Chiles, Latin, Pork Products, Quick Meals

That’s a spicy meatball.

Let me begin by saying that I think the whole meatball thing is really played out. Ever since Joey Campanaro started serving his gravy meatball sliders at The Little Owl – and that was in what, 2006? – people have been going crazy for meatballs. Just Google “meatball trend” and you’ll find stories from last year and this one touting meatballs as a “hot food trend,” “vying for most buzzed-about treat with macarons and cake pops.” And that’s about right – five years after it appears in a fine dining context (or in NYC), an idea starts catches fire in popular food culture, where it’s relentlessly beaten to death for a few years until no one can stand the sight of it. It happened with sundried tomatoes and roasted garlic, and it happened with seared tuna. We all know what’s become of cupcakes. Just last fall, I was forced to eat at Macaroni Grill on a work trip and ordered some decidedly mediocre “spicy ricotta meatballs” for lunch. In a year or two, meatballs will be all over every chain restaurant menu in the country and you’ll all be sick of the double entendres about balls.

That doesn’t mean I don’t love a good meatball, though. Along with soups and sauces, meatballs are among the great frugal foods, a way of stretching meat further or using meat trimmings to avoid waste. At their simplest, meatballs are simply ground or chopped meat extended with eggs or a starch like bread or rice; from there, they can assume virtually any guise. In Italy, pork or veal enriched with bread might be simmered in brodo (a meat broth); in Turkey, Lebanon, Iran, and throughout the Middle East, koftes and their relatives combine bulghur or bread with lamb or beef. In Vietnam, pork balls bound with ground roasted rice are grilled and eaten with vermicelli or rice, or simmered in soup. Among my favorite meatballs are albóndigas, seasoned meatballs popular throughout Mexico and other Spanish-speaking countries, usually served in a light broth with vegetables.

Recently, we enjoyed some braised pork tacos prepared by a friend for our regular supper club. Essentially carnitas stewed in a tangy tomatillo sauce, they were tender and meaty with just a little heat from some chiles. Why not enjoy albóndigas featuring these flavors? Simmering porky meatballs in an acidic sauce of roasted tomatillos and chiles tenderizes the meat while conveying some of that meaty savor to the sauce.

Tomatillos, in their husks.

Note: these meatballs won both People’s Choice and Judge’s Choice awards at the Great Grapes wine festival just north of Baltimore yesterday. Prize-winning meatballs! Make them tonight!

SOME PIG

Pork meatballs, tomatillo-chile sauce

This recipe incorporates my suggestions for making the best meatball, whatever your flavors. First, you’ll note, it uses a panade of bread and a liquid (I chose cream for richness but milk or even water are fine). Why panade instead of eggs? Well, if you’ve ever boiled an egg, you know what happens to egg white as it cooks – it becomes solid and tough, even rubbery. The proteins in the meat will become firm enough as you cook them; there’s no need to make the meatballs even harder with egg white. The point is to extend the meat, not to toughen it. If you really need to extend a small quantity of meat and have nothing but eggs, you’re better off making a Scotch egg.

Second, you’ll see that the recipe calls for grinding meat together with onions and garlic. Why? Onion is an excellent filler for meatballs, but there’s nothing worse than a big bite of raw onion inside a cooked piece of meat. By grinding the onion and garlic with the meat, you ensure small bits and even distribution. You also avoid the dreaded pink slime problem. If you don’t have the means or inclination to grind your own meat, don’t worry. Just ask the butcher to grind the cut you select, or, at a minimum, ask whether the ground meat you want to buy is ground in-house. If so, you can feel quite sure you’re not eating some extruded meat slurry from bits scraped up off the slaughterhouse floor, blasted with ammonia. Most supermarket ground beef found in the butcher’s display case is ground in-house; most packaged ground meat is not. Choose knowledgeably.

