14 July 2008

Essential summer eats: The Burger

Everyone knows by now that I have no love for the hot dog. None at all. Which is okay, because it leaves me more room to love a good, make that gourmet, burger.

Not those processed things you get at a fast food place, and not even those things that come frozen in boxes -- those which have some beef, but more filler. Not even the expensive things that come frozen in boxes that supposedly don't have much filler at all.

Give me a good, thick, hand formed burger, and I'll be your friend forever.

What goes into the burger isn't so difficult. Endless possibilities, there. What matters is that it's full of flavour, is big enough that it overwhelms the bun, and that it was grilled. That's all I ask, really.

Below, a few variations for you to try, from the infinite possibilities that await you. And after that, a few burger rules.

[With all recipes just toss everything into one big bowl. It's not a delicate process, this!]

500g of ground lamb + 500g extra lean ground beef
[OR 900 g ground lamb + 1/4 cup dry oatmeal]
1/4 cup finely chopped white or Spanish onion
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 Tbsp fresh mint, chopped extra fine (or 1 Tbsp dried)
Dash of Worcestshire sauce
Salt and pepper
1 egg

600g extra lean ground beef + 400g ground chicken
1 Tbsp chopped sun-dried tomatoes (dry or in oil)
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 Tbsp fresh thyme, chopped, or 1 Tsp dried thyme
Loads of freshly ground black pepper
1 Egg
[Fancy-pants version: roll about 1 to 2 Tsp goat cheese into the middle of each burger when making the patties]

600g lean ground beef + 400g ground chicken or turkey
1/3 cup finely chopped red onion
3 Tbsp barbeque sauce (regular or smokey)
1 Tbsp chopped cilantro (optional)
1 Tbsp finely chopped Chipotle pepper (that's a smoked Jalapeno)
1 good dash of Worcestshire sauce
Salt and pepper
1 egg

500g ground pork + 500g lean ground beef
1/3 cup finely chopped red onion
1/3 cup dried or freshly grated parmesan or romano cheese
2 cloves minced garlic
2 Tbsp fresh basil, chopped (or 1 Tbsp dried)
2 Tbsp fresh oregano or rosemary, chopped (or 1 Tbsp dried)
2 Tbsp tomato paste
1/2 to 1 Tsp dried chili pepper flakes
Freshly ground black pepper
1 egg

The Supreme Burger Rule:
A burger must NOT be skimpy. It must be bigger than its bun, and it must be hefty. The recipes above should make 6 to 8 patties each, not a dozen. That's right. Burgers of substance, my friends.

Rule #2
If you mix in ground chicken or turkey -- or use it entirely instead of beef or lamb -- make sure your burgers are full of other flavours, to compensate for the bland meat you're using. Ground chicken is just gross if it's not highly flavoured. So adjust accordingly with extra spices and herbs. And with the exception of full lamb burgers, don't mix in breadcrumbs or oatmeal. It's not meatloaf, it's a burger. Filler is for that President's Choice guy, not your kitchen.

Rule #3
Burgers made entirely with extra lean meats are bland. Use a bit of fattier meat (ie lean or medium) mixed in with the extra lean.

Rule #4
With all recipes: Get your hands in there, mix, form patties, let rest in the fridge for an hour, or more, then grill.

And just in case, some burger safety tips:
Treat your kitchen like a biohazard zone while you're working with raw ground meats. Don't cross-contaminate cooked burgers with implements or hands that have handled raw meats. I am a big fan of the surgical glove when making burgers. It's just that much easier to deal with the mess. Use hot soapy water to clean things up, and pay attention to what you touch or splatter. No need to be paranoid, but be keenly aware.

If you work with previously-frozen meats, make sure that you don't re-freeze patties until they're cooked. Meat that hasn't been previously frozen can be of course be frozen without cooking. Just separate the formed patties with parchment or waxed paper, then wrap very well and freeze.

Also, make sure you cook the burgers enough. Nobody wants a burned burger, but you really don't want to deal with the illness if it's under-coooked, either. Medium heat, for at least ten minutes a side, if not more. No need to futz with the burgers -- put them on a hot grill, on medium, and close the lid. After ten minutes, lift the lid, flip the burgers, and close it up again. Don't press down on them, or juggle them. Just turn'em and close the lid. If you see flare ups, turn it down a notch.

One last tip...don't be afraid to garnish your guests' burgers. Put out what you think goes best with what you've created. Spinach, arugula, roasted peppers or eggplant, smoked cheeses or soft cheeses (brie or camembert or goat cheese), fruit chutneys or fresh pesto...you created it, so take the lead, and guide them in what to put on it. Or don't, and do the standard spread of possibilities...high or low end. Me, I can enjoy a burger topped with mountains of fancy stuff, or just a slice of cheese and some ketchup.

Don't be afraid to get funky with your buns, too. Garlic butter on lightly grilled panini, a toasted baguette sliced in 4-inch sections, fresh naan or pitas, cheese buns, whatever you want to put those burgers in will be fine. If the puffy white pillowy hamburger buns of your youth do justice to your spectacular patties, then fine. But I bet they don't!

Most of all, enjoy the pleasure of making one of the world's greatest foods even better. Such a versatile food deserves to be handled with creativity, not pulled out of a box you bought from your grocer's freezer section just because it was on sale. So have some fun, and don't forget to invite me over to share in the results!


No comments: