What American comfort food is rootsier than a burger? And what holiday is more deserving of a great burger than July 4th? I rest my case…
Of course a great burger needs great sides, so I suggest you head out and source some local corn on the cob and second, build a nice, fresh spud salad with olive oil, fresh citrus and vinegar, for a lighter take on potato salad that we’ll amp up with some fresh herbs.
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.
At the market 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 a really nice medley of red, white, and blue baby potatoes that’ve not only pretty but real tasty.
Back 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 in a proper matrix while you work with and, 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; 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 also applies to 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.
A trip out to the herb garden offered Garlic Chives and Cilantro, to which I added fine diced green onion, red bell pepper, and fresh tomato: All that, plus a few pieces of local 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 about 24 hours later…
For the burgers, I formed 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, (use whatever cheese most floats your boat.) 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.
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… pair yours up with great local beer, and a Happy 4th to one and all!
BONUS: Here’s a link to another variation on the home ground burger, as well as our recipe fore house made buns!