The burger I made last night was the antithesis to the above; just good minced beef and a little seasoning, and yet it turned out be the best I’ve ever made.
It’s not surprising really, as going by what I’ve read on the subject, and from my own experiments in making and cooking them, it seems that when it comes to burgers less really is more.
That said, perhaps the title of this post is a little misleading, as I don’t think I’ve yet cooked (or even tasted) the perfect burger. If I wanted to cook the perfect burger then really I need to get down to the nitty gritty beefy details of is 80% chuck, 20% sirloin the best meat ratio? Or should I use a little skirt steak for flavour? How coarse should the meat be ground? Is it better to grind at home or get the butcher to do it?
It’s a level of food geekery I haven’t yet succumb to (though I fear it’s not far off), so for now let’s just stick to the tips I’ve picked up along the way which can help make a ‘normal’ mince based burger really shine.
I put ‘normal’ in inverted commas because here’s rule number one:
Buy good meat. Freshly ground, proper butchers mince with a little bit of fat in it is what you’re looking for, or at least meat from one of the better supermarkets. Depending on your budget I’d work on a sliding scale from Waitrose > Sainsbury's > Morrison’s. I never shop in ASDA as there isn’t one convenient to me and Tesco’s meat is, as a rule, crap. The whole point of this method is to bring out the flavour of the meat, so the better the beef you start with, the better the bugger will be. I usually allow around 200-250g per person, which makes a pretty hefty burger.
Now that’s out of the way let’s look at the burger itself.
My method for cooking the perfect burger:
- Bring the meat to room temperature (leave out for half an hour or so) then liberally season the beef with finely ground black pepper ONLY. No salt at this point. Form in to fat patties of about an inch thick, being careful not to overwork the meat.
- Arrange the burgers separately on baking paper (or lightly oil a plate), and place in the coldest part of the fridge for around 5 minutes (or the freezer for 2), this will help the outside of the burger hold together during cooking but the centre will still be pretty much room temp.
- For cooking burgers a wood fired BBQ is King, but let’s be honest, how often do we get to fire one of those bad boys up in the UK? Your next best in my opinion is a good quality griddle pan. Get it smoking hot and then place the patties on to the grill and press them down in the centre with your thumb to create an indent (think red blood cell shaped), season well with sea salt, and then don’t touch em for 3 minutes. Don’t be tempted to squash the burger while it’s cooking as you’ll squeeze the juices out and ruin the flavour and texture of the meat. Just leave it alone. You want a griddled crust to form on the base which will help these binderless** burgers hold together and give them an awesome smokey flavour – if you flip ‘em too early they’ll fall apart. Oh and the reason for the indent is that as the burger cooks the centre will balloon out, so by making the indent the burger ends up almost flat on top rather than an awkward cricket ball shape. It’s a clever little trick that always works.
- After three minutes carefully turn the burgers over and season again, reduce the heat to medium-high and cook for another 2 minutes, before covering the burgers with a pan or large lid. This will hold in all the smoke that should be coming off the cooking burgers, giving an awesome BBQ flavour, as well as permeating the flavour of the evaporating fat back in to the patty. (It also helps to keep burgers that are being cooked “well done” juicy by steaming them a little). Do this last step for 1 minute for medium rare (pink), 2 minutes for medium (slightly pink) or around 4 minutes for well done (cooked right through).
- After the time is up remove the burgers to a warmed plate to rest for a minute and place your sliced bun face down right where the burgers just were (toast for about a minute, but keep checking em). Then simply assemble the burger with the toppings you prefer and enjoy.
Suggested burger toppings:
There’s no right and wrong when it comes to burger toppings, it’s completely personal preference, but if I had to choose my favourite then there is one which stands head and shoulders above the rest - My perfect burger is a smidge of mayo on the bottom, topped with a big handful of rocket, then the burger (along with resting juices), then a thick slice of Stilton and a top bun that has been liberally spread with sweet, chunky, Mango chutney. I wrote about it briefly when I made sliders a while back.
It shouldn’t work, it should taste weird and muddled, but it doesn’t. It’s awesome.
*I previously used grated onion in my burgers as the pulp spreads better through the meat than chopped onion and cooks quicker, meaning no little chunks of raw onion in the middle of the patty. The problem with this method though is that it releases the acidic juices from the onion which start to slightly cook the burger meat before it even hits the grill. It also seems to pull some moisture out of the meat as when I made a patty and placed it in the fridge to firm up before cooking there would often be some clear juice that had ran off the meat.
