The burger: such a simple meal, yet there are so many opinions as to what makes the ‘best’ burger. I think if you start with a homemade patty, you’re well on your way. You can smother it in all the toppings you like, or keep it very simple, as long as you have a good base. A gently packed, homemade patty is much tastier and more enjoyable in its texture than the compressed, thin disks you’ll find in the store (especially if you’re buying frozen). I change up what I use to flavour burger patties depending on what I may have on hand, but always start with the same base – sautéed onions and garlic, salt and pepper. From there, you can experiment to find your best burger. Here’s my basic recipe, with a twist we prepared one night while traveling in New Zealand, where we enjoyed our burgers overlooking the Tukituki River in Hawke’s Bay.
MAKES 4 MEDIUM BURGERS
½ kg (500g / 1lb) grass-fed ground beef
you can use lean, but skip extra lean in this case
half a small onion, finely chopped
1 clove garlic
¼ cup breadcrumbs
2 tsp cracked black pepper
1 tsp salt
1 tbsp grainy mustard
1 tbsp finely chopped chives
dash soya sauce
4 soft hamburger buns
toppings of your choice: thinly sliced cheddar cheese, ketchup, mustard, pickles, sautéed onions, caramelized onions, sliced tomato, tomato chutney, lettuce, …
Remove meat from fridge and set aside while you prepare your seasonings. Over medium heat, heat olive oil in heavy bottomed fry pan that can go in the oven (you may reuse this pan later for the burgers, so this will reduce the dishes to be washed). Add onions and garlic and sauté for a few minutes until the onions soften. Remove from heat and allow to cool.
If you already have breadcrumbs on hand, grab ‘em. If not, a slice of stale bread, lightly toasted, and pulsed in the food processor (or roughly crumbled by hand) will do it.
In a medium-sized mixing bowl, combine all base burger and flavouring ingredients. I find it’s best to get in there with your hands and massage until the egg has been absorbed and all the goodness is evenly distributed throughout the meat.
Separate the meat into four equal portions. Gently shape each into a ball, and then flatten to make a patty about ¾ inch thick. The patties will be soft, but should hold together. You want your burger to fit inside the bun, so take a look and make sure the final round patty is appropriately sized. It will shrink a bit when you cook it. Place burgers on a plate and cover with plastic wrap. Chill in fridge for at least 30 minutes. These can be made the day ahead. Bring back to room temperature before cooking.
If you are going to pan fry, preheat the over to 375F. Heat your heavy bottomed frying pan (the same one used earlier for the onions and garlic) to high. Add the burgers and turn the heat down to medium high. After about 3 minutes, flip. After about another 3 minutes, transfer the frying pan to the oven to finish cooking the burgers. It should take another 5-8 minutes. Check to see if they are done by making a small cut into the middle of the patty. A little pink in the middle is okay, but I like my burgers cooked to medium-well. If not cooked to your liking, place back in the over for another couple of minutes. Better to have a little cut in the burger – that you’ll never see under all the toppings – and know that they’re cooked the way you like.
If you are going to BBQ, oil the grill and preheat to high. Place burgers onto grill and turn heat down to medium high. They should take about 4-5 minutes per side, but check for doneness by cutting into the middle to make sure. Grill longer if necessary. Your burgers may be a bit thicker or thinner; your BBQ may be a little hotter or cooler.
Have your assortment of toppings ready. Warm or toast your burger buns. Build your burger and enjoy!