Don’t be daunted by the list of ingredients – many of them are garnishes and you can take or leave them as you choose. I’ve also provided instructions using ground meat and ground spices. If you use pre-ground products the meatballs can hit the pan in fewer than ten minutes. You can double, triple, or otherwise multiply this recipe as necessary. A pound of meat yields perhaps a dozen golf ball-sized meatballs (after cooking).

For the meatballs:

4 whole allspice, or 1/8 tsp ground
1 tsp cumin seeds, or 1/2 tsp ground
2 tsp coriander seeds, or 1 tsp ground
1 standard slice bread
1/4 c cream, half and half, milk, or water (more fat obviously equals more richness)
1 lb pork shoulder, mostly lean and some fat, or 1 lb ground pork
1/2 medium onion, diced
6 cloves garlic confit or substitute 2 cloves fresh, minced
1 tsp salt, plus a pinch extra
one lime
To garnish:
crema, or sour cream
grated queso asadero or another hard grating cheese
cilantro leaves, washed and spun dry
finely diced onion, rinsed for two minutes in cold water and drained well

For the roasted tomatillo and chile sauce:

1 1/2 lb tomatillos, husked and washed (they’ll be a little sticky; don’t worry if it doesn’t all come off)
2 serrano chiles, more if you like it hot
1 small onion, peeled and diced
4 cloves garlic confit and a little oil from the confit, or substitute 2 cloves fresh garlic, minced, and 1 tbsp vegetable oil
1/2 tsp ground cumin
salt

Start with the tomatillo sauce.

Set the broiler of your oven at the hottest setting. Place the chiles and tomatillos on a sheet pan and set under the broiler.

When the peppers and tomatillos have blistered and are beginning to blacken on top (maybe five minutes, maybe more), remove the pan and flip them over. Return to the broiler and broil until totally softened and blistered. You do want them to be blistered well with a dark brown to black char in parts – this will contribute to the smoky flavor of the tomatillo sauce.

Remove from the broiler, taking care not to spill any accumulated liquid – which may be considerable. Remove the stems from the peppers and discard. Transfer to a blender/vitaprep.

Tomatillos and chiles, roasted.

Place a skillet over medium heat and, when hot, add about 1 tbsp oil from the garlic confit. Add the onions and garlic confit, sweating until translucent. Add the cumin and cook another minute more. Transfer to the blender/vitaprep. Blend until relatively smooth, taste, season with salt, and transfer to a saucepot and set aside. You may wish to add a small amount of water to thin out the sauce.

Prepare the meatballs.

If using whole spices, place the spices in a small, dry skillet over medium heat. Toss from time to time. When you begin to smell a “toasted” spice aroma, remove from the heat and transfer to a spice grinder. Grind well, until no visible chunks of spice remain (this is most difficult to achieve with coriander so if you get a husk or two, that’s fine). If using ground spices, simply combine.

Tear or cut the bread into small pieces (less than an inch) and mix with the heavy cream. Allow to moisten and then mash well with a fork or potato masher. If it is too stiff to mash, add a little water until the consistency of the mash is like a thick batter. (This is called the panade.)

If using a pre-ground pork, mince the onion and the garlic confit as finely as possible. Combine with the ground pork, panade, and about 1 1/4 tsp of the seasonings; mix well with your hands.

If grinding your own, dice the pork about 3/4″.

Combine the salt and about 1 1/4 tsp of the seasonings. Toss the meat, diced onion, and garlic confit with the seasoning and spread it on a sheet pan (lined with a silpat to reduce sticking) in a single layer (use multiple pans if necessary). Cover with plastic wrap and freeze until half-solid. Also freeze the grinding apparatus – the worm, blade, and die.

Grind the entire pork/garlic/onion/spice combination using the small die, into a bowl over a pan or larger bowl of ice to keep it cold. Cook a test piece and taste for seasoning. Add more salt and seasonings if necessary. Combine with the panade and mix well with your hands.

On the grind.