**Many recipes use a beaten egg to bind the burger together, but I’ve found this to be pretty counterintuitive to what you’re after: Succulent, juicy, tender meat, that only just holds together when bitten. Providing you don’t flip the burger until that crust has formed and you don’t use ‘lean’ mince then it should hold together just fine without, and the flavour is much better.
Thanks to Leigh of The Good Stuff for the tip on not salting before cooking, it made all the difference.
I was looking forward to visiting Create after reading Jay Rayner's review in the Guardian. The food sounded excellent. Seasonal, unfussy, gutsy, and with a modern flair and artistry that lifts a dish to something much more exciting. I didn't even think about the beer really. I've trained myself not to get my hopes up when it comes to good restaurant's beer menus. If you're lucky you might get a bottle of Sierra Nevada, but something really exciting, or local? Unlikely.
Then I spotted something about a Rhubarb and Ilkley Brewery food and beer event happening at Create and my interest really peaked (a table was already booked at this point). It transpired that rather than a generic lager on draught they've taken the bold step of serving MJ Pale, a local beer from Ilkley Brewery's Artisan keg range, as well as a really good selection of bottled beers from the always dependable Samuel Smiths Brewery.
You have no idea what a nice surprise it was to read that beer menu at Create, finally an upmarket restaurant that is taking beer seriously. A great local beer on draught and a well chosen selection of beers in bottles that would pair well with the food, and even an Imperial Stout to match with the desserts.
The mains carried on the theme of simple ingredients cooked skillfully and with flair but not fuss. Colette’s salt beef with mash potatoes and a caper sauce was a huge slab of tender red brisket that needed the citrusy caper sauce to counteract the salty richness of the meat. It was a real comfort food dish this, perfect for a properly cold night.
As good as the salt beef was, my main was even better. The skirt steak was one of the tastiest pieces of meat I’ve had in a very long time, and even better than the Bavette a l'echalotte from La Grillade (also skirt steak, and a big favourite of mine). The thing with skirt steak is it has great flavour but can be a little tough if not handled and cooked correctly. I ordered it rare and it came perfectly cooked, and I mean perfect. The great thing was that it was really nicely charred on the outside and evenly rare throughout the whole steak, well rested, tender and juicy. The accompaniments were excellent, but at this level of cooking I would have liked better chips, something double cooked and handcut. But it’s a minor niggle when your eating a steak that is this good.
Despite the mains being generously sized we decided a dessert would just about fit. One chocolate brownie with white chocolate icecream and one chargrilled rum banana with toasted marshmallow and the same (excellent) icecream. Oh and a bottle of Samuel Smiths Imperial Stout to pair with it.
Both desserts were great with the Imperial Stout, but it was the combination of the banana dessert with the beer that sticks in my mind. The boozy sweetness of it, and the well charred banana and dark chocolate sauce just went so well with the chocolatey, slightly sour notes of the Sam Smiths beer. It’s more of an Export Stout than an Imperial Stout by my tastes, and with this dessert worked perfectly.
So there you have it. Amazing food, well chosen beer, and a little bit of care gone in to everything. Exactly what I’m looking for in a restaurant.
- 1 Tbsp Dark Soy Sauce
- 3 Tbsp Thai Fish Sauce
- 2 Cloves Garlic, crushed
- 1/2 Tsp ground Coriander
- Good grind of fresh black pepper
- 2 Tsp white sugar
- 1 Tbsp Dark Soy Sauce
- 5 Tbsp Thai Fish Sauce
- 2 Tsp Sugar
- Large handful of fresh coriander stalks and stems chopped (stems finely chopped)
- 1 Tbsp of fresh green peppercorns (not dried ones. You can get them from Asian supermarkets)
- 5 Tbsp of fresh lemon juice (about 1-2 lemons)
- 2 Tsp dried chilli flakes
- 1 Sliced fresh green chilli (optional)
- 300ml Thai Jasmine Rice
- 400ml Coconut Milk
- 400ml Water
- Start by combining all the ingredients for the marinade in a large bowl and adding the trimmed steak.
- While the steak is marinading make the dipping sauce by combining all the ingredients and adjusting seasoning to taste (more lemon if too salty, more soy if too sour, more sugar if too acidic etc)
- Next combine the rice, coconut milk and water (use the empty tin to measure the water) in a large sauce pan, bring to the boil then cover and simmer on a low heat for around 20mins.
- When the rice is almost cooked remove the steak from the marinade and fry on a very high heat, in a none stick pan, for 1-2 mins either side depending whether you want it rare or medium rare. Remove and leave to rest for a few minutes.