My girlfriend, Kat, loves hamburgers. Sometimes I think she (temporarily) loves them even more than me. In fact, she claims that she wouldn’t have considered dating me without first trying my homemade burgers. So, we put a recent holiday Monday to good use and, for the first time, ground our own meat to make amazing burgers.
I have always used a rough adaptation of James Beard’s Favorite Hamburgers recipe that I’m pretty sure I came by via Cook’s Illustrated. This recipe is found in James Beard’s American Cookery (one of the few cookbooks where finding a copy of the first edition is worthwhile) and my rough adaptation draws three simple rules from it: handle the meat as little as possible to preserve its texture; spread complementary flavours (onion and garlic) as evenly as possible by grating them finely; and skip the fillers (bread crumbs) and binders (eggs). The other trick that I take from Beard is to use a little bit of dairy; usually that is about 1 – 2 TB of milk per lb of beef but here a very small splash of heavy cream (what JB originally called for) because that was what we had in the fridge. The idea is that there is some connection between the protein in the dairy and the meat that keeps the patties from drying out. I don’t necessarily understand why but it seems to work.
We were grinding for the first time because Kat’s mother has recently lent us her classic, manual meat grinder. I’ve put electrical tape on the handle because the decades-old red paint was flaking every where and I figure that would not be good eats. I found a 24 oz. blade steak on special at the grocery store for around four bucks. I have to admit that I am not an expert at identifying cuts of beef and mentally placing them on the cow map. This I blame partly (the other part is that I’m just not very good at mental visualisations) on the fact that, like a lot of other things, Canadian meat terminology is confusingly divided between American and British influences. I was pleased to find that blade steak is from the chuck primal and therefore excellent burger material.
I cubed and ground the meat using the coarse dye. Next time I’ll pay a bit more attention to removing connective tissue because the grinder periodically clogged with it and that slowed things down a bit. My cavalier attitude to fat distribution had no ill effect on the final, cooked result.
After adding finely grated garlic, salt, pepper, and a shot of cream to the beef I formed four patties. My cooking technique was adapted from The Paupered Chef’s quick-flip burger that they came up with under the influence of Heston Blumenthal and Harold McGee who are two of the masters of scientific cooking. Blazing hot cast iron pan with a bit of oil; put the patties in (two fit nicely in our 10″ Lodge); and flip every thirty seconds for six to eight minutes or until desired doneness is reached. If all this flipping breaks off little bits of beef from the patties I find its best to consider these appetizers.
I garnished mine with a couple of kosher dill pickle slices, caramelised onions, and some fancy-pants French mustard. Salivating with anticipation, we sat down to enjoy. After the first bit I was in burger heaven and showing it. I think I responded to Kat’s questioning look with a response along the lines of “shit, dear, this burger has legs.”
Her expression changed, she rolled her eyes, and asked “what the hell are you talking about?”
After thinking about if for a second I said, “well, you know, it tastes really great, really beefy. But, also, the flavour stays with you for a while. Definitely, in a good way; kind of like a great red wine.”
This will certainly not be the last time we grind our own meat for hamburgers.
Burgers with Legs
Adapted from James Beard’s Favorite Hamburger and The Paupered Chef’s quick-flip fat burger
- 1.5 lb blade steak or another hunk of beef that looks like it’s got a whole bunch of fat in it
- 1 TB heavy cream
- 1 clove garlic, peeled
- 1/2 t kosher salt
- ground pepper
- 1 TB of vegetable oil for cooking
- 4 buns, toasted
- condiments (something more imaginative than squeeze-bottle ketchup and ballpark mustard, please)
- Grind meat using the coarse dye of a manual or powered grinder. Spread the ground meat into a rectangle on a cutting board about half the desired thickness of the burgers. Use a microplane grater to grate garlic over the beef, spreading as evenly as possible. Sprinkle salt, pepper, and heavy cream on the beef. Form patties by folding each quarter of the beef rectangle over on itself (so that the seasonings are mainly inside the patty). Throughout the patty-forming process be sure to handle the beef as gently and as little as possible
- After having pre-heated the pan on high heat (if using a cast iron pan on an electric range medium-high is probably wiser) for at least five minutes add the oil, swirl and put the patties in the pan. Flip them every thirty seconds for about six to eight minutes or until done.
- Serve on a toasted bun with condiments judiciously selected to complement the flavour of beef rather than masking it.