The opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily the opinions of the author. GREG
I love the LA Times Food Section. I really do. I think they are a great group of people. They are constantly challenging me to be a better cook by presenting information that goes beyond recipes. Only occasionally do they fall back on cupcakes or healthy snacks for kids as ploys to hawk a few papers. I respect their mission.
Which is why what I am going to say next hurts me a little.
No. No, no, no. NO!
They got their recent “Battle of the Burgers” all wrong. I am not saying the winners did not present fabulous recipes. How about that Red, White and Blueberry Burger? I mean blueberries on a bun is downright creative. Add to that chipotle and you got a memorable combination, worthy of some sort of prize I am sure. But a recipe like that belongs in another article on another day. Heck it probably deserves to be in a cookbook. You see I am trying to make a point here. So I’ll also add that sliders aren’t burgers. They are cute, that’s for sure, but they are called sliders for a reason. That reason of course being, they are not burgers.
I don’t really have a right to pipe in. I was traveling during the “voting” section of the contest so I admit my voice was not heard when the finalists were being decided on Facebook. So I won’t waste any time discussing that process.
But I will tell you what a burger is, which should clearly illustrate while the delicious meat patties presented by the LA Times are surely a delight to the senses, but they are quite obviously NOT burgers. Burgers are not “regional”. They should never be made in the “style” of a national cuisine. This is not information that is strictly my opinion either. These are rules. Hard-set, definite– ordained you might say.
A good burger starts at the meat market. If you are a fanatic, as you should be. You will refuse all pre-ground meat. How can anything be the best if you cannot be assured what went into it? That’s common sense.
A burger is made from top or bottom round or top sirloin. Both are very handsome cuts and that’s why we use them for burgers. Burgers are manly. Yes they are.
Once you’ve spied your meat of choice. Ask the butcher to trim off all of the outside fat. Did I just say that? I love fat (yes I do). Fat is good in a burger (yes it is). But we purposefully chose a cut of meat with a soft flavorful marbling of fat running throughout. That is the fat we want in our burger.
Once directed to trim all of the outer fat away the butcher will look at you askance. He will hem and haw. Tell him you plan to eat the meat raw. Lie if you have to. Once he’s trimmed it to your specifications. Lie again. Tell him you changed your mind and that you would like him to grind the meat for you. Ask him to pass it through the grinder. Once. Just once. If he says a second passing will give you more uniform results, give him the evil eye.
If he must touch the meat in order to wrap it up for you, watch him carefully. Maybe even ask him to tie one hand behind his back as he works anything to keep him from over-handling, or God forbid squeezing that meat into a hard compacted mass.
Of course you could trim and grind the meat at home. But then I’d accuse you of being persnickety.
Once you get the beef home all it takes is a bare amount of basic seasoning. Salt and Pepper. It’s best to season the meat both before you divide and form the meat into burgers and then again on the outside of each patty.
I am sure I don’t have to remind you, but work the meat as little as possible. Same rules apply for you as do the butcher.
Burgers should be big and they should be thick. 3 burgers per pound of uncooked meat is a good rule. Almost an inch thick is a given.
Okay, you can breath easy; you’ve made it past hard part. Most people don’t put the effort in getting their patties just right. So they have lost the battle before it began. Poor fools.
Now. How should you cook your burgers? Well there is a one-word answer and that word is fast. Cook your burgers quickly. A sizzling cast iron skillet brushed with butter is a good way, a broiler can bring great results too. But really flame is the best answer. I mean charcoal flame. Gas grills are for girls.
After that all you need to do is to turn your thoughts toward presentation. Buns are essential. And I do believe buns are best. Something soft and thick is my favorite. Something that gives you a 50/50 ratio of bun to meat. Kaiser rolls can be good too. Use sourdough if you want to, but using bread instead of a bun is dangerous territory in my mind. I am not saying it can’t be done, but you should probably have a license or at least be supervised by a professional.
Same with the toppings. I prefer traditional: tomatoes, lettuce, onion, avocado, cheese, bacon… But you can get fancy if you want to. Try arugula, roasted peppers, or any kind of cheese you can think of. I like blue cheese and jammy wine soaked caramelized onions. Because a good burger, properly built from the ground up can have any combination of ingredients. Even blueberries. Yes blueberries. Just ask the LA Times– blueberries are “the best”! 😉
SERIOUS FUN FOOD (with occasional jests)
I must say that I simply adore your blog. I started last week, and now I am here, 25 pages in, laughing to myself about an imaginary butcher who shoots me sidelong glances. Thank you for the wonderful writing, the creative recopies and meaningful anecdotes! You are truly talented.