14 January 2010

Third times a charm: Home-cooked burgers done right.

On New Years day my wife and I finally made found ourselves in the perfect situation to finally try out the much raved about ice cream at Bloom's Broom dairy farm in Bel Air. After a few tastings I finally settled on a delicious rendition of rum raisin I began aimlessly browsing the store as I happily noshed. Lately, I've been on a personal mission to find good quality local ingredients to cook with. Driving 40 minutes to Wegman's in Hunt Valley every time I wanted to cook something exotic was getting old fast. So you can imagine my glee when I happened upon freshly made beef and lamb products in their freezer straight from the Woolsey lamb and beef farm in Churchville, a farm I had no idea existed until I read the label on the dark crimson packages of freshly ground beef. I asked the girl at the counter what the fat content of the ground beef was and she looked at me like I had two heads. Nonetheless I was determined to take another stab at making passable home-made burgers and was thrilled to find good beef to serve as a foundation.

My first attempt was pretty much a disaster. I was trying out the brand new gas grill my family had all chipped in on for my 27th birthday.

For some reason I was hellbent on trying to fit everything that usually goes on top of a burger, into the burger.

Yes, you're eyes aren't fooling you, that's bacon, blue cheese, and red onion... in the patty. I'm not really sure what I was thinking. On top of that I left the pepper jack cheese out and by the time we were ready for it, it had begun to separate and became a soft greasy mess.

Here's a picture of me after taking a bite and realizing my first attempt was undeniably a failure:

Yes, that is straight up disappointment on my face. Me contemplating how to break it to my family that these burgers sucked. Ah well, lesson learned.

My second attempt at burgers involved two recipes. The first recipe came from one of my favorite food blogs Closet Cooking.

The second was from another food blog which I had bookmarked long ago but never got around to trying out.

Both turned out decent but not great. I made huge patties but didn't compensate by extending the cooking time so to say the burgers came out a tad on the rare side would be a rather large understatement. The mushroom/blue cheese/onion topping from the first recipe was pretty money though. In the right context, blue cheese can definitely make a great burger. Sorry, but no pictures for this attempt, the kitchen was hectic with my friends scarfing burgers and Mrs. Micro was having a girls wine and dine event on top of that.

Fast forward to the present. I had found a source for high quality ground beef and was determined to let the quality of my ingredients shine through a simple no-frills burger. The results?

Can you hear the angels sing? It was like McDonalds on steriods. Mark this day for it will be the first and last time I associate McDonalds with anything positive. On all fronts (save the McFlurry!) to me McDonalds is the culinary devil. The antithesis of all things positive in the art of cooking. How'd I do it? Keep reading to find out.

First I purchased the right ingredients, which in this case were the typical all-American variety: Martin's potato rolls, Heinz ketchup, Vlasic kosher dill slices, a fresh white onion, margarine (this is probably the only place where I cut corners and didn't use real butter, but I felt I needed the spreadability of margarine), the aforementioned Woolsey ground beef, and the most staple ingredient of them all: neon-yellow individually wrapped generic American cheese slices.

Second I equipped myself with the right tools: a cast iron skillet, a quality metal spatula, a very sharp kitchen knife, and the burger edition of Saveur magazine that I picked up somewhere along the line in my past travels. I rolled up my sleeves and popped a Weis brand diet cream soda, it was time to make some burgers.

First I pre-heated my cast iron skillet over medium high heat. While that was going I got all of my condiments prepared. I sliced a nice thick slab of onion, unwrapped my processed cheese slice, and sliced and buttered (margarined?) the potato rolls.

Once the skillet started smoking slightly, since I didn't have a suitable ice-cream scoop as Saveur suggests, I used the conveniently packaged ground beef and separated off a 3oz. section of beef and shaped it into a ball with my hands, taking care to handle the meat as little as possible.

