Hi, I’m back! Sorry I haven’t been posting. I cook fairly sporadically, and even then most of the time it’s not blog-worthy (wow, I made rice and pan-fried some chicken. How…inventive). Also, this post was delayed a good week+ because Z was just sitting on his thum…er, too busy to put it up. However, as you may know from a previous post, I like cheeseburgers. In fact, I like cheeseburgers so much I have a blog about them. Given my predilection for cheeseburgers and my enjoyment of cooking, it’s only natural that I would eventually make some myself and blog about it. One of these days, I’m going to try and make a Jucy Lucy, but for this installment it’s just a regular cheeseburger (or cheezburger, as my feline friends are wont to exclaim in rather ungrammatical fashion*).
So what’s so hard about cooking a burger? Get some ground beef, mash it flat, and cook it, right? Maybe a little seasoning. Some people go so far as to say a burger patty should be ground beef and nothing else (not even salt!).
I think these people are idiots.
Now, when I go to a restaurant and order a cheeseburger, if I’m given a choice I order my burgers cooked to medium. Why? Well, well-done burgers tend to be as juicy as a hockey puck and nearly as tasteless, and if a particular establishment feels comfortable enough in their meat to allow it to be cooked to order, well then, by golly, I trust ‘em to have decent quality meat (foolish, perhaps, but that’s how my mind works). On the other hand, when I buy pre-packaged ground beef from a supermarket, there’s no way I’m cooking it to anything less than well-done.
Unless you’ve got high-quality beef whose provenance you are confident in, if cooking a burger well-done, steps need to be taken to both enhance flavor and maintain juiciness. To that end, I employ two key ingredients. The first is steak sauce: I presume that plenty of people probably pooh-pooh plebeian pleasures such as steak sauce, and I would never use it on an actual steak of reasonable quality. In a burger, however, I think it’s the perfect addition. It has an ineffable, unmistakable spice profile and a bit of a lip-puckering vinegary kick that’s an excellent counterpoint to the beef flavor (oh man, that’s probably the douchiest food-related thing I’ve ever written).
The second key ingredient is bread crumbs. Again, purists may scoff. However, the bread crumbs *(footnote: As an alternative to breadcrumbs, my mom and little brother use Quaker oats in their burgers. I kid you not.) serve a vital purpose — as the burger cooks and the fat renders, the bread soaks up the molten fat rather then letting it all drain away, resulting in a far juicier end product. Some may argue that this effectively makes the burger patty more of a meatloaf patty — and to them, I say, “You’re right. What’s wrong with that?”
Now to make the burgers. In this case, I started off with a pound of 80% lean/20% fat ground beef. Yes, 20% fat. You wouldn’t go wrong buying 70/30 if you can find it. Burgers are supposed to be juicy. The juice comes from fat. Buying the leanest ground beef you can find is a surefire way to end up with dry burgers, and all the breadcrumbs in the world can’t change that. Also, fat is delicious. To this I added a healthy dollop (probably about 1/4 cup? Heck, maybe even more) of steak sauce, and probably almost another 1/4 cup of bread crumbs. Incidentally, the bread crumbs I used were homemade, made from leftover bits of stale, crusty sourdough bread I accumulate. I also added 2 cloves of minced garlic, because I am of the firm opinion that every savory dish is better with garlic, and salt and pepper to taste. The final ingredient is one well-beaten egg. The egg serves as a binder and prevents the motley beef mixture from falling apart (again, shades of meatloaf). Hooray for liquid protein! To mix, use your hands. It’s fun, trust me. (I’ll admit that sometimes I use my stand mixer, which made a guest appearance in a previous post).
Forming the patties is easy — I wanted to make roughly 1/3-lb burgers, so I fashioned the beef mixture into something vaguely log-shaped and then divided it into 3 equal lengths (who said fractions would never be useful?). Consistent size means consistent cooking time, so I strive for, uh, consistency. When dealing with larger quantities, I actually will weigh each ball of beef using my trusty kitchen scale. Roll into a ball, smash into a flat patty in the palm of your hand, and work around the edges to seal up the inevitable cracks that form. The KEY, though, to forming burger patties is to put an indent into the middle of the burger. When the burger cooks, it shrinks inward, and without an indent the patty will end up much thicker in the middle than the edges, and that both makes it difficult to cook evenly and difficult to assemble and eat. Remember — consistency! I like to make the indent have roughly 1/3 the diameter of the overall patty and half the thickness of the edges. Some people just make a thumb imprint. Whatever works.
Then…to the (Bat)pan! Pan frying is great for making burgers indoors. Non-stick pans (and well-seasoned cast iron) will need no additional oil, as the fat rendered from the meat is sufficient to keep the burgers from sticking. Cook on medium-high for about 4 minutes per side (if you’ve made thicker burgers, you’ll need to reduce heat and increase cooking time accordingly so that the inside cooks completely without burning the outside). Flip once only! Also, for the love of all that is good and right in this world, do not smash the burger with the spatula. Doing so only forces all of that lovely beef juice out onto the pan, which is not nearly as good as being forced into your mouth by a healthy bite. Once the burger is flipped, I lay cheese slices (in this case, a pretty standard medium cheddar) on top. I like to use a lid on the pan to help melt the cheese, but if no lid is available a piece of aluminum foil will do. Basically, you just want to trap/reflect some heat at the top of the patty in order to get the cheese nice and melted.
Then, assemble. Here, pretty standard: A toasted whole wheat bun, burger with cheese, lettuce, tomato, and red onion. No pickles, naturally. I added some avocado for flavor and the creamy texture (and because I thought the burgers needed more fat). Just like a steak, I find that a burger benefits from some “resting” time before eating. It will allow the juices to set a little bit and avoid soaking through the bun and/or squirting you in the eye with the nearest bovine equivalent to napalm.
And the result? Well, it was pretty good. Note the even thickness of the final result in the cross-sectional cut, as well as the noticeable but not overwhelming amount of juice even in a burger clearly cooked well-done. I wish I could say it was fantastic, but I had a few reservations about the flavor, both them related to the breadcrumbs. One, I don’t think I would use sourdough bread crumbs again. The sourdough flavor was actually a little too strong and I wasn’t a big fan of this flavor in the burger. Second, the texture was off. It didn’t have the same chewiness and resistance as burgers typically do (you see, I resisted the urge to use the term “mouthfeel”). I think this was due to either there being too much bread crumb in the mixture, or that the bread crumbs are larger than commercially available bread crumbs, or both. I normally use store-bought “Italian seasoned” bread crumbs, which both have no sourdough flavor and some extra herbage, but also are much more finely (and consistently) ground than what I get out of my food processor. Or it could have been the egg — a whole egg may be too much for a single pound of meat.
Then again, my dining partner actually liked both of the things (the sourdough flavor and somewhat softer texture) that I thought were faults. So…take from that what you will.
We both agreed, though, that avocado on burgers is pretty much a win all around.