Over the past few years, the burger has come into its own as the undisputed king of fast food. In a culinary world increasingly obsessed with health, if my Instagram feed is anything to go by, the humble burger has overcome the odds and thrown off the shackles of its inglorious past. No longer associated with unhygienic, environmentally dubious mega-chains, a variety of trendy joints across London have helped to raise its profile.
I must confess to being a bit of a burger fanatic, and, admittedly, a burger snob (I have never had a Big Mac). This explains my recent evolution; most burgers used to be crap. When living in America, a local, independent burger joint called Al’s Burger Shack in Chapel Hill, NC, blew my mind, and transformed my burger views completely. It remains the best I’ve ever had.
Burgers are incredibly simple. Meat, bread, and a couple of fillings is all you need. However, they are so often tasteless, overcooked, or poorly assembled. The ubiquity with which they are served at British barbecues masks the fact that they are usually made all wrong. This is not simply down to culinary naivety. I have seen several celebrity chefs, many of whom I admire, inflict miserable burger recipes on their loyal followers.
I recently attempted my own, conducting a bit of research and guided by my “less is more” mantra, and the results were surprisingly good. What follows is my advice on making the perfect homemade burger. Less is definitely more, keep this motto in mind.
You will need around 75g of minced beef per burger – if you want more, make more; small burgers taste better.
A crunchy, green lettuce, either romaine or cos, very thinly shredded.
A large white onion, very thinly sliced.
Brown sugar, muscovado if you have it.
Brioche buns (Sainsbury’s do a good one, you can definitely taste the difference!)
English mustard (Coleman’s. Make sure it hasn’t got seeds, no one wants a seedy burger – seedy buns are fine)
Cheese (American or cheddar)
A barbecue, preferably with a lid
First of all, get your meat ready. I got 300g of minced beef at my local butcher, enough for four burgers, and it cost under £3! You want the best quality beef you can get, of course, and you want a high fat content, up to 30%. The fat will melt when exposed to the heat, and will drip through the burger onto the coals, creating all sorts of heavenly magic. Chuck steak is the best cut for burgers, but many butchers wont have it in stock; their normal mince will still make a superb burger. I know, because that’s what I used. Put your mince into a bowl and add a splash of water and a thimble of Worcestershire sauce. Mix it together, with your hands, but not too much, you want small gaps inside the patty, which allows the fat to filter though and softens it. Otherwise, you’ll end up with meatloaf. Rest for an hour or so, covered by cling film. That’s all you need for a good patty. I have seen recipes that include eggs, herbs, onion, and, a cardinal sin, breadcrumbs. Steer clear from such blasphemes, they only increase the risk of meatloaf.
While your meat rests, make your caramelised onions. The process is simple, but slightly time-consuming. Pour a little vegetable oil into a pan on a low heat. Add your sliced onions, and stir constantly until completely softened. This can take 20-30 minutes, depending on how much onion you have, but it is necessary to keep stirring otherwise they will brown. If it gets too hot, add a little water to the pan. When they are soft, pour in two tablespoons of balsamic and two teaspoons of sugar. Stir for another five minutes, then leave to cool. Caramelised onions are far superior to fried onions in a burger, the sweet tang perfectly supplementing the salty meat.
Mix two teaspoons of English mustard with a splash of water, which you will use to brush onto your patty as it cooks, which creates a superb mustardy crust.
Get your barbecue going, and get your meat ready. Make four even balls, between golf ball and tennis ball size, and squash. Sprinkle some salt onto each patty, and brush on some of your mustard sauce. Make sure the griddle is oiled and hot before placing the meat over the hottest area. If you have a lid, put it on now, and leave for 3-5 minutes depending on how cooked you like it. If not using a barbecue, use one. If you don’t have one, frying is fine, but barbecued burgers always taste better. Don’t grill it in the oven!
For medium rare, after three minutes remove the lid and flip over. You’ll now have to sprinkle some more salt over, and brush some more mustard on the other side. Don’t burn yourself! Add the cheese, put your sliced buns onto the grill, and cover again. Another 3 minutes should do it.
Once the cheese has melted, remove everything from the grill. It’s time to assemble. Spread some mayonnaise on each side of your bun. Place your burger on top, then add your onions and some lettuce. Now eat and enjoy.
Simplicity is definitely key to a good burger. Too many toppings distract from the flavour of the beef; if you have bad-quality meat, then bacon, a strong cheese or avocado, and an overpowering sauce, such as ketchup or burger sauce, make sense. But a top burger should be simple, a perfect blend of juicy meat, a soft bun that soaks up excess juices, tangy onions and crunchy lettuce.
You can also add gherkins. I’ve heard they’re great on burgers, but I hate them. However I wont frown upon a pickle.
You don’t have to head to a hipster joint or food market to have a tasty burger. You can make the real thing at home with minimal fuss.