Improve Your Patty Skillz with Wicked Good Burgers

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Apparently May is National Burger Month; so sayeth the folks that declare those kind of things. But this is the kind of commemoration I can get fully behind. Why not take advantage of the attention to improve your home burger cookery. Our friend and colleague Nicki Pendleton Wood contributesa very interesting burger primer in this week's issue of The City Paper and shares great hints that range from the simplest to the esoteric. (Duck burgers anyone?)

For a more extensive education from an unlikely source, you should consider picking up a copy of Wicked Good Burgers by Andy Husbands, Chris Hart and Andrea Pyenson. If that title sounds vaguely familiar, this cookbook comes from the same team of Boston-bred Yankees who published Wicked Good BBQ after carpetbagging their way to Lynchburg and taking home the hardware at the Jack Daniel's Invitational World Barbecue Championship. I'm just kidding about the carpetbagging part. I really like the story of Husbands and Hart, and their barbecue book has given me some really good tips in the past.

Now they have turned their sights on the humble burger in an attempt to raise the level of creativity and technique of the average Joe. (Or Sully or Bubba) They address the art and science of making excellent burgers, from the actual grinding of the meat to cooking methods on your grill, smoker, griddle, frying pan or even sous vide apparatus if you have that level of kitchen. Being kind of a kitchen nerd myself, I appreciate the fact that the authors use very precise weights and measures (including, gasp!, metric) in their recipes.

Some of the burgers are truly over the top, like the $100 Burger that calls for Wagyu brisket and short ribs, foie gras and truffle powder, but most of the recipes look delicious and creative. There are also plenty of recipes for inventive side dishes and toppings like duck fat fries, grilled romaine and dilled salmon roe.

To whet your appetite, they were nice enough to share a couple of recipes that you can try out to kick off Burger Month. If these get your grill preheated, buy the book and check out the rest.

Brat Burger

12 ounces (340 g) ground veal
12 ounces (340 g) ground pork
1 teaspoon (2.2 g) freshly ground nutmeg
11⁄2 teaspoons (3 g) fresh cracked white pepper, plus more to taste
11⁄2 teaspoons (2.7 g) ginger powder
1 tablespoon (15 ml) hefeweizen beer (drink the rest)
1 tablespoon (14 g) butter, softened
2 teaspoons (10 g) kosher salt, plus more to taste
Vegetable oil, for cooking
4 Mindy’s Pretzel Buns (recipe follows)
Mindy’s Pepper Jack Cheese Sauce (recipe follows)

When Mindy Segal, one of our favorite pastry chefs, a James Beard Award winner, and owner of Hot Chocolate Restaurant and Dessert Bar in Chicago, offered us her bun and sauce recipes, we couldn’t say no. They are just too good. After several discussions about the best type of burger to serve with them, basically, it came down to, “What goes best with pretzels and cheese?” Chris came up with the idea of a Brat Burger. It was such a natural that we couldn’t believe we ever had to think about it. We heart you, Mindy. Thanks.

In a large bowl, combine the veal, pork, nutmeg, 11⁄2 teaspoons (3 g) white pepper, ginger powder, beer, butter, and 2 teaspoons (10 g) salt.

Divide the mixture into four 6-ounce (170 g) portions and shape into burgers according to the technique in chapter 1 (page 17). Refrigerate, covered, while you prepare the skillet. Heat a skillet over high heat until very hot. If you have an infrared thermometer, the skillet should register at least 500°F (250°C). Or test by brushing on a bit of oil. When the skillet starts to smoke, it is ready.

Brush oil onto the skillet and remove the burgers from the refrigerator. Season the burgers with salt and white pepper and sear them for 2 minutes. Flip the burgers and cook for another 2 minutes. Transfer to a plate and let rest, tented, for 5 minutes. While the burgers are resting, heat the cheese sauce.

To serve: Place the burgers on the bottoms of the buns and spoon the cheese on top. Place the tops of the buns over the cheese.

Yield: 4 burgers


Tomato Ginger Ketchup

2 tablespoons (28 ml) olive oil
1 medium onion, cut into 1⁄4-inch (6 mm) dice
1⁄2 cup (48 g) minced fresh ginger (from a 4- to 5-inch [102 to 107 cm] piece)
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon (16 g) tamarind paste, dissolved in 1⁄2 cup (120 ml) red wine vinegar
1⁄4 cup (60 g) packed brown sugar
1 can (14.5 ounces, 410 g) whole tomatoes, roughly chopped, with juice
Kosher salt and fresh cracked black pepper, to taste

In a heavy-bottomed sauté pan, heat the oil over medium high heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally until softened, about 5 minutes. Turn the heat to low and add the ginger and garlic. Continue cooking, stirring occasionally, until the onion is soft and transparent, about 15 minutes.

Turn the heat to medium high and add the vinegar-tamarind mixture and the sugar. Cook, stirring frequently, for 5 minutes, until the mixture is slightly thickened. Add the tomatoes, turn the heat to low, and simmer for 30 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.

Yield: Approximately 2 cups (500 g)

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