Raising the burger to gourmet heights
Raising the burger to gourmet heights
A comedian recently proclaimed on the television that you don’t find young American couples ‘going for an English’, to which someone retorted, ‘…yes, but all you eat are burgers’.
True enough, well not actually that true really, but if your idea of a burger is that shaken out of a frozen cardboard box, or prized apart from a tower of iced up perfect circles of what could be meat but more rather looks like frozen compost, you really aught to think again about burgers.
The thing about burgers is they are a depository for so many different flavours, and with care you can create some seriously gourmet food. The reason why we so often like to fast food restaurant burgers is hardly for the meat portion itself, but the pickles, sauces and condiments added to them, and the additions are important, we want to expand your horizons to create something amazing with meat.
I must admit that for most of my life I thought hamburgers were so called because they were made from ham, or at least pork. But just as the Frankfurter came from Frankfurt and the Wiener from Vienna, the Hamburger actually originated in Hamburg and was taken to America by immigrant workers in the 1700’s. Maybe the most popular cuisine in the world is actually German, not French, Asian or Italian! Hamburg steak was a way of cooking pates of finely chopped beef, some would say originated in the Russian dish Steak Tartare, which was reputed to have been brought to Russia by the Mongols, whose hordes used to eat raw steak that had been pounded under their saddles all day long.
It wasn’t until 1885 that the hamburger as the Americans know it was born, when a chap who became known as ‘Hamburger Charlie’ stated to sell pates of ground beef on bread with salad and pickle. He continued his trade until his death in 1951.
How to make burgers
You can buy hamburgers for 12.5 p each. Spend another ha’penny and you can get them flavoured with onion salt, too! The law says that such economy burgers have to be 60% meat of the type mentioned, and 60% of this has to be actual meat. So a burger can be actually 36% meat, 24% fat 10% water and the rest rusk. In addition, economy burgers typically contain up to a third of the recommended daily allowance of salt.
Needless to say, the flavour, and more importantly, the eating experience of such an item, cannot be up to much. Supposing you grilled it, the bottom of the tray would be alive with fat and water, and the hardening pebble in the top of the pan would become increasingly unpalatable.
Surely you could feed a family for about a pound, but at what cost to arteries, digestion and a decent palate?
Obviously, homemade leaves you in total control of what makes a burger. You can add to it whatever you like – but there are some prerequisites to make a really tasty burger.
The fat content of a good burger is important. Fat makes flavour, but there is an optimum amount. Too little and the burger will be lightweight in flavour, and possibly drier than it should be. However, too much and you will be left with a greasy aftertaste. Around 10% fat makes a good burger. For this reason good quality minced steak is ideal.
You can use beef, pork or lamb for many recipes, and combining meats to make a successful combination burger – so long as all the meats are equally lean.
Keep it cool
You can buy ready ground minced steak from the supermarket, but do try to keep it as cool as possible. I often buy a bag of ice cubes to keep my meat cool before taking it home for grinding in the kitchen. I also put my grinder in the freezer for a while to cool it. This cooling process does a number of things. Firstly it keeps the meat from warming and increasing the chances of bacterial spoilage. Secondly, as the meat cool, and as microscopic ice crystals begin to form in the cells, they rupture a little and you get a smoother paste – something I learned from sausage making.
If you can, use curing salt – but ordinary kitchen salt will do. Many burgers are around 1.8% – 2.8% salt, and this, my cardiac nurse tells me, is far too much. So I make burgers at 1% salt. This is sprinkled over the minced meat and very throughly worked into all of it. At just 10g per kilo of meat, this is a low salt product indeed. However, should you choose to use more salt, it’s your decision. All you need to do to check the seasoning is to take a little of the pate, cook it and see if it is to your taste.
Breadcrumbs or rusk
I have to admit that I don’t always add breadcrumbs to burgers, unless the recipe calls for it. The thing about burgers is they can take on various forms. The large, thin flat pate, to make up a sandwich of salsa, burger, a thin layer of home made liver pate, topped off with salad and relish, is a combination out of this world. But you don’t need big fat burgers to do it. Consequently they don’t contain breadcrumbs or rusk.
But the cheese and stilton burger recipe below is a succulent, fat mouthful and rather than waste any of the cooking juices – not to mention the port! – I add breadcrumbs to soak up the lot.
Needless to say, the breadcrumbs are there to soak up cooking juices, not to make them cheaper!
Burgers are really excellent when it comes to moisture. You can be really imaginative. Forgetwater! Red wine, port, apple juice, sweet chili sauce – you can make any number of flavours.
A pork and apple burger is seriously great with 5% – 10% apple juice.
There are many reasons for adding liquid to burgers. It helps to even out and distribute the seasonings evenly
Everything you add to the burger, vegetables, cheeses salt, spices are called seasonings. You can buy some pre-made seasoning from Weschenfelder – and quite amazing they are too. All you add is the meat and breadcrumbs and that’s it!
Sometimes it is a good idea to know the effect some flavours can have to a burger. For example, if you are going to add onions to the burger, try sweating them off first, leaving them on one side to cool before adding them to the burger at a rate of about 5%. Raw onion in a burger doesn’t cook so well and you end up with a bitter flavour.
Better still use a small amount of chives instead, for a more balanced flavour. The same goes for garlic. Chopped garlic leaves can be much pleasanter and easier to control than crushed garlic cloves.
Getting the shape right
You can use your hand to create a burger, simply press the meat into a sort of burger shape. However, what happens when cooked is the edges round off and so the meat doesn’t quite fit the bun to the same depth. However, if you spend a few pounds on a burger press, you will be able to stamp out perfectly shaped burgers time and again.
The original burger
This is basically cooking steak tartare in the Hamburg fashion with an American twist.
Enough for 4 burgers
1 onion, finely chopped
800 g minced steak
125 g strong Cheddar cheese – use Monterrey Jack for an authentic touch
8 slices of smoked bacon, grilled
Fry the onions until golden, not burned, and set aside to cool
Season the meat with one level teaspoon salt (cook a small portion to check seasoning for you)
Mix the onions and meat, and form into 4 burgers
Cook on the grill on both sides and serve topped with cheese and 2 broken up rashers of bacon each.
Beef & Stilton burger
This is an easy burger to make, with killer results. You will eat too many – guaranteed!
Enough for 6 burgers
500 g minced steak
125 g blue stilton
125 ml – (yes!) port
125 g breadcrumbs
1 level tsp salt
1/2 tsp crushed black
1 finely chopped spring onion – green bits too
Add the salt and pepper and rub in.
Simply crumble the breadcrumbs and cheese in to the meat.
Finally add the port.
If not cooking straight away, freeze in vacuum bags if possible.
Cook slowly and serve with salad.
This has to be the best
Easy chili burger
Enough for 8 burgers
800 g minced lamb steak (or beef if needs be)
100 g breadcrumbs
3 garlic cloves grated
1 onion, finely chopped
125 ml sweet chili sauce
5 g salt
(As an addition for colour and a little flavour, slice very thinly a red pepper of your choice – remember the smaller ones are hotter – to give slithers about 1 cm long, by no more than a couple of millimeters thick)
Cook the onions until golden and season the meat, checking as necessary.
Once the onions are cool, combine everything and form into burgers.
Cook under the grill on both sides.