Not really. I love hamburgers, and unlike most restaurants, I understand that making a good one is a difficult proposition. I’m not going to bore you with my list of the best hamburgers, and I’m not going to irritate you with my opinion of the best way to cook them. What I am going to discuss is the uncomfortable fact that if you don’t take hamburgers seriously, then you will be eating mediocre hamburgers.
Last night, because we couldn’t think of anything else to eat, and because my wife saw a picture of a great looking burger in one of Ina Garten’s cook books, we made blue cheese burgers on ciabatta bread. The last time I had blue cheese on a burger was at The Spotted Pig, and that was a resounding success, in part because the cheese they used was perfect: mild, not too salty, and marvelously melty. But I had no mild blue cheese, so I was in a hole already. I did make sure to use a nice fatty blend of beef. There is nothing more disappointing than a nice looking burger, complete with a crunchy char, that is dry and tasteless because of some misguided fear of fat. Actually, it’s tough to get that nice char without the fat that is rendered from the hamburger helping out with the browning reactions in the pan. 80%-20% is a nice ratio, but don’t get too upset with a 75%-25% mix. That’s a very good thing. The best way to control how much fat, and thus flavor, is in your hamburger meat is to grind it yourself. No, I don’t do that very often. But if you want the very best burger, that’s a good way to start.
One of the easiest ways of improving a burger is to be gentle with the meat. It is incredibly tempting to compact the meat into a perfect little patty, but a loose pack will cook quicker, render more fat, char better, and provide a much nicer crunch and mouth feel than a burger with the density of a hockey puck. Manipulate it only enough to keep it from falling apart, and you will be a much happier carnivore.
The ciabatta was on the wide and flat end of the bread spectrum, so I formed the patties to conform to that shape. I guess I could have trimmed the bread, but part of the allure of using ciabatta is the nice texture of the bread’s crust. What I ended up with were patties that were wider and thinner than I am accustomed to. Not a bad thing, and believe it or not, part of my plan. I wanted some serious char on these burgers, and with all of that surface area the char to meat ratio would work out perfectly. Unfortunately I overcooked the burgers, to a temperature that was on the border between medium-well and well done. Normally there would have been much tearing of hair and rending of garments, but the meat was so juicy that it worked out pretty well. Not perfectly, but while I was eating the burger it dripped a fair amount of juice on my hands, and that is a fine measure of quality. Burgers should be juicy and a bit messy.
The blue cheese was the most disappointing part of the meal. I used a Danish Blue, aged 60 days, and it was far too salty and pungent. I tasted it before I used it on the burger, and knew that it was on the strong side, so I used very little cheese (that was a struggle), but it was still a bit overwhelming. Next time I’ll seek out a mild Blue that goes well with burgers (any suggestions?).
All in all it was a successful meal, because most of the components of the burger worked out well. But I will not rest on my laurels; I could have put bacon on this one!