Set the saucepot of tomatillo sauce over low heat and bring to just below a simmer. Place a large skillet over medium high heat. When hot, add a little vegetable oil, just enough to film. Form the meatball mixture into balls a little larger than golf balls and set in the hot, oiled skillet. After a minute or two, roll the meatball – if it sticks, it is not ready to roll. Brown on all sides, rolling from time to time, until all sides are browned. Don’t worry too much whether the meatballs are fully cooked inside as they will continue to cook in the tomatillo sauce. Transfer with a slotted spoon to the tomatillo sauce. Repeat until all the meatballs are cooked.

Cover the pot and cook at just below a simmer, stirring from time to time to ensure that the meatballs all cook evenly, for about 20 minutes.

Pot of meatballs.

Squeeze a little lime juice over the meatballs and serve with crema or sour cream, a little grated queso asadero, raw onion, and cilantro (if you like that sort of thing). Enjoy these with corn tortillas, over grits, or with a simple salad.

Bowl of balls.

I’m ready for my close-up, Mr DeMille.

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Holidays, Potatoes, Quick Meals, Vegetables

Hats off to Hanukkah.

Note: I usually don’t republish old posts, but if you’re thinking of making potato latkes this week for Hanukkah, try these out. They’re delicious. I’ve omitted the discussion of sweet potato latkes and celeriac-potato latkes; if you want to try those, visit the original page. If you ask me, though, the classic potato latke, without embellishment, is the only way to go.

From R., 1 December 2009, Hanukkah: the best latkes?

Q: Thanksgiving is over, but Chanukah is just around the corner. Can you give me some latke advice?

What is your preferred potato? I assume there’s some ration of wax versus starchy that would yield the optimum pancake. Also, do you have some new vegetable variations I could work in the mix?

I’m thinking of making ahead and freezing, then reheating for the festivities. Anything special I should know?
Finally, since I’m being a nudzh, any other special Chanukah nosherai you’d like to share?

A: Thanks for your question! When you make latkes – or any other potato pancake – you really want to rely on the starch in the potato to hold the cake together, rather than a batter, which make the cake heavy. So you want to use a starchy potato. You’ll still need to use some egg and flour or matzo meal to bind the potato, but you won’t need much.

What’s a starchy potato? Potatoes run the gamut from “waxy” – meaning high water, low starch – to starchy. How can you tell? Starch content varies by variety, but, generally speaking, russet potatoes – large, with a dark, tougher skin – are starchier at 20-22% than the thinner-skinned, smaller red potatoes (16-18% starch). Yellow varieties, like Yellow Finn and Yukon Gold, are in between. There’s another difference relating to two components of starch – amylose and amylopectin – which relate to the way the starch diffuses or holds its shape. Waxy potatoes contain more amylopectin, and hold their shape better. But that’s more information than you need for this purpose. Brown good, red not so much. And that holds true as well for hash brown potatoes, when you want them to stick together.

So here’s my recipe for latkes. Good any time of year, and not just Hanukkah. I recommend you pre-sauté your onions to deepen their flavor and avoid any potential for a sharp raw bite. If you consider this fussy or want to save about five minutes, you can skip this step, but I recommend it. Finally, I use a food processor with the julienne disc to shred the potatoes into long thin strands, but a box grater works well also. Either way, squeeze the potatoes in kitchen towels as dry as you can – do it twice if you have time.

1 lb russet potatoes, washed and peeled
1 large yellow onion, minced
2 tbsp flour [you can substitute matzo meal if you like; I prefer it because it makes a crisper latke]
1/2 tsp grated nutmeg
4 large eggs, beaten with a fork
2 scallions, washed and root end removed, minced
kosher salt to taste (you will need at least 2 tsp)
black pepper
oil – preferably a blend of olive oil and canola, or just canola. If you intend to serve with a meat only meal, consider schmaltz, duck fat, or beef tallow for a really delicious treat.

Place a skillet over medium heat and, when hot add 1 tbsp oil. Sauté the onion until translucent and just beginning to color slightly. Do not brown. Set aside to cool for a few minutes.

Combine the eggs, matzo meal or flour, nutmeg, scallions, onion, 2 tsp salt, and a few grinds of pepper. Wipe out the skillet (or wash and return to the stove).