When ready, I chucked the ball onto my skillet and immediately dashed over to the sink to wash my hands. No cross-contamination here! Use your metal spatula to press down on the beef, creating a lovely crust and speeding up the cooking time while searing in the juices. Be sure to salt and pepper your patty at some point during this stage of the cooking process.

Stand back or wear something you can change out of after you're done eating. On second thought, open some windows and turn on your oven fan before attempting this. We made the mistake of going to the gym straight after dinner and we were like human cheeseburger candles. A friend met us at the gym and the first words out of her mouth were 'What smells like cheesesteaks?" The greasy smoke cause from cooking burgers in this fashion will stick to you and your clothes!! Consider yourself warned.

After pressing on the patty for about 2 minutes, scrape the patty off of the pan and flip and repeat the process on the other side, this time for 1.5 minutes. Take this opportunity to behold the lovely crust you've created:

At this time top your patty with a slice of cheese and cover your skillet for an additional minute allowing the cheese to melt nicely, covering the patty.

If you're feeling adventurous, leave the top on for an additional 30 seconds to a minute to create a lovely sheet of slightly blackened cheese as it runs off onto the skillet. At this point the patty is done so remove it from the pan and let it rest on your plate as you prepare the rest of your toppings.

I slapped a thick slice of white onion on the skillet and let that get nice and brown. Afterwards I lightly toasted the buns on the skillet, moving them constantly so they wouldn't burn. At this point I assembled my burger along with ketchup and crisp dill pickle chips.

It may not be the prettiest burger in the world, but trust me, in this case, flavor significantly outweighs appearance. Finally it was time to fully assemble the stack and dive in. This may have been what the burgers at the original McDonalds tasted like before they were bastardized by mass-marketing commercialization. This burger deserves final boss music. The synthesized pipe organs of Dancing Mad come to mind as Kefka ascends to his final fallen angel form.

And after I unleashed a gem box/economizer double whammy of Ultima whilst only consuming a piddly 2 MP:

Excellent results. Well, almost. As you can see, the interior of the patty is barely pink and while most burger junkies only settle for mid-rare, the flavor of the crust more than made up for the slightly overcooked center. The fact that the burger was cooked in its own juices ensured a nice moist patty. This is one instance where a griddle has an advantage over the grill, precious burger juices are lost to the flames when using a grill.

There's always room for improvement, right? Next time I will consider the aforementioned clothing change before leaving the house. I will also ensure the buttered face of the bun is flat to allow for more even toasting. I plan on adding bacon to the mix on the next go-around and will try cooking the onions in the bacon drippings at a lower heat for a longer period of time to allow for more caramelization.

Until next time friends, hope you enjoyed partaking in the Micro family burger orgy.

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theminx said...

What? You smashed the burger with the spatula? Everyone says that's a no-no because you're squeezing all of the flavorful juices out. If the pan is hot enough, the meat will get a nice sear on its own, without added pressure.

Kyle said...

The main reason the issue you mention is brought up is when grilling a burger the juices are lost to the flame. In this case the juices are contained in the pan so pressing on the patty isn't necessarily detrimental to the end result.

Erin said...

Great post! I get Saveur and loved the burger issue. I'll have to try this technique; I especially loved that you grilled the onion slice as a whole - I find raw onion a little much on my burger. Well played, sir!

Michelle said...

I have to throw in my two cents on this one... because I get rave reviews from my burgers.

1- I take the cheese slice and fold it twice so it becomes a small square. I then stuff said square inside the burger patty, making sure to fully seal the meat around it to prevent leaking. This creates a warm cheese center that I swear somehow tastes better then simply putting it on top (not sure how... but it does.)

2- I use a 50 50 mix of local ground beef and local ground pork. It. is. amazing.

Mr. Micro said...

Ahhh the old Juicy Lucy technique, eh? Very nice. Might I ask where you get your locally ground meat products? I purchase my ground beef, bacon, and sausage from Broom's Bloom here in Bel Air.

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