The grill’s been getting a fair amount of work. Did turkey burgers. Did ground beef burgers. Did a fish burger with that last piece of tilapia. Turns out, that spreadable cheese works as a nice substitute for tartared mayonnaise on a fish burger. The grill’s working a lot these days.
Avocado now feels like the essential vegetable on burgers for me. Lettuce, tomato, onion… These things are not important; if they aren’t on the burger, no problem. But I’m wanting that avocado a lot now. Below the jump, I continue riffing on burgers. You may not believe me as you read, but I am in fact not stoned right now.
Last year it was peppers: slice the pepper up into strips, roast it, then start the burger, then ornament with the softened pepper strips, top with cheese, boom. Sweet and savory at once. But this year it’s feeling all about those creamy, fatty slices of ripe avocado sliding around between the patty and the bun. Reminds me of a law school hangout.
The best condiment for a burger, of course, is bacon. But you knew that already. Potato chips are also very good burger condiments for flavor, saltiness, and crunch, and I am continually amazed at how many people think potato chips are only a side dish.
Grilled pineapple is good on the burger, and lots of people dig the grilled onions or the sautéed mushrooms. Mushrooms, pineapple, onions, lettuce, tomato, peppers, avocados — you do this right and it’s a whole salad sitting on top of that ground beef. Tomato, avocado, and pineapple are all fruits, not vegetables. You know, apples might be good, too, especially on chicken burgers.
Oh, and let’s get this straight: if you’re not putting cheese on beef, you are wasting my time. Mrs. Likko suggested I incorporate the cheese into the burger this weekend. So I julienned up a block of marbled cheddar jack and worked it in to the beef as I was seasoning it. This worked out well, because at home I do the patties the right thickness. Still got some meltout but most of the cheese was gooey and tangy on the inside of the burger. You get a big thick patty and some folks aren’t going to cook it enough. I’ve got no problem with a rare steak or even beef tartare. But the ground beef, you either need to acid it up or actually give it enough of a kiss of fire that it stops being blue. The right burger is juicy and pink in the middle.
You go to some fast food place, and they’re going to fry up this sad little thin thing that’s been frozen and it doesn’t have the flavor of your insoles, and it’s all tough. That is what the chili is for, I know. But at that point, it’s more about the chili than the burger. The meat needs to be done up right. I incorporate the salt, the pepper, the Worcestershire sauce, folded into the raw ground beef before cooking. Cayenne is going in everything these days, too. Burgers are also appropriate places for the powdered garlic and turmeric.
Hmm. Turmeric. What does that taste like? Hey: curry burgers! Now there’s an idea. Must try. And a client just gave me a gift of a frozen leg of lamb I’m thawing out. I could hack off a hunk of that, grind it up with some curry, and make burgers out of that.
Longtime readers will know that I’m not a ketchup eater. Can’t stand the sweet, pungent, vinegary taste of ketchup, which somehow overpowers everything else it comes in contact with. Keep your ketchup the fish away from my burger. Especially keep it away from my fish burger.
You want a condiment for that fish burger? Make your own: take out your stand mixer and get that whisk working. Olive oil, maybe a quarter cup all by itself; half a cup if you’re cooking for more than one person. Whip it at medium speed until it emulsifies, which should be about five minutes at medium speed. Add in some salt and lemon zest. Holy crap, Julia Child, you’ve just made aioli. Maybe you get all fancy and squeeze in a clove or two of roasted garlic. Now, if you’d have started with an egg yolk and half teaspoon of vinegar, and then added the oil, it would have been mayonnaise, but it isn’t because you’ve left the egg yolk out, so why not try it on that grilled fish on a bun you’ve got over there; top it off with some lettuce and onion and you’re in business like it’s Miami or something.
Regular off-the-shelf mayonnaise doesn’t do much for me one way or the other. A useful binder for making chicken salad or tuna salad, not much else. But, even a jar of store-bought mayo can be brought to life by folding in some black pepper, a pinch of salt, a pinch of sugar (yes sugar) and a healthy amount of Tabasco. (I LOVE LOVE LOVE the chipotle pepper Tabasco sauce, especially for this purpose. For some reason I can only get it retail at Smart & Final.) Now that’s some serious burger sauce, man.
Southern Californians like me do wax rhapsodic about In-N-Out. Some of them like the “animal style,” where they fry up the burger in a few squirts of mustard. Meh. I like mustard sometimes on sausages but again, on a burger, I’m kind of about a flavored mayonnaise instead of the more traditional ketchup-mustard-pickle combo. I get my double-doubles plain (code “Z” on your receipt) because the fresh-ground meat tastes good all on its own. Fry it up in mustard, and you lose that richness.
Also, some people really dig a fried egg on their burgers. I never really bought in to that.
Once I put anchovies on a burger. Good, but I don’t need to do it again. I prefer my umami incorporated into the meat, which is what the Worcestershire sauce is for. But, if I have any leftover Caesar salad dressing, it’s very good on the burger.
A few thoughts on the bread. The higher-end places will give you your burger on a brioche bun. Yum; it’s close to eating your burger in a croissant. But unnecessary, delicate, and expensive. A regular white bread bun with a smear of butter melted on it works fine, and is a bit sturdier than the brioche. Patty melts require rye bread, of course, but not too strong of a rye. I had a patty melt on some marble rye once, and maybe it was just that baker but the rye seed flavor was all I could taste. A medium-density seeded multi-grain wheat bread comes surprisingly close to the effect of rye.
But for my money the best bread for a burger is a freshly-baked ciabatta. It has some of the same tanginess of a sourdough, but not strong like that, so the focus stays on the meat. And it has the sturdiness to stand up to a juicy piece of grilled ground beef. Sometimes if you’re lucky some of the beef juice gets down in one of the little pockets that were bubbles during baking and you get a nice slurp of meat flavor. If you’re doing ciabatta or baguette burgers, you need to fashion your patties into oblong shapes. Which you will find generates no protest at all from your guests.