it's peanut butter or Lipton Onion soup, but Richardson insists it’s really quite simple. The secret ingredient is added to the onions, and it's something that is easily accessible and available to the home cook, he hinted. After much thought and deliberation, we decided on butter, and it’s as simple as that.
Part of the slider’s luster is those little white flecks of onion on the patty. We finely chopped ours and sautéed them for a couple of minutes before adding the patties so that they were just slightly cooked — retaining a crisp bite but giving a mellow cooked-onion flavor.
The Power of Steam
"Never underestimate the power of steamed grilling on a bed of onions," Richardson suggested, and we took his words literally. After he told us that one of White Castle’s standards of excellence was that there should never be an area of a White Castle griddle bigger than a dime that’s not covered by onions, we were convinced they were steamed.
Texture Is Everything
The fact that White Castle makes and distributes their own hamburger bun was a bit of a road block for us in the beginning, but we think we figured it out. "Texture and freshness are key," Richardson warned, so we wrapped our buns in a damp kitchen towel and zapped them in the microwave to give them a steamed, soft quality.
Richardson described it as the perfectly placed pickle, and we couldn’t agree more. We used one dill pickle slice to top our patties, and we didn’t feel a bit of shame about it.
After the trials and tribulations, we think we’ve created a masterpiece with this recipe http://www.thedailymeal.com/white-castle-slider-0/ and have succeeded in replicating the slider in all of its glory. The finished result: a plain patty topped with sautéed onions and a pickle, and wedged between two steamed buns — ketchup optional*. We hope you agree, but please share with us your thoughts, comments, and concerns.
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