As Simple As It Gets: Burgers!

My life has recently been hectic in a way that kept me out of the kitchen; in part because there were occasionally no other diners besides me (and I have awful manners and wouldn’t want to eat with myself. Pace, Lucullus), and in part because I haven’t felt like cooking anything at all time-consuming. But that doesn’t mean that we have been eating out of jars and boxes. Quite the contrary. For instance, last night we had a simple meal of cheeseburgers, roasted potatoes, and a salad with some surprisingly good tomatoes.

This is where, if I were a different sort of blogger, I would insert a photograph of a great looking burger, oozing cheese and juice. I will leave it to your imagination what I think of food bloggers whose only contribution is a few photos, some generic comments, and an occasional catchy headline.

Anyway, I ground the meat using my trusty KitchenAid mixer with a grinding attachment. I have a hand grinder that I used for a while, but there is nothing like a large electric motor that goes to 11! If you recall, I once sang the praises of that hand grinder, but no more. Bacteria double every 18 minutes, so I am not arguing that it is a safety issue, but why grind slowly by hand when one can grind quickly using electricity? Is there an advantage to a slow grind? I doubt it. The only downside I could think of was warming the fat enough to liquefy it during the grinding process. I checked the temperature with an infrared thermometer. Nope, no problem there.

I like rough ground beef — it’s even easier — no second trip through the grinder for my burger meat. The only prep for the burgers was cutting up the meat into small chunks and deciding how much fat to leave in the mix. I used hanger steak, which is quite lean, and flanken, which is quite fatty, but I left most of the fat — trimming only a few large chunks from the flanken. I have an accurate kitchen scale (that is a must for any serious cook) that made it easy to figure out how many burgers I could get without that irritating mini burger at the end. But the big question — how big should they be? — cannot be answered. I vacillate wildly between monster burgers of eight or ten ounces (ridiculous, I know) and a more manageable 6 ounce burger, which seems to be pretty close to perfect. But there is a place in the world for large burgers, and I will not cast aspersions on those who believe that size is everything.

Cooking was simple too. Cast-iron pans are things of beauty, and because I hadn’t shoveled the patio, I didn’t feel like grilling. What was interesting was the amount of fat left in the pan. I even poured it off before I flipped the burgers. Much of the extra fat from the rich flanken didn’t end up in the burgers. I wonder if there is a ratio of meat to fat past which it ends up in the pan. Obviously a 50:50 burger won’t remain that fatty after cooking. Perhaps that vaunted 80:20 ratio was arrived at by looking at the yield after cooking and realizing that fattier burgers shrink too much and irritate the customers.

My obfuscation is designed to hide the fact that I have no idea what the ratio was in these burgers, but they tasted great, so I just don’t care. Oh, I used Gruyere on my burger, and it balanced the richness of the burger with a nice, salty tang. Almost everyone else chose Cheddar, which is fine, but not terribly exciting. My lovely wife requested goat cheese, a dark horse, but with real possibilities. And, apparently, brioche buns are a required item during blizzards; there were none to be had anywhere, and I didn’t feel like baking them. We went with potato rolls, lightly toasted, which were sturdy enough to withstand the juiciness of the meat without being overwhelming.

A nice, simple meal, easy to make, and a pleasure to eat. And in case you think I am being unnecessarily fussy by grinding my own meat, try it once before you criticize. The difference in taste and texture compared to commercial ground beef is stunning, and there is the added benefit of avoiding the possibility of bacterial contamination in those large commercial batches that seem to include beef from most of the world.

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