Have I mentioned yet that I love burgers? And that I enjoy cooking burgers? Well, I do. I’m a foodie and a man after all – it’s only natural that I should love burgers. I’ve been cooking burgers for years, with mixed results for many of said years, I must admit. For some reason, I never quite could get everything right, not that this has stopped me from trying.
Luckily, though, the thing about trying, sometimes over and over again, is that with every little success or failure, you grow wiser. So slowly but steadily I’ve been perfecting my burger aim over the years – to a point where I now consider myself quite adept at the burger building game.
Still, it was with some reservation that I agreed when my colleague Frandsen recently challenged me to do my take on the perfect burger. Frandsen has, however, gone beyond and above in our friendship lately, so I’ve accepted the challenge and will attempt to cook the perfect burger for a dinner with him and his wife this coming Saturday.
Creating a perfect burger, it turns out, is by no means a simple task, though, which is good in a sense because it allows us to do a series of posts on something as awesome as burger making. So join me, won’t you, for the next few posts as I walk you through creating what will hopefully be the perfect burger! Starting with the essential corner stone of burger making:
The perfect hamburger patty!
There are many little components which, by their powers combined, make the perfect burger. All of these are crucial and important in their own ways, but only one such component can truly make or break a perfect burger: The patty! I mean, let’s be honest here. EVERY other burger component is either replaceable or expendable.
Given a really good patty you can do without condiments, a soggy bun can be left uneaten, onions and mushrooms disposed of at will. Heck, even the bacon and cheese could be considered expendable (by ungodly savages!). But honestly, when’s the last time you heard someone go “Yeah, the hockey puck patty was really disgusting, chewy and may have cost me a tooth or two, but at least the bun was great, and oh my lord, the relish was to die for!”
Right, I thought not…
Of course, a great patty does not, in it self, a perfect burger make. But it’s a pretty damn big and a pretty damn important step in the right direction. And it’s not one to be taken lightly! Hence, in my effort to cook a perfect burger for friends, I shall employ a few tips and pointers that I’ve picked up after years of experimentation and getting it not quite right.
Now, I realize that you may not have a few years to spare, so I’ve gone through the trouble of rounding up the most important tips and lessons that I’ve picked up over the years and presenting them in short form in the hope that you may find them useful, geeky, funny, interesting or all of the above. Here, then, are my six best tips for a perfect burger patty:
Hamburger Tip no. 1: The secret ingredient is FAT!
Yes, I’m sorry. A hamburger is not, never was and never will be a healthy dish! If you think you can skimp on the fat, maybe even add in a few veggies or breadcrumbs to compensate then just stop reading, this post is not for you. I don’t advocate unhealthy eating in general , but I do advocate enjoying life and not giving a fuck every now and then!
Hamburgers are juicy, flavorful and succulent for a reason and that reason is fat! If you’re going to make proper hamburgers, your grind needs a good bit of fat. 15% is acceptable, 18% is better. 20% is perfect! Yes, you heard me! 20% fat! And yes, that does sound disgusting and yes, you’ll just have to trust me (and every star chef in the planet) on this one.
While it does sound like too much of a good thing, fat adds flavor and tenderness to the finished patty and don’t worry, quite a lot of it renders out during cooking, imparting flavor along its way. Use a good hamburger blend of great quality with a nice fat content and give it a try. Trust me, you’ll be surprised. Oh, and get your butcher to help you!
Hamburger Tip, no. 2: Use Freshly ground beef, please!
If you’re going to get really serious about burger making, you’re going to have to start grinding your own meat. While I realize this is not really an option for everybody (I, for example, am still working on cleaning and restoring my 1950’s hand-cranked Czechoslovakian meat grinder), it honestly is the only way if you want absolute freshness and full control over your finished burger product.
If, however, home grinding is not an option, talk to your friendly neighborhood butcher and get him to freshly grind a good, flavorful and fatty mix to order from a trusted source of beef that you respect and enjoy, of course. It’ll probably take you some time and money to find the right source and the right grind, but sacrifices will have to be made for the love of burgers.
