The plan was to blog, ever so briefly about my vacation, or even try to clear some of the backlog of posts I have started. But, you know the enthusiasm comes for the most recent activity. In this case, that’s the making of the Good Eats burger, courtesy my favourite person on the Food Network – Alton Brown. If you have never seen his show, he’s someone who’s interested in the “why” as well as the “how” of cooking. If there’s a rule, he’ll tell you why you should (or should not) follow it. If he says use some special tool or machine, you can be sure he’ll explain how to choose the best (and most economical one). And he’s funny.* With props. Good Eats is said to be the cooking show for engineers. I am not an engineer, but I too am interested in the how and why rather than just the recipe. I like to have some freedom in the kitchen, so if I know how things like yeast and eggs work and react to other ingredients it will help me know how to vary a given recipe. And he uses diagrams and models. All in 30 minutes.
Onto the burger. My brother, who is an engineer by training (although not practice) also appreciates the value of Alton Brown. And while he’s been home on holiday, he won’t complain if we switch to Good Eats. And a few nights ago we happened to be watching the episode entitled “The Daily Grind” which is all about ground meat – the selection of the meat, the grinding at home and the recipes – Burger of the Gods and the Good Eats Meatloaf. Watching him create these burgers, my brother was seized by a sudden, immediate and all-consuming goal (this happens to him a lot) – making that burger EXACTLY the way Alton did. And he insisted it had to be done as soon as possible – we had to scout for meat and grind at home and make those burgers before I returned to Guyana. And the rest of us concurred. A chance to try for the real thing.
Perhaps some backstory. See, while T&T has halal burgers available at the $5 burger stands and frozen patties in the supermarket, those are thin, low-meat affairs that- while tasty with the mountain of toppings – aren’t really a meaty delight. Burgers, as an American sandwich, and named in terms of the weight and described as meaty and juicy … we didn’t know those. When you can’t eat a lot of meat outside, there are some things (like real steaks) that you never really get to try. Mom made burgers for us at home that were thicker, and meatier, but how would we know what the real thing is? I am pretty sure they’re not loaded with green seasonings and breadcrumbs I had one “real” burger a few months ago at the Hilton Trinidad (which, like the Crowne Plaza Trinidad has a wide variety of imported halal meats and can offer steaks, burgers, lamb etc that I can actually eat). It was great. And I am not a red meat (or indeed a big burger) person.
So, back to Alton Brown. While the Food Network has his recipes from the shows, the recipes aren’t the whole story. They work, but for the full experience you need to see the show, or read the transcript, where you’ll access all his tips and warnings. Home grinding by the way, is essential to avoid possibility of hideously deathly disease and infection (or at least somewhat uncomfortable gastro-intestinal problems), when you cook your burgers to his recommended MEDIUM RARE. He’ll tell you how to cook burgers and steaks etc to medium rare and medium well done, but tells you “why bother” with well done.
Which is why food hygiene is important.
Burger of the Gods (Recipe by Alton Brown)
* 8 ounces chuck, trimmed, cut into 1 1/2-inch cubes [try smaller cubes]
* 8 ounces sirloin, trimmed, cut into 1 1/2-inch cubes
* 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
[Yes, just salt."That's all. No herbs. No chopped onions. No garlic. No soup mix. No mysteries. Just salt. Why? Well because it actually seasons the meat. Makes it taste beefier as opposed to herby or shalloty or garlicy or anything like that. Any other flavors that want to hitch a ride can wait to ride on the bun."]
1. In separate batches, pulse the chuck and the sirloin in a food processor 10 times. [Use small batches. You may need to do this more times depending on your processor capabilities]
2. Combine the chuck, sirloin, and kosher salt in a large bowl. Form the meat into 5-ounce patties.
3. Heat a cast iron skillet or griddle over medium-high heat for 2 to 3 minutes. ["And to figure out if the pan is ready, just kind of drop a little water right into the middle. Now if it sizzles up like that and quickly evaporates, you're in the zone. Good to go."]
4. Place the hamburger patties in the pan. For medium-rare burgers, cook the patties for 4 minutes on each side. For medium burgers, cook the patties for 5 minutes on each side. Flip the burgers only once during cooking. ["Burger Rule #1: No Patty Smashing!"]
And to serve? From Alton: “Now before you pour on the usual condiments do me a favor. Just try this just one time, okay? Toasted bun, right? Little mayonnaise. Or a lot of mayonnaise depending on how you feel about mayonnaise. Little black pepper. Fresh ground. Right in the middle. Okay. Now that is going to form the base of a sauce that will be completed by the juices from a well rested hamburger patty, cooked medium-rare of course. Top that off with the other part of the toasted bun.”
The verdict? The burger was moist and really flavourful. Really. A couple may have been well done. But mostly we managed the medium rare to medium well. I am a burger minimalist myself so that topping with just mayo and black pepper is ideal for me. I don’t usually do much else. Maybe some cheese next time. I have to admit that burgers this thick aren’t always my thing. So maybe next time, despite AB’s warnings, I’ll go for something a bit thinner. My sister thought it would be excellent with some cheese in the centre. My father loved the flavour but said he would have preferred it just with fries (no bread). I thought it might have had that fresh beefy taste, with just the (sea) salt in it, but no. It was just good and meaty. And juicy.
Now, as for choosing the meat to grind. We’re not sure how many of the halal butchers serve up their meat as labeled by AB and the regular supermarkets (chuck, sirloin etc). And we were in a rush so we had to work with what we could find. We bought stewing beef and beef steak. The composition of the meat looked about right. Glad we watched the show! Next time also? Trim more of the chewy white bits off the meat that don’t really eat well in a burger.
All these pics are in a Flickr Set.
* Ok Ok. Sometimes it’s a bit overboard and campy and in the first few episodes of season 1 it seems somewhat forced, but he gets his point across. Even if I do like my meat well done sometimes….
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