At Brooklyn Supper, we tend to focus on the basics, but sometimes, we like to go off the rails and make something that will be unfamiliar to most of you. Something strange and wonderful like the “hamburger.” You’ve undoubtedly heard attractive people talking about hamburgers at fancy parties and wondered what on Earth they could be, but you were too embarrassed to ask. Well, your secret shame is soon to be no more. Not only will you know what a hamburger is, you will be able to make one, too. You will be that attractive person at the fancy party.
The “hamburger” takes it name from the German port city of Hamburg (which you probably know best as the home of Minatur Wunderland, the renowned model train musuem) and consists, in its most basic form, of patty of grilled or sauteed ground beef served on a roll. While this may sound like a simple enough dish, there are dozens of variations to try and many recommendations for the best way to cook it.
Choosing the correct ground beef is essential. We prefer free-range grass-fed beef, both because it’s better for the cows and we like the stronger iron-y flavor of the beef. But whatever kind of beef you use, it’s best to have it ground by the butcher. The pre-packaged kind often has a gummy texture that I can’t abide. Chuck, round, and sirloin are usually the choices on offer and I recommend chuck which is the fattiest and therefore the juiciest. If you’re having it ground by a butcher see if he or she is willing to mix chuck and short rib, which is what my butcher does. It is the best ground beef ever.
Whether you’re cooking on a grill or on the stove, the most important thing is to give yourself time to let the coals or the skillet get really hot. A hamburger that’s not nicely browned is hardly a hamburger at all. While you’re cooking don’t press the burger with a spatula to see if it’s done. I used to work at a burger place and that was a fireable offense. Pressing the burger presses the juices out and then you’re left with a dry burger. I prefer to poke it gently with my thumb to feel how firm it is, but you can use a thermometer if you’re a USDA-type of person (they recommend an internal temp of 160 degrees).
Finally, the biggest variation in burgers comes from the toppings. Some folks are traditionalists and stick with lettuce, tomato, onion, and ketchup, and that’s fine. But if you eat burgers as often as we do, it’s nice to mix things up. Pickles are a favorite, but why limit yourself to pickled cucumbers? Pickled anything is delicious. We’re also fans of a variety of avocados, any greens that aren’t bitter, and spicy toppings like jalapenos or sriracha. When it comes to cheese, we try to do something that will go well with the other toppings, but the best is usually a cheddar that’s sharp enough not to get lost in the other flavors.
And speaking of grilling, over on Babble.com, we’re talking about simple tips for laid-back summer cookouts as part of a sponsored campaign with Target’s Everyday Collection. Check it out!
Cheeseburgers with Pickled Onions and Avocado
1 1/2 pounds ground beef
2 tablespoons sea salt or to taste
3 – 4 grinds of black pepper
4 sliced sharp cheddar cheese
1 recipe quick pickled onions
Start your grill or place a grill pan on high heat. If you’re using a charcoal grill, arrange a large pile of briquets in a pyramid, add lighter fluid according to the manufacturer’s instructions if necessary, and light. After the flame dies down, wait until the coals have turned completely, or almost completely, gray and are hot enough that you can’t comfortably hold your hand over the grill for more than a few seconds. Use tongs to spread the coals and place the grate over them.
Using your hands, mix the beef, salt, and pepper.
Divide the ground beef into four equal portions and shape them into patties. Patties should be 2 1/2 – 3 inches thick. Using your thumb, make an indentation in the center of both sides of the patty. The burger will thicken in the middle as it cooks, doing this helps keep them from forming a giant mound in the middle.
Place on the grill or pan and cook 4 – 5 minutes a side for medium burgers. When the burgers are a couple minutes out, add the cheddar. Once the patties feel firm to the touch but still have some give, they’re ready. Set the burgers on a plate to rest for a couple minutes.