Thursday, February 04, 2010

AEB classics #87: the AEB Burger

We've been pretty serious about our burgers for a while now, but when we got a meat grinder attachment for our standing mixer, things got even more serious. In fact, the burgers that have resulted have been seriously outstanding, taking our deluxe home burger to new heights.

What are the keys to a full-on AEB Burger? The quality of the meat, the fat content, salting the meat 24 hours in advance, grinding the meat fresh, and forming the patties just so, without overworking them. Then there's the buns--always crucial. And while this burger is so good it doesn't require a whole lot of fixings, we really don't make burgers that often, so we'll be damned if we're not going put out a nice spread so that we can turn that burger into a gloriously overstuffed mess.

The AEB Burger

2 lbs beef chuck from a reputable butcher, roughly 20% fat content
kosher salt

If you're grinding your own beef, 24 hours before you make your burgers, salt your beef generously, and keep it in the refrigerator overnight.

before fig. a: chuck

special equipment: a meat grinder
freshly ground black pepper
4 tbsp unsalted butter, portioned into four pats of butter

The next day, grind your meat twice through your meat grinder (we have two attachments for our grinder, and we use the coarser of the two). Season the meat with black pepper (remember, you've already salted the meat--no need to do it again).

after fig. b: freshly ground chuck

Obviously, if you don't have a meat grinder, just start the recipe here. Try and get the best, freshest ground chuck you can find. You'll be missing out on the added value of salting the meat 24 hours in advance, but you'll still wind up with a great burger (just remember to salt each patty a bit when you season them).

Separate the beef into four portions. Gently form each portion of beef into a patty, making sure to place a pat of butter inside each of your patties. [The butter will baste the meat from the inside as it cooks.] Use just enough pressure to form the ground beef into a patty, and no more. Avoid overworking the meat. Set aside.

bacon fig. c: freshly fried smoky bacon

4 strips of good, smoky bacon

Fry up your bacon in a large cast-iron pan until your strips are crispy. Set aside.

4 quality hamburger buns

Slice your buns and plate them.

pickled onions fig. d: pickled onions

Now, lay out your hamburger fixings.

We recommend:
Boston lettuce
sliced beefsteak tomatoes (if in season, which they absolutely were not last, when we made the latest batch of these burgers, so we excluded tomatoes altogether)
sliced pickled cucumbers
pickled onions
pickled green tomato chow chow
quality mustard
ketchup, preferably homemade

Whatever you settle on, your fixings tables should convey plenitude. It should look something like this:

fixings table fig. e: hamburger fixings

Fresh French fries are awfully nice, but a good potato chip can do the trick too. We're particularly fond of Covered Bridge (Hartland, NB) brand at the moment.

Covered Bridge potato chips fig. f: real potato chips

special equipment: large pan, preferably cast-iron
a large lid that fits the pan
4 slices of cheese, preferably something interesting but not overwhelming, like an aged cheddar or a caraway gouda (yes!)

Now it's time to cook up your burgers. Choose the largest cast-iron pan you have on hand. If it's the one you cooked the bacon in, set it a notch above medium heat. If it's not the one you cooked the bacon in, transfer the bacon fat to the pan and turn the heat to a notch above medium heat. When the pan is good and hot, place all four of your patties in at once. The pan should be hot enough to make the patties sizzle on contact. Let the patties sizzle for 3 minutes without moving them or flattening them. Flip the patties over and cook for another 3 minutes. The patties should have a nice deep crust on them, but they shouldn't be overly blackened. When the second 3 minutes are up, flip the patties again, turn the heat down to low, cover the pan and cook for 2 minutes. Make sure your cheese slices are ready. When the 2 minutes are up, flip the patties again, cover them with cheese, cover with the lid again, and cook for a final 2 minutes. The patties should be perfectly medium-rare after this final 2 minutes.

Place each patty on a bun, adorn with a slice of bacon, and serve, allowing your dining companions to dress their burgers according to their own whims. (Mine: lettuce, pickled onions, chow chow, mayonnaise, strong Belgian mustard, and an occasional dab of homemade ketchup.)

The finished product should look something like this, and it should look and smell so crazy-good that you just start chomping, possibly without even remembering to put your lettuce inside your burger first.

burger time fig. g: burger time

Your burger should taste so crazy-good, that just thinking about it, days later, drives you, well, crazy. Seriously crazy.

Fully satisfies 4.

Got your own burger dos and don'ts? By all means, send 'em in.


ps--Thanks to Judy Rodgers' Zuni Cafe Cookbook for the tips on purchasing, salting, and grinding our beef, and to Saveur's "The Burger Bible" issue (our fave issue of 2009) for the "pat of butter" tip and a whole lot of inspiration.


Anonymous said...

Mission accomplished, 'gloriously overstuffed mess' has me crazy all ready. Just placed the beef in the fridge, hope I don't wake up at 4 a.m. and crawl downstairs .....
Thanks for sharing


ff said...

Amazing. Can't wait.


Chris 'Zeke' Hand said...


I'd never ever ever add salt until the instant before cooking...

Other than that, they sound delicious.

aj kinik said...

Hi, Kirin,
thanks for writing--hope they turned out well

Hi, Fiona,
glad you liked it

Hi, CZH,
thanks for the link, but his results couldn't have been further from ours--ah, science!

damn, now I just want to have another burger...

Leigh said...

Yet again, I'm comforted by the fact that other people agree the Burger to be one of food's best artforms. Wonderful stuff. Been toying with the idea of my own mincer for a while now. It's gonna happen. I can feel it.

Anonymous said...

What do you think about grinding the meat in a normal food processor? I saw Jamie make his gross chicken nuggets in one, and wonder if it would work for beef?

aj kinik said...

Hi, Leigh,
hope you've taken the plunge since writing--well worth it

Hi, Wren,
I don't see how a food processor would work--seems to me the meat would get over-minced and the resultant patty would be tough--if you're interested in making real burgers at home, if you have any interest in making sausages or real bolognese, and especially if you don't have a good butcher nearby that's willing to grind your meat fresh and to order, I highly recommend investing in a meat grinder--it's not a huge investment, but it does make a huge difference