Monday, January 17, 2011
A really great hamburger seems to be a sort of Holy Grail in these days of American burger-mania. Every other restaurant that opens lately seems to be a beer & burger joint, ground-beef-centric gastro-pubs of sorts. Many of them tout their "signature blends" of beef, and some use sirloin, or short rib, or brisket. Home cooks who try to replicate the creations of their favorite burger chefs are often frustrated. Other people effortlessly turn out world-class patties in their own frying pans or grills with a Zen-like calm and assurance.
I'm not going to make any exalted claims for my own version of the Great American Sandwich. I'll only say that I've been making burgers this way for years, that we consider a hamburger dinner a treat of the highest order, and that there is never...any...nitpicking...criticism once we are done. We just sigh and lick our fingers, consider briefly that we'd maybe like another few bites, conclude that no, that was just right. Sip the rest of our beers and settle into deep contentment with life as we know it.
Let's assume you've got a good bun. I said all I care to say about the wondrous "Le Bun" in the previous post, and I'll leave you to your own counsel as to how to proceed regarding the bread component. The next thing, truly the main thing, is the meat. I use ground chuck. I grind it myself. This makes a lot of difference. I don't experiment with blends of beef because,
1) Come on, it's a hamburger, and
2) Fresh ground chuck is delicious. Deepy beefy, fatty enough to make a really juicy burger.
For two burgers, I grind 11 to 12 ounces of chuck. I grind it twice through the coarse blade of my KitchenAid meat grinder attachment. This grind is definitely coarser than a supermarket grind, and I think that makes an important difference in the texture. It's loose, almost fluffy if you can use that word for ground meat.
If you don't have a meat grinder, or just don't want to bother grinding your own, you may do all right getting regular or, if you insist, lean ground beef from a butcher you trust. One thing I firmly believe is that you won't get a great burger out of ordinary grocery store ground beef. For one thing, I'd be scared to eat that stuff medium rare, the way I like it.
To the ground meat, I add: a couple pinches of salt, a few grinds of pepper, maybe three, maybe four shakes of Worcestershire sauce, and about a half teaspoon of soy sauce. The soy and Worcestershire both give extra umami to the flavor, and help the patties brown up beautifully in the pan. Mix the seasonings in with your hands, be quick and light, and form the patties with a quick, deft touch, too--too much handling will compact the meat and wreck the texture.
Then chill them until you are ready to cook. Cooking: I always used to favor the grill, and in the balmy months we definitely enjoy a char-grilled burger from time to time, but more often now we do them in a heavy skillet on the stove. Mary has gradually convinced me that this is the superior method. The direct contact between meat and metal assures an excellent char, we have control over the heat, flames do not erupt to carbonize our burgers, and juices remain in the pan to nap over the burgers as we serve.
Very hot skillet, a thin coat of oil, three minutes a side should do it. Start the heat out very high but turn it down to slightly off maximum once the patties go in (if you don't have a good vent hood, station someone near the smoke alarms to wave a magazine/disconnect if required...).
Remove the burgers from the pan when cooked to desired doneness, and let them rest while you condimentize your bun. Toast the buns if you like, though if they are very fresh they'll just need a little warming. We always fry some onions in the pan drippings. This night I added some slivers of aged gouda, sliced cornichons (I would use sour dills but I didn't have any), grain mustard on the bottom, a little apple ketchup on the top. I don't really like raw vegetables on my burger, the classic lettuce and tomato, since I feel they dilute the flavor too much. Chacun a son gout.
Oven frites, some pickled ramp mayo, a little carrot-sambal slaw, and a fine Wisconsin brew rounds it out.
That's my burger. I'd love to hear about others' burger preferences, secrets, peeves, etc.
Here concludes the Trout Caviar (Not So) Fast Food Extravaganza.
That chuck roast, Hill & Vale from the Seward Co-op, was about two pounds, and I took it apart like this, basically following the muscle groups. The solid, marbled piece at lower right, that I cut in half the long way to make a couple of "bistro steaks," as we call them, a sort of faux hanger steak--beautifully flavorful and quite tender. The chunk on the left was ground for the burgers, and the pile at top right and other trimmings I ground also, and that went to the dogs, literally. Not a scrap was wasted.
Text and photos copyright 2011 by Brett Laidlaw