Apologies. I’ve been rather neglecting this blog of late. Other stuff (you know, life…) just seems to keep getting in the way. It’s been almost three weeks since I posted anything, and over a week since I started writing this, I just haven’t had the consecutive hours spare over the past eight days to sit down, finish it and get it posted. Well, here goes…
It’s been a funny old summer. Saturday, down here in London, started off a bit cloudy, turned into a proper, hot, high summer’s day for a couple of hours in the late morning (‘cracking the flags’ as my late, great, grandmother would have said), turned torrential (‘stair rods’ to my gran) by lunchtime, before finally clearing up into a balmy August evening. Sunday we had friends over for lunch, ate in the garden and stayed outside around the table all afternoon and far into the evening. This morning, as I write (on Tuesday), it’s stair rods again, out of a cold, bleakly leaden sky. More reminiscent of October than August. This has been pretty typical. So typical it turns out, that I now read that this has been the coolest summer since 1993. Hardly 1816, perhaps, but still pretty bloody rubbish.
So much for global warming, eh? Except, no, not really, because remember this damp and chilly summer followed on from an unusually hot, dry, spring. And every model of global warming I’m aware of projects messed up weather patterns as becoming the norm. And even if ‘coolest since 1993’ scarcely counts as freak weather, then I think Hurricane Irene narrowly failing to lay waste to New York City, but inundating Vermont (Vermont! Hurricanes!) probably does. Messed up at the very least. Although almost certainly NOT God’s direct intervention in U.S domestic politics.
Anyway, I’m glad, at least, that it was last summer and not this one, that we had our kitchen refitted. That became – as these things tend to – a gruelling epic of frustration and endurance: a job scheduled for a couple of weeks stretching out to occupy several months, for the most part of which we had no functioning kitchen at all. As you can imagine, that was quite stressful. Fortunately, that part of that summer (i.e. almost all of it) was a period of almost unbroken good weather, allowing us to make near constant use of the barbeque that lives on our tiny roof terrace (in fact the flat roof of the bathroom). This summer that would not have been nearly as reliable or congenial.
Still, we’ve eaten out there a few times this year, most recently on one of those occasions on which the urge for a decent burger overwhelmed me. As sometimes it does. There’s nothing like a decent burger, and sometimes nothing else will do. Unfortunately that’s precisely what most commercially available burgers are: nothing like a decent burger, and no kind of substitute for one.
For some people a burger is just a quarter pound of minced beef, shaped into a disc and griddles, fried or flame grilled. Nothing wrong with that and it’s by no means just lazy cooks and philistines who’d advocate the straight beef burger, plenty of serious burger aficionados would too. Burger purists for whom it’s all about the beef. And if the beef is really good, who am I to say they’re wrong. Except if the beef really is that good. I think I’d rather have it as a steak. Or maybe, at a stretch, minced but uncooked, in the form of steak tartare.
For me, as it happens, a decent burger starts off it’s life as something you might happily serve uncooked as a variation on steak tartare – the beef cut with finely chopped red onion, garlic and chilli, a dash of Tabasco, salt and pepper, obviously, perhaps some fresh parsley, or even a little coriander. If I was intending to serve it without the application of heat, though, I would choose a different, rather finer, and leaner cut of meat (fillet steak would be conventional, although I might tend towards rump, or even experiment with a more interesting cut like hanger steak, or veal skirt) than I would for a burger, and mince – or, rather, chop – it myself.
For a burger supermarket mince is fine. But not the extra lean variety. You need fat both to bind the patty and to bond and blend the flavours. If you can only get the extra lean mince, then you’ll definitely need something fatty to add to your burger mix – pork mince, finely chopped streaky bacon, pancetta or lardons, or as I have here, chorizo (not that I started off with extra lean mince. No sir.)
For my burger mix on this occasion I took a 400g pack of mince, and added 100g of cooking chorizo, half a smallish red onion, one big fat clove of garlic and about half a thumbnail’s length each of both red and green chilli – all finely chopped. I stirred and kneaded all the ingredients together in a bowl with salt and pepper, just a splash of Tabasco and a dribble of olive oil to help it all bind. Then I formed the mix into a tight ball and put it in the fridge for a couple of hours. It’s important to make up your burger mix far enough ahead of time for all the flavours to get to work on each other.
Once I’d lit the barbecue and was waiting for it to reach cooking temperature, I took the mix back out of the fridge and cut the ball in half. One half went back into the fridge to form the basis of a quick pasta sauce the following day, the second half was further subdivided and shaped into two thick patties. I’m a firm believer in a burger being shaped more like a flattened ball than a thick coaster. Between an inch and an inch and a half thick is about right: thick enough to keep it pink in the middle if that’s how you want it (and I do), not too thick that eating it presents a logistical challenge. Anything less than and you may as well go to Burger King I’m afraid…
Make sure the grill (or your griddle or frying pan if you’re cooking on the stove top) is good and hot – you want to ensure a loud sizzle and some good charring on the outside. As for cooking time, err on the side of underdone – if it’s too bloody for you or your guests’ tastes, then you can always put it back on the heat if you need to; once it’s overdone, it’s overdone.
For me, tomato, red onion and sliced gherkin are essential to the burger experience. A crunchy lettuce leaf is a good option. A good bun, obviously, with some substance, but not too crusty. Both mustard and ketchup, apart from anything else, an either/or would be an impossible situation to put yourself in. Kind of like a fast food Sophie’s Choice. Fancier sauces like sweetcorn relish or garlic mayo risk gilding the lily, mainly, it has to be said, in a good way. But if the burger’s good - as this chorizo burger really, really, was – then you don’t want too much crammed into the bun with it to smother it’s flavour.