If your butcher, for some reason, refuses to grind to order for you, then look him in the eye and tell him you think it’s about time you start seeing other butchers. There’s no shame in this. I’ve done this.
As a last resort, if you’re unable to find a butcher or are currently between butchers, you may be able to find freshly ground, quality beef in the meat section of your better neighborhood (super)markets. Make sure, though, that what you get is ground on the day and be aware that (other than all signs pointing to beef), you’ve no way of knowing exactly what you’re getting. Store bought ground beef is usually a mix of odds and ends that didn’t really fit anywhere else.
On the upside, though: if forced to shop at the super market, at least your 20% fat ground beef will be dirt cheap because it’s definitely not what the skinny blonde in line in front of you wants.
Hamburger tip no. 3: Spice it up!
Having spent good money acquiring the best beef you possibly could, you’ll be happy to know that at least you’ll save some money in the seasoning department. Good beef needs very little in the spicing up department. A few generous fresh grinds of quality black pepper and an even more generous sprinkling of gourmet salt will get you a long way. Need more? A dash of ground coriander, a subtle shake of cumin and a hint of chili are all acceptable. But keep it subtle. Good beef needs salt, pepper and love.. And very little else.
On the virtues of freshly ground pepper: Some people insist on having little tins of pre-ground pepper sitting around for seasoning purposes. I don’t know why anyone would do that, but I’ve been known to get very angry and opinionated about it. So, don’t get pre-ground pepper. Get a goddamn pepper mill and ground your pepper fresh! It makes all the difference in the world! Thank you, that is all!
Hamburger tip no. 4: Worcestershire sauce!
While we’re on the subject of spicing things up, I’m very sorry guys, but there’s just no getting around this next step. Whether it be in the form of fish sauce or the much more fun to pronounce Worcestershire sauce, your burger patty needs a shot of fermented fish – which is, essentially, the main ingredient of both fish sauce and Worcestershire sauce. There, I hope I didn’t ruin things for everybody. I know it doesn’t sound good, I know it certainly doesn’t smell good, but believe me: it tastes good! And not at all like fish!
See, fish sauce and Worcestershire sauce are, besides fishy tanginess, full of a wonderful thing called umami, aka the sixth taste, which has a way of making everything it comes into contact with taste more, umm, awesome and meaty. Don’t believe me? Try it! This is pretty potent stuff and it doesn’t take much. Two or three shakes of the bottle along with the other spices will do, and it makes all the difference by adding a much deeper, richer flavor to your hamburger patties. It’s (fishy) food magic!
Hamburger tip no. 5: Do poke your meat!
Ever had problems with your patty to bun ratio? That is, have you ever tried to align the size of your patty with the size of your bun only to have your patty shrivel up during cooking and eventually only take up half the diameter of the bun?
Well, allow me to make your life complete, by offering you a few words of advice for your next attempt. Next time make your hamburger patties ever so slightly larger than the diameter of your buns, then put your fingers directly at the center of the patty and just squeeze. That’s all there is to it, make an indent on each side at the center of the patty, that’ll minimize the shrinking. You’re welcome. Best (and easiest) hamburger pro tip ever!
Hamburger tip no. 6: A visual hamburger guide!
That’s it, really! Those are all the tips I have for you and all the tips you really need to make a perfect hamburger patty. Besides practice, of course. You’re now only one step away from enjoying one of the best things in the world: a perfectly hot and juicy hamburger patty cooked to pink, medium perfection.
And there’s even a guide for that final step as well, but for that I’ll turn you over to my good friend (and by good friend, I mean “I wish”) Chef John from foodwishes.com who did a wonderful and easy video recipe on how to cook the perfect burger.
And that’s it, really, there are no secrets to cooking a perfect hamburger patty, just a bit of knowledge, some geeking about and a lot of practice is all… And with a perfect patty to our name, we’re well under way to creating the perfect burger. Now, all that’s needed is a bun, some condiments, a kosher pickle and a few other little things… But that’s another post, or two. Join us later this week, as the quest for the perfect burger continues.
Once your patty is finished, it’s merely a matter of topping it up with ingredients of your choice such as spinach and, umm, poached eggs. For more info on the Eggs Benedict Burger, look here.