What goes into your perfect hamburger, and what goes on top? The hamburger may well have originated in Europe, but it took the ingenuity of the Americans to see the true potential of this magical lump of seasoned meat to make it the true classic that it is today.
Even if you spend your weekends in the finest of fine restaurants, I bet the scent of grilling burgers still gets your taste buds watering. It’s that primal, charred, slightly crunchy exterior, the soft, juiciness within – and of course, that perfect combination of toppings, sauces and pickles.
Burgers may be fast food, and to some the lowest rung of the culinary ladder, but they’re also a craft. London has seen many independent burger joints open over the past year or so, offering mouthwatering alternatives to the substandard mush which you come to find on the high street. I’m going to take the burger back to basics, focusing on a classic beef number suitable for cooking on the barbecue, or a hot griddle pan.
A burger needs to be moist and juicy and that means fat! A burger made of lean, finely ground mince will produce a dry, crumbly patty unworthy of the name! The general consensus is that the perfect burger should be 40 per cent fat! Let’s be honest the words burger and healthy are rarely used in the same sentence… Without this fat, the burger won’t be moist. When buying your meat, avoid anything which has lean in the title. Ideally you would mince your own meat, chuck steak gives a nice combination of fat and meat – a good butcher should be able to help you out with this. A coarse mince gives the best overall texture.
Pure Meat Perfection?
In its simplest form, the burger is nothing but minced beef and seasoning. Leiths Meat Bible, a book devoted to the carnivore, is of this school, although it does allow for some optional chopped onion and herbs. Try mixing 675g of chuck mince with a finely chopped onion, a little fresh finely chopped thyme and some salt and pepper, shape them into burgers, and chill before popping them on a hot barbecue or griddle. Without any additional binder, these ‘pure’ burgers may be a little on the fragile side, so be careful when you grill them. Although cooked medium rare, however, the interior can be a little chewy. A solid effort, with a nice beefy flavour, but there’s room for improvement….
Try adding an egg?
Larousse Gastronomique, the bible of all things French and gastronomic, offers their suggestion… Take 400g minced beef, 50g chopped onion, 1 tsp chopped parsley, and 2 eggs, mix all of the ingredients together and then form into patties. The eggs make the mixture a bit sloppy, but once the burgers have chilled, they hold together quite well. Cooked, however, they’re a definite disappointment: the egg has made them dry and fibrous, but it has given them a deliciously crunchy exterior.
Eggs and Breadcrumbs?
Part of the moisture problem is not letting it escape in the first place! The addition of breadcrumbs to the mix helps to absorb the moisture trapping it. Try mixing 1 medium egg to 500g minced beef with about 60g breadcrumbs – brown for preference – along with a small onion, softened in butter, a sprinkling of chopped thyme, and salt and pepper. This recipe tends to produce a slightly crumblier mix initially, which makes them more difficult to keep together on the grill, but once cooked, they are less dense, and juicier, with the bread adding an extra layer of malty flavour. The cooked onion gives them a hint of sweetness as well.
Burgers & Beer… the winning combination?
Charles Campion, in his book; ‘Food from Fire’ gives an “implausible” recipe for Guinness hamburgers. The recipe suggests 50ml Irish stout to every 500g beef. “There’s something about the chemical interactions of fizzy liquid and the protein in lean meat that helps bind everything together,” he says. “The faint bitterness of the stout also helps tenderise the meat and balance the flavours.” After an hour maturing in the fridge, these oddly brown burgers go on the grill. They prove slightly crumbly when cooking, but they’re well worth it – the meat is meltingly tender, and the malty flavour of the Guinness really brings out its savoury beefiness.
Or is it just good technique?
Leiths Meat Bible suggests that you should make a dimple in the center of your burgers to keep them flat during cooking – it certainly helps to avoid the slightly unappetising cannon-ball effect I usually end up with. Most recipes caution against overworking the mixture, which can make the meat tough: shape it into patties firm enough to hold together and chill them well before you cook them to let the meat relax and firm up. When you cook them don’t be tempted to squeeze them, or squash them against the grill like you’re in an American diner – you’ll just end up with a dry burger.
In all honesty, the perfect burger is a very personal matter – the herbs, the seasoning and the garnish are all down to you, but for tender meat, and an intensely savoury flavour, you can’t beat a slug of stout in your mixture… well that’s my opinion anyway!
Why not take a look at the Taylor Clamshell Grills or call us on 0800 838896 for further information.