Cancel the search party. We’ve found the perfect burger.
The truth is, there’s no such thing as the one place that produces the absolute burger. Why? Because every burger joint, every restaurant, every chef has their own take on what an amazing burger should taste like.
Several people in America will claim to be the hamburger’s inventors, each opting for different ways to serve the humble beef patty. Then there are those who believe the burger hails from Hamburg, Germany. Regardless of its origins, this tasty meal is possibly the simplest yet most delicious fast food we’ll queue up for, wolf down when strapped for time, and even enjoy making at home.
If you’re opting for the latter, there are some unwritten rules to follow that’ll help put you in the running of coming up with one hell of a tasty burger.
Let’s start with the basics. No matter how incredible your patty is, if it’s served in dry, tasteless crumbly bread, it’s sure to ruin the whole experience. The bun is what we bite through first, and then our tongue goes on a search for the juicy meat patty and other condiments which lie stacked up in between the bread. The standard bun is usually a white soft dough with sesame seeds sprinkled on top.
In recent years though, burger joints have started to introduce a variety of buns. It’s quite interesting to see which is paired with which burger fillings and cheese of choice. The Kaiser Roll seems to be a favourite, what with its cute star shaped top and extra soft texture. The brioche bun has also hit the market in a big way, its sweetness accompanying the succulent beefy centre. When choosing your bread, make sure you opt for a bun which will hold your burger together. You can choose to butter the inside and toast it slightly till golden brown to add to the texture and flavour. A bun that’ll fall apart and crumble when loaded with your hamburger goodness will completely destroy all expectations. So make sure you choose wisely.
If you want a well-balanced patty with just the right amount of fat and meat, you should take pride in putting together a mince of beef chuck or shoulder, and not the mince that most butchers have ready for sale. This is because you want a good ratio, and ready mince will just be trimmings of beef that’s been left behind. There’s nothing wrong with this; it’s just a way of not wasting good meat. In fact, some butchers actually have good quality mince, yet by asking for these specific cuts, you’ll get exactly what you’re looking for. The fat which oozes out while you’re frying or grilling the patty helps to seal the flavour and give it its golden brown exterior. It’s very important to season your mince with salt and pepper just before cooking and not prior, as the salt might dry your meat. You may also want to give your patties a rub before you cook them. That’s how I make mine.
A slice of cheese is always mandatory in a hamburger – in my book, anyway. I like a cheese that will give the exact amount of sharpness to my burger, rather than overpower in taste. A variety of cheeses – not always hard – are used instead of the common yet distinct cheddar or Swiss cheese to accompany different condiments.
I’ve had an Italian burger topped with mozzarella, or a Blue Danube topped with stinky Gorgonzola. Also, Comté is a French cheese that works wonders with a salty patty. These adventurous choices are usually manifested in gourmet burgers. My ultimate favourite remains good old mature cheddar melted atop my thick beef patty, which oozes out as soon as I take the first bite into my hamburger.
Tip: Always melt your cheese by placing it on the patty and heating it for a minute or so. If I order a burger and the cheese is cold, I will be a very unhappy customer.
The Toppings & Condiments
Eating food is a journey of sensations. Every meal should be a unique experience, regardless of what your meal consists of. Your taste buds should be tickled, your senses heightened and your palate awakened. Texture is an important part of the hamburger experience. A cold crisp bed of lettuce on the base of your bun will help keep all relishes and sauces within the loaded sandwich, and it will also add freshness and crunch. Most importantly, it will keep your sauce safe from making the base of your bun soggy. A slice of beefy tomato also adds to the freshness and the juiciness, and some burger bars in the US have stuck to one tradition – serving a pickle on the side of their burger.
When choosing to make more novel takes, toppings may differ. A Hawaiian burger will boast a fleshy pineapple ring instead of the tomato slice, a Tex-Mex version will be laden with jalapeños, and an Eggy burger will pride on having a sunny side up fried egg ready to burst in your mouth, yolk running down your chin once you dig in.
Ketchup, mustard, brown and BBQ sauce are the usual suspects for smothering our burger with, as is mayonnaise. However, there’s a never-ending variety of ready made relishes and sauces out there to suit everyone’s fancy. Last year, I was adding Branston pickle to my burger, which proved to be quite the hit. I’m sure a piccalilli relish would do a burger with Red Leicester justice.
Whatever you decide to put in your hamburger, the key secret to a delicious outcome is keeping a balance between all the ingredients. Make sure you have a caramelised brown patty with a tender interior full of beefy goodness, a cheese that distinctively accompanies but doesn’t over-power, some fresh vegetables or even sautéed onions to give it bite, a sauce or dressing which will bind the whole taste together, and a humble bun to keep it all together till your teeth sink into it.