Hamburgers are the ideal summer barbecue treat. Just thinking about burgers makes my mouth water, but they can be difficult to get right.
There is much debate on how to make the perfect burger. Some swear by breadcrumbs and eggs, but these taste like meatloaf to me. Others smear or add barbecue sauce into the mix, but you lose the meaty taste. Sautéed onions, garlic, Worcestershire sauce, Asian flavourings, as well as lots of herbs are popular additions, but they mask the flavour of good meat.
The way to jazz up a burger is with the sides. Keep the seasoning simple, salt and pepper only, and make the sides complex.
For the juiciest hamburger, the meat needs to have 18- to 20-per-cent fat. Lean meat makes for drier burgers – ground chuck gives the best results. Grass-fed beef is meatier and aged meat, with its pungent umami flavour, is excellent but expensive. Avoid packaged supermarket beef if you can.
Burgers should be cooked to medium-well to prevent any issues with microbes, but when I buy freshly ground burger meat from my butcher or grind it myself in the food processor, I will serve medium-rare for those who like it. The choice is yours. Keep the meat refrigerated until ready to cook. Take it out of the refrigerator, season well and gently form into patties. Grill immediately.
Brioche buns or a milk bun, which absorb the juices and become part of the eating experience, are best. Grill lightly for a minute or two.
I never use tomatoes on a burger unless it is the middle of tomato season; to me they add nothing to the flavour. Tomato salad is a better bet. Toss in raw onion, but salt it first to remove some of the harsh flavour.
I prefer a burger without cheese, as it can overpower all that wonderful flavour, but I do understand how it enriches the texture. Traditionally, Cheddar is the No. 1 cheese for a burger, but try some others, such as Comté, which is nutty, or blue, which is a perfect foil for juicy meat.
Sautéed onions have a sweetness that matches perfectly with a hamburger. And sautéed mushrooms have a meaty savouriness that enhances flavour.
Invest in an artisan brand of ketchup – regular bottled ketchup is too sweet and thick. Dijon mustard is the gold standard, but any popular brand of flavoured mustard is fine. The list of sides and condiments is endless. Choose what you love.
My recipe for the best burgers:
Lightly spread 2 pounds of ground chuck on a board. Season with 2 teaspoons Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper. Fry a small piece to taste for perfect seasoning.
Gently gather together and form four 8-ounce burgers about 1-inch thick (they can weigh less, but keep the thickness). Make a thumbprint in the middle of the patty for even cooking. Don’t handle the meat too much; that makes a dry burger. Grill burgers on high heat for 6 to 7 minutes a side for medium. I cook my burgers less than the recommended time needed to kill E. coli as I use freshly ground naturally raised or grass-fed beef. This is a personal choice and you must cook them the way you are comfortable. Serve with your choice of toppings.
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