Shred the potatoes in a food processor or grate on a box grater. Place in a clean kitchen towel (one that does not smell of detergent or dryer sheets), fold the towel over, twist the ends, and squeeze the towel over a bowl.

Squeeze as much liquid as possible out of the potato. If necessary, repeat in another towel. Add the grated potatoes to the egg mixture and stir to combine. Don’t take too long with this step or the potatoes will discolor.

Return the skillet to medium high heat and add up to 1/4″ of oil to the pan. Cook a test spoonful of latke mixture to ensure that the pan isn’t too hot (or too cold); adjust the heat accordingly. Fry heaping tablespoonfuls of the latke mixture, mostly the potato. Much of the egg mixture may remain in the bottom of the bowl – don’t feel compelled to use it all. (You can use it at the end to make more of a crêpe-y pancake.) Do not overcrowd the pan – in a 12″ skillet you probably can cook about four at a time. Drain cooked latkes on a rack and hold in a preheated 220F oven. Repeat until all the latkes are cooked. If the oil becomes dark or dirty, start over with fresh oil.

Season with salt if necessary (it shouldn’t be, in my experience) and a grind of black pepper. Serve with applesauce or sour cream. Enjoy!

Latkes (with a little black truffle, why not)

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Pork Products, Quick Meals, Random Thoughts, Seafood, Spain

Uncanny.

I’ll stipulate that, when I travel, I like to buy stuff and bring it home. Some people like T-shirts and liquor; a long-ago secretary collected little souvenir spoons; an attorney on my staff favors novelty socks. When I was younger, I used to memorialize my trips abroad with the typical duty free booty – Hermès eau de cologne: check. Two liters of whisky: check. Giant bar of Toblerone: check. Boring!

Eventually, I realized I was failing to capitalize on foreign markets running out my exemption with discount Glenmorangie and enlarged chocolate bars, and, on a 1995 trip to Madrid and Córdoba, changed things up with a visit to the supermarket in the basement of El Corte Inglés. For those of you who don’t know, I am a great big supermarket junkie. When I travel, I insist on visiting the supermarket. Not that I don’t love the kind of market that’s been taking place once a week in the town square under a bunch of big stripey tents since the seventeenth century, but I’m actually more interested in finding out how people really shop in other countries. Years ago, before my husband and I were married, I dragged him into a Carrefour near Pointe-à-Pitre, Guadeloupe, on our way to catch the local bus to the beach. After an hour inside surveying the goods during peak tanning hours, Nat was justly annoyed. Now, of course, he takes it as a matter of course that a trip abroad means doing time in one or more local supermarkets, preferably with a backpack. See? Marriage is all about flexibility.

Anyway, on returning to Minneapolis, I learned that my luggage had been lost. A day passed, and then a week, at which point I gave up on recovering the sacks of Marcona almonds, maíz gigante, Bomba rice, and packets of squid ink, not to mention certain favored articles of clothing and a list, made poolside and fueled by leisure and cocktails, ranking the best 50 episodes of the Simpsons in order of various criteria. In early June, more than three weeks after my return and by the time my Spanish tan had started to fade, my office phone rang. Northwest had located my bag. Would I prefer to receive it at home or at my office? When it arrived two hours later, the black wheel-aboard showed no signs of its exciting detour to Antananarivo (!), where I imagined it sitting at the end of an outdoor jetway for weeks, warmed by the Madagascar sun, lonely and stuffed with unclaimed Spanish bounty. And when I opened the bag, everything was intact.

On our most recent visit to Spain, last September – just one night in Barcelona transiting between Languedoc and London – we made a quick visit to the supermercado and filled up a backpack with treats like big cans of pimentón, olive oils, tinned pulpo (octopus), berberechos (cockles), navajas (razor clams) and chipirones (baby squid), various Spanish beans. Recently, after a quest for fresh octopus ended in failure, I remembered the tinned product in the pantry. Mostly I eat the tinned souvenirs as a snack in my office, but here was a good time to find out: could cooking make these canned products more, uh, uncanny?

