Food — Be it ever so humble, the burger rules

 

by Amy Diaz        adiaz@hotmail.com

 

Pat it, grill it, dress it up and put it on a plate — you have got yourself a party

 

So frequently, when we say “barbecue” what we mean is “burgers.”

To really slow-cook via smoke a rack of juicy ribs is a glorious thing. But sometimes what we really want is the slightly charred on the outside, slightly rare on the inside ground beef patty that is the food of summer.

Plus, kids love burgers — which makes cooking for that Sunday dinner or backyard get-together just that much easier. (And, hey, if the kids you cook for don’t love burgers, they’ll definitely like hot dogs, which take up very little grill space and can cook concurrently.)

Nothing is better than a medium-rare burger, cooked with nothing but a little bit of salt and pepper. But you can also vary that flavor with preparations both before and after the burgers are cooked. (Hey, a different kind of burger equals an entirely different kind of dish in my low-effort summer cooking repertoire.)

Here are a few general tips for getting the best from your burgers:

• Don’t chintz on the buns. While you don’t want buns that are too tough or bready, you do want buns substantial enough to keep in all of your burger fixings.

• Toast your buns.  I’m not just talking about the inevitable griller’s suntan. Toasted burger buns help improve the structure and keep in especially the moisture-heavy toppings such as tomatoes or sauces. Buns toast up well but quickly on the grill or slower but with a little more controllability (you can get lightly toasted with a garlic schmear) in the oven.

• Lettuce looks pretty, but can be a burger’s undoing. It can make the burger hard to keep together or too difficult to bite through. Try a slice of tomato for your vegetable instead or chop lettuce into smaller pieces.

• Use a meat thermometer and don’t be afraid to make mistakes. Most recommendations for microbe-free burgers put the cooking temperature at 160 degrees. (This produces well-done burgers.)

• Medium-rare to medium burgers are often the most juicy and delicious, however, so when you want a really great burger, buy really great meat. Meat ground fresh by yor or a butcher is relatively safe to cook for shorter time period.

Your best burger book

Hamburgers & Fries: An American Story, by John T. Edge, G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 2005, 189 pages.

John T. Edge has found himself one heck of a great food-writing gig.

In two previous books, he traveled the country eating apple pie and fried chicken—two of the great American dishes. In this book, he dissects the regional differences and oddities of hamburgers and their natural plate-mates, the French fries. While I’m sure Edge has had to find new ways to burn off the calories from some of these monster burgers (which get add-ons of cheese, beans, chili and sometimes egg), I’m also certain that these are some of the best uses of additional fat ever devised. Reading his book on an empty stomach isn’t just ill-advised, it’s cruel. But if you’ve got access to a summer day, a grill and a few hours to kill perfecting a big sloppy burger, Hamburger & Fries is a very welcome companion.

The book is not just a collection of great stories and mouthwatering recipes but also something of a travel guide for burger lovers. My only bone to pick with Edge is that there are so few places for us in the New England area to travel to. On his list of great burgers, only two New England stops (Sara J’s of Wallingford, Conn., and Ted’s of Meriden, Conn. ) make the cut. For fries, we have to head to Dim Sum Go Go on East Broadway in New York City to get the really good stuff.

Of course, it’s the recipes that make up for our lack of proximity to famous burgers. One way to visit Miami is to make a meal of “Fritas de Calle Ocho,” the fries served with a very spicy Cuban burger that will go equally well with anything you put on the grill. (For extra flavor, sprinkle on a steak seasoning along with salt.)

 

Fritas de Calle Ocho

For the fritas

1 cup vegetable or peanut oil

1 potato, sliced into thin matchsticks

1 teaspoon salt

In heavy skillet, heat oil over a medium-high flame. Add the potatoes, stirring to distribute and cook for 2 or 3 minutes until they are crisp, like chips. Seine from grease, salt generously and set aside.

 

FOOD SIDE 2

There can be so much more to a burger than just meat on bread.

 

• Best beef burger

1 pound ground beef, 80 percent lean, best cut available

Salt and pepper

To highlight the natural taste of good-quality beef, season beef to taste with salt and pepper and form burgers. Grill medium or medium rare and serve on a tasted bun with a thin slice of red onion and a thin slice of tomato.

 

• Salsa burger

1 pound ground beef

Half of a yellow onion, diced

Small green pepper, diced

One chipotle pepper, cut or torn into very small pieces, plus one tablespoon of adobe sauce (most chipotles come canned in adobe sauce).

Mix ingredients and form patties. Grill, placing slices of pepper Jack cheese on the burgers after flipping.

Place on a toasted bun and top with a layer of sliced avocado, a sprinkle of chopped cilantro and a slice of tomato.

 

• Buffalo blue cheese burger

1 pound ground beef

4 teaspoons Tabasco sauce (more for spicier burgers; less for those sensitive to heat)

2 tablespoons tomato sauce

1 teaspoon fresh ground pepper

1 teaspoon salt

Mix ingredients thoroughly and form patties. Grill. After grilled, place hamburger on a toasted bun and layer with about two heaping tablespoons of room temperature blue cheese (for easier spreading) and a few leaves of very crisp butter lettuce.

 

• Tangy Worcestershire burger

1 pound ground beef

1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce

Half a medium-sized yellow onion, diced very small

2 garlic cloves, minced

Mix ingredients thoroughly and form patties. Grill. After flipping burgers, place slices of a sharp or aged cheddar on the burgers to melt for the rest of the cooking time. Serve on toasted bun with a big dollop of mild brown mustard, a slice of tomato and crisp, non-bitter lettuce.

 

• Quickie barbecue burger

1 pound ground beef

1/4 cup barbecue sauce

1 teaspoon smoked paprika

Mix ingredients and form patties. Grill and sprinkle with pepper while on the grill. Serve on a toasted bun with shredded or finely chopped lettuce, tomato and a teaspoon or so more of barbecue sauce for extra flavor.

 

• Spicy Italian burgers

1 pound of Italian sausages, spicy or sweet

1 garlic clove, minced

2 teaspoons freshly crushed black pepper

2 tablespoons of freshly chopped or torn (into very small pieces) basil

1/4 cup grated parmesan

Cut sausage casings and place meat in a bowl. Mix in other ingredients thoroughly and form patties. Grill until cooked through and serve on a toasted bun with tomato and a light drizzle of vinegar and olive oil or Italian dressing.

 

• Bacon and ranch burger

1 pound ground beef

1 cup freshly grated cheddar

Fresh ground pepper

Salt to taste

Bacon, 2 pieces per patty

Ranch Dressing

Mix ground beef, pepper, cheddar and salt. Form patties. Grill and serve on a toasted bun with a slice of tomato, a slice of red onion, two crisp butter lettuce leaves, a healthy dollop of ranch dressing and two slices of crispy fried or grilled bacon.

 
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