Burger Heaven

Are there burgers in Heaven? Well, if not, then we got a problem…

What American comfort food is rootsier than Da Boigah? After a particularly grueling week at the café, and for quite literally the first night I’d be able to cook for in something like a week, I ad killer burgers on the brain. In case you haven’t figured it out yet, my absolute Job #1 reason for cooking is to make great things that Monica loves: There are lots of reasons to cook; love is the best one there is, hands down, end of story… (And M knows and loves a good burger!)

Now, as soon as I knew that’s where I was goin’ for dinner, I started thinking sides; naturally, my first inclination was to pull out the deep fryer and go for classic, twice-fried frites, but… Well, we are getting older and we do have to nod to the 21st Century and maybe at least try to be a bit healthier than that, right? That said, spuds not being part of the side was not an option, so I decided to go with a nice, fresh spud salad; we’ll do this one with olive oil, fresh citrus and vinegar, so we’ve got a lighter take on potato salad we’ll amp up with some fresh herbs. Ready? Let’s rock!

If you’ve ever had a truly amazing burger at a local joint, I’ll bet you 10 to 1 that they either grind their own beef, or have their regular supplier do that for them: Custom ground and seasoned burger, done fresh, is what separates Holy Crud from Ho Hum in Burgerland.

So off I went to the market, where I found nice chuck steaks for $4 a pound, (They were marked ‘For marinating’); that’ll be the heart and soul of our burgers. The relatively high fat content coupled with nice big chunks of meat is gonna be great, but it does need a little help to put it over the top; I went with aged, Choice Tenderloin, which I found for $9 and change a pound, which ain’t bad, (And we’re only buying a half pound so…). I ended up with a mix of roughly 2:1 Chuck to Tenderloin.

I found fresh baked onion rolls for buns, and more of that really nice medley of red, white, and blue potatoes we had a little while back; they’re not only pretty, they’re real tasty; I can quickly become a creature of habit when I find something really good out there…

A quick note on shopping and hunting; our closest market happens to be an Albertsons; don’t discount a chain store just because it’s a chain store. This one, and many like it, are more often than not staffed by professionals with years of experience; yes, their bakery mostly does stuff I don’t want, but there’re real bakers back there, believe me; the quality and variety of fresh bread and rolls they put out daily is really quite good; you may need to dig around a bit to find something great, but often enough, you will. Likewise, their meat department may not be as good as some of the artisan solo outfits and Carnicerias we enjoy here, but they usually have good stuff and those folks behind the counter are real butchers; they love to have you ask for something special, believe me! We can’t go for the high end every day, and nor should we; find what’s good, close at hand and go with it.

OK, so once we get home, I stuck the beef into the freezer for a little bit. Any time you’re grinding meat, making sausage, etc, you want your protein as cold as you can get it; this will help keep the fat and meat in a proper matrix while you work with it, thereby avoiding mushy, unpleasant results; more importantly, cold keeps your food out of the temperature danger zone, thereby avoiding making you and your loved ones sick; always a plus, that, eh?

I set up the grinder attachment on the ol’ KitchenAid, cut the beef up into strips manageable for the hopper and got to seasoning. As with sausage making, you can season ground meat before or after you grind it, of course; I prefer doing so before, because you get a more even distribution of spice as the meat is grinding. For these burgers, I went with Hawaiian flaked salt, fresh ground pepper blend, (Black, red, white, green; our go-to mix), onion powder, celery seed, granulated garlic, smoked paprika, and a dash of Worcestershire. I seasoned with a fairly light hand, because we just want to accent the meat’s great flavor, not blow it out of the water… So into the grinder she goes, using the coarser of the two plates I have available. I gave the freshly ground burger a few tosses to make sure everything was well blended, then covered it and stuck it in the fridge to think about things for a while.

While the burger was incorporating all those flavors, I put the spuds on to boil. Just a note on water; it’s sad to say that not all tap water is created equally these days, (Especially coming from a kid who grew up drinking from streams and lakes and even garden hoses!) My bottom line on cooking with stuff is simple; if it does not look, taste, feel and smell right, do not cook with it! The concept of taking, say, a nasty bottle of wine and cooking with it because it wasn’t good enough to drink: Negative, Ghost Rider; that’s a no-no! Same goes for a thing as elemental as water. If yours doesn’t taste good to drink, do what we did and get a decent filter for your kitchen tap; from home brewed coffee to things you boil for dinner, everything will taste better; you can thank me later…

A trip out to the herb garden found Garlic Chives and Cilantro looking very nice indeed, so I took some of those, then added fine diced green onion, red bell pepper, and fresh tomato: All that, plus a few pieces of great Apple smoked bacon, will go into our spud salad.

For the salad dressing, I squeezed the juice from one lime and one lemon, and then added a couple tablespoons of grapefruit juice; I whisked some nice extra virgin olive oil into that at a roughly 2:1 ratio, added a dash of sal de mere, fresh ground pepper, and celery seed, and there you have it. I quartered the spuds, put everything into a stainless bowl to mix and then into a ceramic bowl, covered in the fridge, for a good hour to allow everything to blend: As M rightly points out, stuff like this salad are gonna be great tonight but much better tomorrow; like good soup or stew, salads marrying a bunch of wonderful flavors are gonna be at their prime round about 24 hours later…

OK, back to the burgers and the fun part. I formed four thin, wide patties, then cut up some of my stash of 2 year old WSU Creamery White Gold Cheddar and placed a nice layer of that in the middle of one patty. Then we assemble; a layer of burger, then cheese, then burger, seal and plump up the edges of each so we have a nice round patty of uniform thickness throughout. I let them hang in the fridge for 30 minutes or so to marry flavors further.

And that’s that; the burgers hit the grill over nicely glowing coals for about 4 minutes each side, with the cover on and vents wide open. I put the buns in a warm oven with a little dish of water to get nice, moist heat going. Finally, I sliced onion, tomato and pulled some lettuce leaves. M got condiments out and we were good to go.

At the point that she turned to me, burger in hand, with that serious knit-brow look and said, “This is, without a doubt, the best burger you’ve ever made; seriously…” I considered my mission a success…

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