Barcelona shopping haul.

The answer is yes. The pulpo became part of a play on the classic pork and shellfish combination, with house-made chorizo meatballs and sweet pickled green tomato. The chipirones joined other Spanish imports from the trip – Calasparra rice and squid ink – as well as an egg-cooking technique I picked up at the outstanding Hisop a few years ago.

Pulpo.

Octopus, chorizo, sweet tomato pickle

Obviously, if you can find fresh octopus, use that instead. I couldn’t in Baltimore, which surprised me, but I guess it shouldn’t have. Yesterday, I came upon fresh baby octopus at the Whole Foods on P Street in DC, but, you know, too little too late.

Unlike the true Spanish chorizo, a cured sausage that undergoes lactic acid fermentation, this sausage will be made and eaten fresh. To simulate the tang of the fermentation, this chorizo includes a small amount of sherry vinegar. The recipe makes about twice what you will need; freeze the rest, tightly sealed, or use it to stuff casings.

Chorizo:

1 lb fatty pork shoulder
1 tsp kosher salt
1 tsp pimentón de la vera agriculce
1 tsp pimentón de la vera picante
1/2 tsp piment d’espelette
3 cloves garlic
6 cloves garlic confit
1 1/2 tbsp sherry vinegar

Dice the meat about 3/4″.

Combine the salt and all the seasonings. Toss the meat, diced onion, garlic, and garlic confit with all the seasoning except the vinegar, and spread it on a sheet pan (lined with a silpat to reduce sticking) in a single layer (use multiple pans if necessary). Cover with plastic wrap and freeze until half-solid. Also freeze the grinding apparatus – the worm, blade, and die.

Grind the entire meat/garlic/onion combination using the coarse die, into a bowl over a pan or larger bowl of ice to keep it cold. Cook a test piece and taste for seasoning. Add more salt, pepper, seasonings if necessary. Make sure the product remains as cold as possible and toss with the sherry vinegar.

Sweet tomato pickle:

2 lbs (about 3 large) green (unripe) tomatoes
1/2 lb (about 1 medium) yellow onion
1/3 lb (about 1 medium) red bell pepper
1 c cider vinegar
1 c sugar
1 tbsp mustard seeds
2 tsp celery seeds

Dice the tomatoes, peel and dice the onion, and seed, peel, and dice the pepper, all to about 1/4″. Combine with all other ingredients in a saucepan.

Bring to a simmer and stir, dissolving the sugar, and continue to simmer, stirring from time to time, until the vegetables have softened, given up their liquid, and the liquid has reduced to a syrup (the green tomato will be translucent as well). You should have a little less than two pints (4 c). If you like, can the pickle in a sterilized jars in a hot water bath. Otherwise, refrigerate and use within about a month.

Green tomato pickle.

To assemble:
contents of two tins of octopus in olive oil, drained

Put away half the chorizo for another use. Pinch off teaspoon-sized bits of the remaining chorizo and roll into balls. Place a large saute pan over medium heat. When hot, add the chorizo and fry on all sides until brown and crisp. Remove with a slotted spoon. Do not wipe out the pan; increase the heat slightly. Add the octopus and fry quickly on each side. Return the chorizo to the pan and toss to combine. Serve garnished with the green tomato pickle.

[sorry – no photo. The whole thing got eaten before I could get there]

Xipirones, arròs negre

Baby squid with black rice. You wouldn’t believe how tender and delicious the baby squid were in Barcelona. I haven’t been able to find such small squid here – about 1 1/2″ long in the body – nor anything as mild. So I always bring it back in cans. Not the same, but it’s pretty good – the Spanish have a way with canned shellfish.

Xipirones.

The rice, pimentón, and squid ink in this dish also are souvenirs of our last trip to Spain. Choose a Spanish short-grained rice, if you can – I used Calasparra rice, because I had an open bag, but Bomba is even nicer – its grain absorb more liquid and become plumper on cooking. If you can’t, use Arborio – it’s far easier to find. I used a pork stock to cook the rice because I like the savory quality it imparts to the dish – seafood stock is far too fishy, I think, especially once you add the squid ink.

