Friday, May 7, 2010

May... is Hamburger Month

There is only one way to celebrate Hamburger Month- by eating hamburgers. The holiday has vague roots, but it is believed that White Castle came up with it as a promotion. Other chains such as Smashburger have special offers as well, so it is catching on. I decided to go DIY this time, and made these for a post-workout meal for myself and my cousin Pete, after we busted our asses on a nasty circuit of box jumps, push-ups, blast strap rows, Bulgarian split squats, burpees, and other exercises that sound like the signature moves of a professional wrestler. Oh no! He's got him trapped in the insidious flying butt pliers!
Hasidic Burger! Though not kosher. At all.

Cooking burgers is easy, but if you want them juicy and with a seared crust, you need to follow some rules. I don't have a grill, just a cast iron pan and a big silicone spatula. That's all you need. I began with a pound of organic 85% lean ground beef from Costco, $4.35 a pound. A little pricey but the flavor is worth it. It has the beefiness of bison, without being too lean. A burger needs fat to stay juicy, so 80-85% is ideal. Save the 93% lean for chili. Unpackage the meat and form it into two loose patties; this wasn't freshly ground, so it's pretty tightly packed already- I tore it in two and quickly made two patties. I heated my cast iron pan on medium-high and scattered coarse salt all over the pan. I learned that trick from Julia Child's show; there's no need for cooking oil, just use salt. Put the burgers in the hot pan and sprinkle some more salt on the top side.

It's better if you flip your burgers often, but wait until you get a good sear on the bottom before flipping it. This usually takes a few minutes. Just never, ever flatten them with the spatula so the juices run out! I also have a thermometer probe to test- 125 is rare, 145 is medium. I made mine to 135 and Pete's to 145. This saves you from cutting them to peek inside, and letting the juices escape. While your burgers are cooking you can lay 6 slices of bacon on a plate and cover it with a paper towel, and microwave it for 5 minutes, for perfect crispy bacon. The downside is your house will smell like bacon for days, so if you use the last of your bacon, you'll be tormented with the tortures of the damned. After you flip your burger for the final time, slap a slice of your favorite cheese on it and cover them with a lid so it will melt. I used aged cheddar, because my American cheese went bad. This is also a good time to toast your buns- I had Ezekiel 4:9 Sprouted English Muffins, my favorite. They're crispy, crunchy and dense enough to hold a half pound burger!

Let the burger rest for a few minutes like a steak, then top it with the bacon and slap it on a bun. I built mine with ketchup and hot banana pepper rings on the bottom, bacon and BBQ sauce on the top. And it was glorious. A little overcooked, next time I'll stop at 125 for myself. 720 calories of protein-packed goodness. As much as I enjoy stopping by Elevation Burger for a bite, making my own is very rewarding. Sure, the apartment is filled with smoke and smells like burgers for days, and I have a sink full of dishes to clean, but this remains one of my favorite burgers.

© 2010 Thomas Pluck.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Island Burgers & Shakes - not a desert island meal.

You can't go home again, says Thomas Wolfe. Either home changes, or you change. I returned to Island Burgers & Shakes after seeing The Colbert Report this week, and I'm not sure which of us has changed, but I couldn't go home again.

They make a decent burger, but it pales in comparison with many in the city, including cheaper fare like the legendary Shake Shack and HB Burger, or the nearby Five Napkin Burger. They still shine in their selection of toppings, excellent pickles, and soothing, decadent shakes, but after sampling more of what the city has to offer in the burger department, they are decidedly middling.

The issue is not the size- they make a hefty patty, and put a good sear on it. But the meat is so bland that it fades into the crowd of toppings. This time I had a Top & Pop's with Thai peanut sauce, raw jalapenos and roasted peppers on a ciabatta roll. Last time the sourdough bread and sesame seed buns disintegrated around the juicy burger so I opted for a more robust roll; the bottom still got so soaked it was threatening to fall apart, so I ate it upside down.

A burger ought to be juicy, but the meat needs flavor to carry the meal, and this was lacking. I tried Firecracker's in case mine was a fluke, but no. Drossarian tried the Napalm Burger with habanero sauce, and liked his. Beast had a chicken churasco which she loved, and it did look good. Oddly enough, Island Burgers may be a better destination for a chicken churasco and a milkshake than a burger. If I go again, I'll have the chicken. As you can see, it was Beast approved:

I compared the flavor with similarly priced burgers like HB Burger- who use Pat LaFrieda beef- and there's no contest. Island Burger needs a better meat mix to stay in the running. Game over man, game over.

© 2010 Thomas Pluck.

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