You need to eat a lot of burgers to know what a good burger is. A great quote for my gravestone, if I decide to have one. I am not planning on making a decision on this any time soon, or maybe ever, but am aware of the irony that sticking to my motto might actually fast-track my departure by a little.
Over the last two years the Widdenhamtoad (aka my home) has gone through repeated revisions of what I shall from now on refer to as the Fatburger. Results ranged from slightly disappointing half-failures to almost perfect specimens with the chef d’oeuvre being last months mouth-watering success.
So how do you make the perfect fucking burger? You focus on each component at a time and improve gradually from feeble first attempts to a perfect symphony of meaty, juicy, fatty goodness. To achieve this you need excellent meat, obviously. So Mark and I found a great family run local butcher around the corner in Highbury, specializing in farms based on free range, additive free and natural animal diets. Cuts were sourced and tested in vast varieties of combinations but in the end the undoubted winner was pretty clear: Brisket and Chuck – and no trimming of any of the fat.
Heston Blumenthal has always been one of my greatest inspirations in cooking. In the end I am too impulsive and have a much too severe lack of restraint to follow each and every single one of his scientific and very detailed concepts, but some of the easier steps have really paid off here.
Cutting the chuck and brisket into equal size cubes and adding a very generous amount of salt and pepper before storing it in the fridge for 2-3h made a huge difference to the consistency of the mince. Through the salt and dry air in the fridge the meat loses some of its unwanted moisture and at cooler temperatures becomes incredibly sticky and very easy to shape into whatever size patty you desire. This is also where a free range source will pay dividends as cheaper and less organically farmed meat will have much more of a water content.
Another big factor in generating tenderness and a perfect texture is to grind the chunks at a fine setting such as 3mm first and then store the result in the fridge for another hour. Once cooled down and hardened the fine mince mixture can be re-ground at a final coarser size of around 8mm.
The outcome is visible chunks of fat and connective tissue, but because of the finer first grind the meat is already “reshaped” and very tender. Those bubbles of fat do their magic as soon as they hit the heat and start melting into the burger with incredibly intense and satisfying pockets of flavour.
The final size we were going for was a double quarter pounder which seemed to sit nicely in our Whole Food’s brioche buns – kudos to Greg for being a reliable delivery service for our Burger events!
In earlier attempts we did our best to keep the direction of the mince vertical to the burger – this is a Heston concept and allegedly provides more tenderness as the meat will peel into your mouth rather than having to be ripped. Despite multiple attempts we could not establish a difference and particularly with a double-grind this really does not seem to be worth the effort.
Our cast iron chargriller was running on two separate gas stoves to make sure we didn’t get pockets of localized heat. After 10-15 minutes the energy stored in the iron plate is immense and reaching a medium rare cook with perfect char takes less than 3 minutes per flip. No burger is complete without some bacon and my preference is unsmoked, thin and crispy Pancetta.
I used a steaming technique to get the extra mature cheddar melted into the bun while it is still cooking to medium rare. It basically consists of putting a lid, in my case an aluminium saucepan, over the burger once it has been turned. Results are consistent and reliable. If you ran your own diner you’d probably have a cheese melting dome (that’s a thing!) but anything that keeps in the steam and heat will work.
"People that don't use Heinz Ketchup on burgers are fools. Stop wasting your time trying to make your own!"
… I said while making my own “toasted sesame mayonnaise”. Hypocrite!
Toasted sesame mayonnaise might seem unconventional for a bacon cheeseburger but truly is a marvelous combination in conjunction with the meat-umami and far superior to the usually very plain mustard and mayo sauces. I won’t go into detail about how to make this, but basically just replace some of the sunflower oil with toasted sesame oil. And use Clarence Court yolks!
It is nice to burn the buns a little, gives some good additional bitterness. I like using peppery rocket which is again slightly unconventional but I am bored to death by chopped lettuce that tastes of nothing and hence might as well be left out completely. I have tried Fatburgers with red onions but concluded that mild white onions are better suited and tend to not overpower the other flavours. I also prefer them visually.
The end result was a faultless and unapologetic cheeseburger. The taste and texture of the meat competes with the best out there and it underlines my hatred for every single bad or pretentious burger that was ever served to me. There are no excuses. It should be illegal.
The effort invested in making Fatburgers might seem excessive, although as with most cooking the majority of time is spent on the preparation. Once completed even a good sized home kitchen equipped with ordinary household items and a semi-drunk chef is able to output 12-15 burgers per hour. You can easily double that with better and larger equipment. Factor it by another two with an additional chef – maybe the burger van is something that needs to happen after all!
The best and final part always was and always will be serving the finished burger to my friends. When they take their first bite and they nod their heads in agreement while the burger juices are dripping down onto their plate – that’s when my work is done.