This is a bit of a different post for the blog, in that it doesn’t contain a recipe. Rather it’s more of a checklist for what I think goes into making the Perfect Burger.
The choice of meat is a big part of the ideal burger, but I’m going to leave the decisions about the patty up to you. If I get too prescriptive in that regard I’m only going to open a can of worms. Though the one thing I will say about the meat is this: you don’t really need anything more than 100% steak mince with a decent fat content. Oh and a bit of salt and pepper. All of the binders and bulking materials are completely unnecessary. It’s a beef burger after all – not a breadcrumb and egg burger.
So, assuming that the meat is up to you…what else goes into the Perfect Burger?
If you’ve ever seen Heston Blumenthal’s In Search of Perfection you’ll know just how important texture can be when it comes to making a perfect burger. His recipe, which no home cook should ever waste their time with in my opinion, takes the things to truly incomprehensible levels. I’m not kidding when I say it would have you aligning the strands of minced beef in your burger to ensure it falls apart as you eat it… You see why I said you shouldn’t bother now, right?
I’m going to assume that the structure of the beef patty is a given and that it’s going to be pretty tender. I also think you save yourself a lot of time by keeping things simple on the bun front too. You don’t need brioche nor sourdough nor those very moreish Portuguese rolls that you often get when you’re on holiday. A decent bun, with or without sesame seeds, will more than suffice.
It’s the contents that matter and this is where the fun starts. You want a combination of soft and crunchy, hot and cold, mild and flavoursome. Everything has to work together in concert, but also has to be pretty good on its own.
So, let’s get building – layer by layer:
I like both Ketchup and Mayonnaise in a burger. The sharp/sweet tomato flavour from the ketchup is very much necessary to make the other flavours woek in harmony. The mayonnaise adds a bit of creaminess that may otherwise be missing. They do, however, need to be kept separate – so I put the mayo on the bottom bun and the ketchup on the top.
You may have also noticed that I don’t toast the bun before starting the assembly. I personally don’t think it’s needed. The two sauces form a decent moisture barrier between the other contents and the bun, so as there’s no risk of it getting soggy why make work for yourself?
Bring on the debate of whether the onions in a burger should be raw or cooked. Crisp or caramelised?
Personally I go for raw, as they’re ultimately there to bring a bit of crunch. However, I don’t think that you should just slice your onion and chuck it straight in. No, sir! Prepare the onion ahead of time and let it soak in cold water for at least half an hour before you need it. It’ll stay crisp but the flavour will become more mellow and less acrid, making it blend into the background. It’s a supporting player, after all, not the star.
Step away from the Iceberg Lettuce.
Yes, it’s crispy and yes it’s cheap – but that’s almost all it has going for it. It’s also very wet and has next to no flavour, ruling it out of the perfect burger on both counts. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not suggesting that you go mad and use rocket or mustard leaves here. But you do want a lettuce that has flavour and texture. As such, I’d recommend Romaine (Cos) or Little Gem – the latter being almost perfectly burger sized straight from the garden.
Oooh, another controversial choice. There’s no bacon in my perfect burger.
Yep, you read that right: No bacon. Despite the fact that if I go out for dinner and order a burger I’ll be disappointed if it’s absent. The flavour of the bacon isn’t the issue here – I think its salty, porkiness is very much needed to make the flavour of a burger come to life.
It’s missing because bacon doesn’t have the right texture – well, at least British bacon doesn’t. It’s too soft and often comes with an offputting, undercooked layer of fat down one side. If you can get American bacon then by all means use that – making sure it’s cooked to the point of being able to cut through paper.
However, in its absence my money is on prosciutto crudo. Fold it over on itself and bake it in the oven for 10 minutes and watch the magic happen. It’ll darken in colour and become wonderfully crisp – shattering into little salty shards as you bit into it. Perfect behaviour when it’s the layer immediately below the beef patty.
So, the foundations are in place. Now it’s time to add the beef.
We’re almost done – there’s just about enough room to add a bit of cheese. For my money the best cheese in a burger is a mild and creamy blue. You get the right amount of melt and a huge amount of flavour without needing to add masses of the stuff. Yes, molten cheese is great but you can have too much of a good thing.
At the risk of repeating myself this is a burger we’re building. Its success depends on many ingredients working together, rather than one barging its way through all of the others. If you want loads of gooey, runny cheese then go and make a toasted cheese sandwich or some cheese on toast.
Once the cheese is in place you can pop the other half of the bun on top and enjoy your burger. After all that work you deserve it.
As much as I love a pickle you can have too much of a good thing. For my money, if you want one then have it on the side. A whole pickled cucumber is much nice than a couple of meagre slices. Plus, they can be quite a divisive component in a burger, so save your friends and family the hassle of having to pick it out if they’re not fans.
I guess that the omission of fresh tomato might also be a little controversial. But, like iceberg lettuce, they add a lot of moisture for not much flavour. If you really want more tomato flavour than provided by the ketchup then you could add in a bit of tomato chutney. Just save yourself from a watery burger by skipping out the fresh variety.
My Perfect Burger
So there you have it. My perfect burger, where every mouthful comes with a burst of flavour and texture. Why not give it a go – and if you disagree with my perfect burger why not let me know?