Saturday, April 2, 2011

A Chapter in the Quest for the Perfect Cheeseburger, Part 3

My Burger Philosophy

A good burger should not require condiments! If a burger can stand on its own without condiment use, I consider it a grand achievement. I have had the exquisite experience on occasion in which the patty and toppings worked in absolute harmony to create a blissful umami taste that surely would inspire bards of old to sing about. (Before the word umami was used to describe this taste sensation, I called the burger tasting "creamy".)

I'm not against the mirepoix of condiments (mayo, ketchup, mustard) in principle, for condiments can be masterfully used to enhance flavors, impart flavors, create a signature flavor, or cover up undesired tastes due to a ruin patty. Much of the time the condiments are working to cover up flaws of the meat.

In order to have a good burger, it needs a good bun, and in proper ratio to the patty. Most burgers have no moisture, so they don't require a bun that can handle the sop. A juice patty combined with a wimpy bun causes catastrophic bun failure. Finding the balance in the bun to patty ratio is in the realm of preferences. I'm not one for making my own buns or using artisan buns, unless it's something special.

The perfect patty should be in the range between rare and medium rare, but it also depends on the thickness. Seasoning the meat while cooking can enhance the patty, but I find isn't always necessary. It's more important to cook the meat to the ideal state of being done. When the patty is in the zone, it will be safely cooked and have all of its juice. Going beyond will cause loss of juice, toughen the meat, and result in a puck.

From my experiences, using freshly ground meat isn't as good as freezing the meat, thawing it, then cooking it. I'm not sure why I'm experiencing this. I think it may have to do with the fact I freeze my meat in a vacuum-sealed bag which draws the juice of out the meat cells. I will need to conduct some experiments to find out what is making the frozen/thawed patties juicier. One thing is certain is that the frozen patties taste as fresh (even better because of the juiciness) than the ones that are ground and directly cooked.

Having Fun With Toppings

We live in an age where putting bacon on a burger is considered mundane. There's a lot of experimentation with various condiments and toppings--the purpose of which I'm not quite sure. A well made burger with just the basics is not as easy to make as it sounds for it takes some finesse, knowledge, and care to craft the iconic cheeseburger. Not to say that the Frankenstein creations aren't works of art in their own context; however, I think there is a tendency to over-do and become ridiculous.

The Bacon & Blue Burger

This week I set out to experiment with making a condiment-free burger. My thought was that if I had a flavorful combination of toppings, condiments would get in the way. I decided upon bacon, blue cheese, granny smith apples, and the usual assortment of lettuce, onion, tomatoes.

My goal was to keep the patty juicy so it would create a sauce-like effect with the softened blue cheese, hence making a condiment of sorts. For the most part, my goal was achieved. The tang from the apple and blue cheese paired well with the salty-savory of the bacon and patty. The lettuce got lost in the favors, but the onion served as a gentle addition. Texture-wise, there was a lot of crispness to balance the soft mush of blue cheese and patty. All around, this Frankenstein creation was a success.

My next two burger experiments will be using pimento cheese, and then another using fish sauce to create the ultimate umami patty.

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