In a world of Michelin starred restaurants, molecular gastronomy à la Heston and increasing incidences of French vocabulary on menus (let’s face it, ‘jus’ has a certain elegance about it which ‘gravy’, erm, lacks slightly…), one of my favourite meals to eat involves no knife and fork. It defies social etiquette. The bigger and fatter the better. It can be cooked horrendously badly and resemble the texture of a shoe sole, or it can be cooked beautifully using such high quality ingredients, it melts in your mouth from the first bite. Indeed, at the risk of sounding juvenile, a burger is one of my favourite meals in the whole wide world.
Nothing beats that first bite into tender meat, preferably cooked medium or medium rare for a beefburger, while its various condiments spill down the side of the bun, undermining all notions of polite eating and creating a rather spectacular yet deliciously satisfying mess. I know I’m not the only one out there who enjoys the rather aesthetically displeasing yet beautifully tangy mélange of mustard and ketchup, and I know I’m not the only one to discover a rogue blob of said sauces on my face two hours after the last bite. Unfortunately, in my case, this often happens after taking some form of public transport or when I’m with someone who is too polite/too unobservant to say anything. Nevertheless, for me, a good burger is just so damn, well, good, that the “oh lordy she has ketchup on her FACE and doesn’t ACTUALLY realise” situation is worth each and every disapproving stare.
In your own home, however, sauce on your face and perhaps in your hair doesn’t matter a jot. Indeed what matters, is the cooking. Like most cooking, the key to a successful burger lies in its seasoning, which can be tricky to get correct. Too much and the flavour of the burger is overpowered, while too little leaves a burger that screams bland and ultimately, boring. I know I’m not the only one who has bitten into a disappointing burger and felt my heart sink just a little bit. So, in my attempts to create burgers that are heart stoppers (not literally, of course, I’ll leave that to the ‘Heart Attack Grill’ in Las Vegas) and not heart sinkers, I decided to indulge in a little bit of burger experimenting. I was never much of a scientist at school, but then again, experimenting with burgers and the seasoning of burger patties was not part of the National Curriculum. Mind you, neither was cake eating. Or restaurant going. If I were prime minister…
It was during this experimentation process that I managed to come up with two winning burgers, the first of which defies the old “moment on the lips, lifetime on the hips” adage. My Thai Turkey Burger with Coriander and Lime combines classic Thai flavour combinations and, thankfully, defies the perception of turkey burgers as dodgy school dinner fare which ought to be consigned to history with its cousin the Turkey Twizzler. In fact, so pleased was I with this burger, at the risk of sounding like a boastful burger diva (what an accolade), notes of the ‘Hallelujah (I’ve cooked a successful burger) chorus’ interspersed with adolescent “OMGs” (apologies to you Handel purists out there) were practically tangible when I was eating it.
Thai Turkey Burgers with Coriander and Lime (Serves 4)
- 500g turkey mince
- 50g Thai green curry paste (shop bought or homemade)
- Juice of half a lime
- 2 tbsp Matzo meal*
- Pinch of sea salt
- A generous handful of coriander, chopped
- 4 good quality burger buns
- Toppings and condiments (e.g. rocket leaves, sauteed spring onions, and, despite its association with Indian food, mango chutney goes well with these burgers as the sweetness of it provides a good contrast to the sharpness of the lime. For the less sweet toothed among you, replace this with a more acidic mango pickle)
- Lime wedges to serve
* Matzo meal are crackers that are ground very finely to resemble breadcrumbs. They are often used in Jewish cooking and I like using them as a binding agent as they don’t spoil the flavour or texture of burgers but are very effective in preventing them from collapsing during cooking. Thankfully they are not hard to find – I bought mine in my local Sainsburys.
Combine all the ingredients in a bowl and mix carefully
Shape into 4 patties, put on a plate and cover with clingfilm. Put the burgers into the fridge for at least an hour.
Turn on the grill to a medium heat. Grill the burgers on each side (approx 6-7) minutes per side, or until the burgers feel firm and the juices run clear.
Serve in burger buns spread with chosen condiment (e.g. mango chutney), salad leaves and lime wedges.
And, if you’re feeling naughty, serve with chips
Of course, it would be a foodie sin to blog about burgers and fail to pay homage to the humble beefburger. Like Nigel Slater, I am a fan of the “less is more” approach when it comes to beefburgers. Often accused of being a burger bore, nine times out of ten I opt for the ‘classic’ burger which comes with nothing more than lettuce, tomato and onions (preferably caramelised). That way, I feel the flavour of the burger can be closely scrutinised. Of course, I’m not saying that the addition of cheese to a burger is a sacrilege and/or crime against the art of burger making, but I’m a girl of simple tastes. If there were ever a ‘Plain Jane’ of burger lovers, little burger munching moi would fit the bill (bloody hell, don’t I know how to make myself sound attractive…). So, here’s my version of a burger that is low on fuss but strives to be high on flavour (just make sure you buy the best quality beef you can afford).
Plain Jane Burger with Caramelised Onions (Serves 4)
- 500g good quality minced beef, or, even better, ground chuck steak
- 2-3 tbsp Matzo meal
- A generous pinch of sea salt
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 4 good quality burger buns
- Toppings and condiments (e.g. lettuce, tomato, mustard, ketchup)
- 2 large onions, chopped into slices
- 1 tbsp brown sugar (when cooked slowly, onions release their natural sugars so you don’t need a lot of sugar in order for them to caramelise)
- Pinch of salt
- A glug of olive oil
For the burgers
Combine all ingredients in a bowl .
Shape into patties and put in the fridge for at least an hour.
Grill under a medium to high heat (roughly 3-4 minutes each side for medium. Give your burgers a little longer if you like the meat well done)
Serve in buns with the caramelised onions (below) and chosen condiments.
For the caramelised onions
Put the olive oil in a pan over a medium heat. Once hot, turn the heat down and add the onions and salt. Cook slowly for 15-20 minutes, stirring occasionally.
When the onions are softened, add the sugar and cook the onions for a further 5-10 minutes, stirring occasionally til sticky. Taste and, if you like your onions particularly sweet, add a bit more sugar if needed. If the onions begin to dry out during cooking, add a little splash of water.
When ready, serve on top of the burgers.
So, while burgers will never win a beauty contest, I love the fact that what you see is what you get. No facades, no fuss, no fakery. Indeed, what you will hopefully get is that feeling of contentment that a big, fat honest burger, defined by its simplicity, achieves so effortlessly.
Oh, and if you’re anything like me, a little bit of ketchup on your face