How to Make Perfect Beef Burgers - Six Helpful Hints
How to Make Perfect Beef Burgers - Six Helpful Hints
The range of burgers and burger joints has exploded in recent years, rather like the universe after the Big Bang, but seriously good burgers are still hard to come by, especially for those who live in more rural areas.
Thankfully there's no need to follow the big city lights for a luxury burger. With a little skill and love, the cheap, less tender cuts can be transformed into a delicacy that rivals any steak in terms of taste. But because too many restaurants manage to do this far too rarely, and do-it-yourself is much more fun anyway, here's how to craft the ultimate beef burger at home - without resorting to Wagyu beef or truffle mayonnaise.
1. Young may be tender, but old may be better
Clearly for the perfect burger, just like the perfect steak, you must start with the right meat, and right doesn't necessarily mean 'best'. Forget Wagyu burgers, that's a waste of money and only makes sense if you have to process a whole Wagyu cow. Wagyu is outlandishly expensive because it is so heavily marbled, so it has a particularly high intramuscular fat content. For a steak this is ideal - but if you're mincing meat, it doesn't matter at all, as you can determine the fat content of your burger yourself and vary it to your liking.
The important thing is that the meat has as much flavour as possible, and the most flavour is in muscles that have had to work a lot: in meat from older animals that has then been dry-aged for several weeks by a good butcher. Buy meat from an old, grass-fed cow; indeed it may be a cow, as opposed to a young steer or heifer, both of which are bred for prime beef.
Choose a cut that is too tough for a steak, such as leg, brisket (chest), chuck (shoulder), or the particularly tasty hanger or butcher's steak. Mince it fresh and mix it with a little extra beef fat for the necessary juiciness - a good starting point is a ratio of 80:20 steak to beef fat.
2. Mince it yourself
Having chosen your cut, you will need to mince the meat yourself or ask your butcher to do it for you. The advantage of mincing it yourself means you can stipulate the consistency. Cut the meat into 1 inch cubes and pulse in the blender in batches, stopping every few seconds to check the consistency. For a very consistent texture you can freeze the cubes and blender blades for half an hour first, as the partially frozen meat and cold blades will prevent the meat from clogging. Mincing it yourself also ensures that the meat is absolutely fresh - very important given that burgers that should remain almost raw on the inside.
A good burger, like a good sausage, should have a fat content of about 20%. If you are mincing lean meat, it is well worth adding around 200 grams of beef fat per 800g of meat.
3. Proper patties
The freshly minced beef should be handled carefully; it should be barely pressed, just enough to keep its shape as a burger patty, not more. Keep these three things in mind when making the patty:
- Do not salt the mince before shaping. Salt leads to chemical reactions in the meat that change the consistency and cause the individual muscle fibres to bind together - salted mince inevitably turns into a kind of sausage, it becomes denser and does not have the desired tender burger consistency. The patties should only be salted immediately before cooking and only on the outside.
- The perfect burger, just like a steak, must not be too thin, at least not if you want to cook it medium rare (and you do!) Two fingers thick is a good rough guide.
- The shape is crucial. When it is heated, meat contracts. To make sure the patty stays flat in the pan or on the grill and doesn't turn into a meatball, make a decent dent in the centre when shaping it and make it a little bigger than your burger bun when raw, then it will still fit after frying.
4. Soft rolls only
Burger buns must have one important characteristic: they need to be soft. If they are not, you and your guests will have to put too much pressure on the patty when biting it, meaning all the delicious fat and meat juices will end up on your fingers and chins instead of in your mouths. Burger buns are readily available but you can also used unsweetened brioche for a change. Cut it open, toast it - simple.
5. Cook to perfection
Just like a good steak, you want to cook your burger medium rare, which is when it will be at its juiciest. And just like with steak, the best way to do this is with the reverse sear method. Here, the burger is first gently brought to the right core temperature and then seared on the outside. Doing it this way round means the burger browns faster in the pan and stays juicier.
Here's how; preheat the oven to about 90°C (195°F), salt the ready-formed patties on both sides and place them on a rack in the oven (be careful: they will drip, put a pan underneath). Cook until they have reached a core temperature of about 50°C (125°F), about 15 to 20 minutes. Get your frying pan or grill very hot and sear the patties briefly on both sides so that they take on a nice colour. Immediately after frying, place a slice of cheese on the hot side and let it melt.
6. Don't pack too much in
Of course, you are free to put half your fridge in your burger. But remember, a good burger is a bit like a good pizza - sometimes less is more. It should be all about the most unadulterated, awesome, juicy, meat flavours. There are a few classic additions; a melting slice of good cheese and a slice of very good pickled cucumber - the former provides even more fat, creaminess and an extra umami kick in the background, the latter brings variety, freshness and acidity. A crisp lettuce leaf and a slice of beef tomato alongside the melting cheese also works well. Try it with as few ingredients as possible at first, then add more depending on your mood.
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