The egg preparation is a straight rip-off of a great component I had at Hisop in Barcelona, and is awesome because frankly, poached egg white is more of a bland nuisance than a welcome addition to any dish. This preparation can be difficult to pull off because the yolk is delicate and breaks easily when poached without the white, so you should have a couple of extra eggs handy. If you don’t want to make the two-part egg component, just poach or fry the egg. You want a runny yolk.

two tins chipirones en su tinta (baby squid in ink), or substitute 1/2 lb squid cut into 1/4″ rings and tentacles
1 small onion, fine dice
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp pimentón
1 1/2 c Calasparra rice
2/3 c dry white wine
2 packets squid ink
4 c pork stock
3 sprigs thyme
1 bay leaf

4 eggs, separated
2 tbsp panko
olive oil

Place a 12″ skillet (or the largest skillet available) over medium heat and, when hot, add about 2 tbsp oil. Pour the egg white into the pan and tilt quickly to coat the bottom of the pan evenly and thinly. Fry until crisp and golden, reducing heat if necessary to prevent burning. When the egg white is crisp, flip the entire egg white over and cook until golden on the other side. Turn it out onto a cutting board and mince. Return to the hot pan, adding a little extra oil if necessary, and add the panko. Fry until everything is golden brown. Set aside.

Place a saucepot holding the stock over medium heat and bring to a simmer; reduce the heat. Place a sauteuse over medium heat, and when hot add a little olive oil. Add the onions and sweat until translucent. Add the garlic and sauté a minute more. Add the pimentón and the rice and sauté, stirring, until the rice is coated well with oil and barely toasted (it shouldn’t take on any color). Add the thyme and bay. Add the wine and squid ink and stir well, evenly distributing the ink, until the wine is absorbed. Add stock a ladle at a time, stirring until absorbed. Repeat until the rice is cooked al dente. Add the squid to the pot and one final ladle of stock, heating through the squid and leaving the rice moist. Remove the thyme and bay.

Poach the egg yolks and drain on clean kitchen towels (be careful with this step; it is difficult to poach egg yolks without puncturing them).

Plate the arròs negre, top with the egg yolk, and a generous amount of the egg white/panko crumbs. When punctured, the runny yolk makes a great sauce to stir into the rice.

Arròs negre, xipirones.

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Beef, Quick Meals, Random Thoughts, Sandwich

Talk of the Town.

Sometimes, on days when the drive home takes a really long time and the road rage of fellow drivers is especially savage, and Baltimore seems so … Baltimore, I think about moving back to the midwest. At times like this, my husband and I casually entertain crazy ideas like moving to such a place as, say, Kansas City.

Kansas City? Sure. I’m as surprised as you are, of course. I spent a summer there at a law firm while in law school, back in 1992, and I hated it. No, no – that’s too strong a term. I just didn’t consider it at the time. After a couple of weeks in town dealing with my weird housemate, a senior associate at my firm who arose at 4:00 every morning to set her hair in rollers, sit under a giant Oster hairdryer embellished with a Don’t Mess With Texas bumper sticker, and paint herself a fresh manicure while giving me the evil eye from under a pair of great big false eyelashes, I decided I didn’t want anything to do with Kansas City and started spending weekends driving back to Minneapolis. Not all weekends, though. And I spent my fair share of afternoons at Royals games sitting on the first base side, and nights at The Levee in Westport, drinking cold Boulevards outside and trying to avoid a guy the summer associates of Kansas City had derisively named Eggs Benedict. Looking back, I guess it was more fun than it seemed at the time, but in ’92, it struck me as a lot of heat and humidity in a cowtown under the crabby watch of Miss Texas Big Hair.

