04/26/12 • The D.I.Y. Burger!
From America’s Test Kitchen (click here to view the recipe)
Where cooking is concerned, you take your inspiration where you find it. I’d like to tell you that for me it tends to come from what’s on most vibrant display at the farmer’s market, but this wouldn’t be exactly true (although the recent arrival of asparagus—mountains of it, a seeming bumper crop—has certainly got my wheels turning). More often than not, it’s a recipe in one of the cooking magazines or my favorite cookbooks that propels me to the market in search of the necessary ingredients. And, being a visually oriented sort of person, there’s often a picture involved. In the case of this week’s recipe, however, there wasn’t even a recipe—just a quarter page photograph in the March issue of Bon Appetit featuring something called “Nancy’s Backyard Burger,” available at the new L.A. burger joint, Short Order. So tempting looking was this particular item, oozing with comté cheese and a hint of what I can only assume was Thousand Island dressing, that within days I set out to make one for myself. (Friends, it was either fire up the oven or hop a flight bound for LAX—such is the power of good food photography!)
But there was a problem with this plan: I’d never succeeded at making a hamburger that didn’t disappoint on some level—either it was too dry, or lacked flavor, or fell short in the aesthetics department . . . and often all of the above. So I turned once again to America’s Test Kitchen, which over the years has proved a reliable resource for solutions to just these sorts of culinary questions. In fact, I vaguely remembered flipping through one of their cookbooks recently and stumbling on a burger recipe that elicited just that sort of, “aha, so that’s how you do it,” reactions I was in search of. I hadn’t put the recipe into action and couldn’t recall the details, but my instinct was that if anyone held the key to burger-making mastery, it was ATK.
A quick visit to their website proved my hunch to be correct—there, under the heading, “Juicy Pub-style Burgers” was the solution to this cooking conundrum. Or perhaps I should say “solutionssssss,” since the recipe offered a number of important tips that would prove critical in achieving an end result equaling the BA photo in both looks and (imagined) flavor.
First among these was the fairly radical suggestion to grind your own meat—something that is far easier than it sounds, and which does not require anything more complex than a food processor. ATK suggests using a flavorful, lean cut of beef called sirloin steak tips (two pounds for four burgers; the cut also goes by the somewhat less appealing name of “flap meat,” or you can use flank steak), trimmed of fat and cut into 1/2-inch chunks. This is then spread across a cookie sheet and placed in the freezer for a half hour or so or until hardened around the edges—a chilling and drying process that aids in the efficient, even grinding of the meat. Since the goal is to achieve a consistent grind of roughly 1/16-inch pieces, once the beef has firmed up, it’s best to pulse it in four separate batches, stopping to redistribute it in the bowl as needed. And, since steak tips is a relatively lean cut (key for that all-important beefy flavor), and the juiciness of a burger is in direct proportion to its fat content, once all the meat has been ground the recipe suggests adding four tablespoons of melted butter to the mix—an addition that helps meld it together and ensures against any potential textural shortcomings. That and a dash of pepper are all you need for perfect ground beef (and one in which you never need worry about the presence of this year’s culinary scourge: pink slime!).
—Season 1 side of patties liberally with salt and pepper. Using spatula, flip patties and season other side. Heat oil in 12” skillet over high heat until just smoking. Using spatula, transfer burgers to skillet and cook without moving for 2 minutes. Using spatula, flip burgers and cook for 2 minutes longer. Transfer patties to rimmed baking sheet and bake until instant-read thermometer inserted into burger registers 125 degrees for medium-rare or 130 degrees for medium, 3 to 6 minutes.
—Transfer burgers to plate and let rest 5 minutes. Transfer to buns, add desired toppings, and serve.
Ingredients for Thousand Island-style dressing:
—3/4 cup mayonnaise
—2 tbs soy sauce
—1 tbs dark brown sugar
—1 tbs Worcestershire sauce
—1 tbs minced fresh chives
—1 medium garlic clove, minced or pressed through a garlic press (about 1 tsp)
—3/4 tsp ground black pepper
—Whisk ingredients together in a bowl.