January 30, 2013

Sliding into the Super Bowl: Chicken and Apple Sliders

Growing up in Windsor, a small Canadian city in southwestern Ontario just across the border from Detroit, you could not help but be immersed in American culture, no matter what your passport said.  Mega American malls, with their low prices, huge selection and a Target at every corner, were just 30 minutes away.  Grocery stores beckoned with seemingly endless aisles, full of exotic foods we couldn't get at home (marshmallow Fluff! Vernor's gingerale! Swiss Miss cocoa mix!). 

The American food culture wasn’t just confined to those US shores.  Windsor was the perfect test market for fast food, American style, of every kind.  The city could boast of Canada’s first Arby’s and Taco Bell, and Domino’s Pizza was as familiar – if not as good – as our own hometown choices. 
But perhaps my favourite guilty pleasure was something that never did find its way across the river into Windsor.  White Castle burgers, with their thin distinctive square shape, holes for faster frying, and bite sized proportions, could be eaten by the bagful, and they were.  The strangely quaint stores, with their faux turrets, somehow didn’t seem out of place in the urban sprawl of the Motor City. 

It's been many years since I've had a White Castle, and, I confess, quite some time since I've craved one.  But I still love a flavourful bite-sized treat, and these chicken and apple sliders are a grown-up take on a snack that you can eat by the handful.  So, in honour of that most decidely American annual tradition, the Super Bowl, make a dozen or three of these, adapted from another American classic, The Joy of Cooking.  They may not conjure up nostalgia, but they'll be a winning addition to your Super Bowl feast.

Chicken and Apple Sliders
makes approx. three dozen small patties
(adapted from The Joy of Cooking)

¾ c apple cider
¼ c Calvados
2¼ lb bone-in chicken thighs with skin
2 oz dried apple rings
1 scant tbsp kosher salt
1 tsp coarsely ground black pepper
1 tsp rubbed sage
⅛ tsp cinnamon
⅛ tsp ground ginger
To finish and garnish:
3 dozen mini hamburger or ciabatta buns, toasted
Lettuce of your choice (I used micro arugula greens)
Carmelised onions (make your own or use a good quality store bought brand)

1. Preheat oven to 350˚F.
2. In a small saucepan, bring apple cider and Calvados to a boil and then simmer, reducing liquid to 3 tbsps. Let cool.
3. Bone the chicken thighs, reserving the skin. Cut the meat and skin into strips. Coarsely chop the dried apple rings. Grind the meat, chicken skin and dried apple pieces together in a meat grinder. (If using a food processor, cut the meat, skin and apples into small cubes).

Using a meat grinder ensures a uniform texture and a good blending of the dried apple and chicken
 4. In a large bowl, combine the ground meat mixture with the reserved apple syrup and the remaining spice ingredients. Blend the mixture thoroughly with your hands until all of the ingredients are well combined. Form the meat into small patties, big enough to fit on a mini hamburger or mini ciabatta bun. *
5. Place on an ungreased baking sheet and bake for 10 to 15 minutes, or until cooked through.
6. To serve, place a piece of lettuce on each bun, top with a slider and finish with a generous dollop of carmelised onions.
*NB. The uncooked patties can be frozen at this stage for up to two months. To serve, bake from frozen on an ungreased baking sheet at 350˚F for 20-25 minutes, or until cooked through.