So it came as something of a surprise when, last November, I traveled to Kansas City for business and discovered a lot to like about the city. I had learned a few things in my nearly twenty years’ absence – first, that a number of very fine restaurants like Bluestem and Julian had opened in Kansas City; and second, that I had overlooked nearly all of the city’s many strong points during my summer.

Town Topic, for example. I didn’t know about this place when I lived in Kansas City, which is surprising considering how late it stays open and how much beer we customarily drank. Back then, the firm’s attorneys shuttled out of town summer associates between Gates’ BBQ and Arthur Bryant’s – neither of which is all that awesome, especially once you’ve had, say, Oklahoma Joe’s – with occasional detours to the mediocre and now defunct Kansas City Athletic Club, or Jess and Jim’s for steak. Strictly tourist material, in other words, and hardly compelling. Last fall, though, I drove past Town Topic every day for almost a week and had to resist the urge to make a u-turn with my staff in the car each time. It just looked right.

Town Topic.

Grubby and good.

My final day in town, on the way to the airport, I made a last-minute decision – I was going to get a burger at Town Topic for the plane ride home. One thing led to another, and after a quick phone call to my husband, one burger became a sack of double cheeseburgers and a couple of orders of fries. Those burgers made the flight home, but just barely – I almost ate them all on the flight. As it stood, I did eat all the thin and crispy fries – those don’t travel, see, so I had no choice. Town Topic probably makes the best burgers of their kind I’ve ever eaten – the so-called “slider,” covered with caramelized onions and tangy garlic dills, held together with plenty of melted American cheese.

We talk about those little burgers kind of a lot. Once in a while, we make them at home. I try to remember the guy working the flattop at Town Topic, tossing on those small lumps of ground beef, smashing them flat, steaming the buns on top, pushing the onions back and forth across the flavorsome surface. We eat them while I tell Nat about the way the Nelson-Atkins sculpture garden looked in the fall, and the sweetbreads on Colby Garrelts’s menu at Bluestem, and the ruined empty Art Deco downtown of Kansas City, Kansas, and the Latino neighborhood out on Southwest Boulevard I don’t remember from my summer, and the endless wheat fields off to the west of town.

ps. Town Topic has pie.

Nelson-Atkins in the fall.

Sliders, Town Topic-style

Grind your own beef. Seriously. We’ve been through the reasons why before -at best, the store-bought stuff is too finely ground and a little paste-like; at worst, it’s bits and scraps processed with things like ammonia. Grinding beef takes minutes and gives you quality control.

To really do it right, make your own dill pickles and slice them up for the sliders. This obviously requires a certain amount of planning, so just make the pickles for their own sake and not specifically for this dish, and just have them around. If you buy pickles to garnish your sliders, just make sure they’re the dill kind kind, not the sweet kind – sweet pickles will make this sandwich cloying and gross, given the sweetish white bun, the cheese, the ketchup, and the fried onion.

Serves about six, maybe four.

18 oz chuck, sirloin tip, or another well-exercised and slightly fatty cut of beef, ground as described here
12 slider buns (soft white or potato), split
one large yellow onion, peeled and sliced pole-to-pole
butter
salt
12 slices American cheese
2 dill pickles, sliced thinly (1/4″)

Divide the ground beef into 12 1.5 ounce lumps/balls, not too tightly packed. Set aside.

Heat a flattop or plancha, or a cast iron pan. When hot, place a knob of butter in the pan and add the onions. Season lightly with salt and fry, tossing from time to time, until golden brown. Set aside (you can slide them to a cool section of the flattop or remove to a container off the heat).

Add a little extra butter or vegetable oil to the flattop or pan and distribute evenly to grease. Add the beef about 4 inches apart and smash flat with a spatula. Season with salt.

On the flattop.

Smash.

When browned on the bottom side, flip over and add the onions. Place the buns, one atop the other, over the onion-topped burgers to steam slightly.

Onions.

Remove the buns to serving plates. Place a slice of cheese on each burger and melt.

Melt.

Place on buns and garnish with sliced house-made or other dill pickles. Serve two or three to a person with lots of ketchup and mustard.

Sliderrific.

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