Make no mistake, the once humble hamburger has moved on. The formerly quite basic meat sandwich has been deconstructed, parsed, analyzed, and, in the minds of some culinary experts, perfected.
This is all well and good, even fascinating, but it has certainly created some pressure for anyone making burgers at home. Am I doing it right? Have I thought enough about my burger?
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I have a reputation for making a delicious burger. Which has always baffled me, because my burger is so basic that it almost defies belief.
It all hinges on a single, secret ingredient.
That's right: one extra-special addition to what is essentially an ultra-basic burger.
Yep, good old Lea & Perrins. Beyond that, my burger is almost indifferently prepared. Well, maybe not completely indifferently. But I don't have any esoteric techniques.
I start with a mix of 80% lean to 20% fat. This is the kind of standard-issue ground beef that you can find at any grocery store.
I allow the beef to come to room temperature. Cooking cold meat is a bad idea — but trying for form cold ground beef into hamburger patties is also no fun.
Then I add a generous amount of salt and about half an ounce of Worcestershire sauce per pound of ground beef in a mixing bowl. That's it.
I form the beef into soft patties that still have a bit of texture to them (don't "overwork" the patties). I try to make sure they are of uniform thickness, about an inch, with each patty about 5 inches across. Roughly 6-8 ounces, max.
Then I grill 'em, over a gas or charcoal flame, until they are medium rare. I start with a high flame and finish up on a cooler section of the grill. (You can use a cast-iron skillet, too, and a stove.)
The burgers go onto grilled buns, the kind you can get in the grocery store for a few bucks for a half dozen.
If I'm feeling energetic, I'll make some homemade ketchup out of tomato paste and vinegar, plus salt and pepper. I hit the burgers with some freshly ground black pepper, and that's it. I don't care if people go for lettuce, tomato, onion, pickles, whatever, but I prefer to go only burger-bun-ketchup-on-the-side-for-dipping. Just add a nice glass of Malbec.
For whatever reason, these burgers usually taste great. Leave out the Worcestershire sauce, however, and they aren't as tasty.
Worcestershire sauce is effectively an ancient fish sauce (it contains fermented anchovies), so it adds a sort of interesting depth of flavor that enhances the basic beefy taste of what is after all an absurdly basic burger. Ultimately, the flavor is sort of mysterious. But it's there.
I didn't really plan this out, by the way. I just added some Worcestershire sauce to my burger mix one day and listened to the praise roll in. Previously, my burgers were unremarkable. But with a few shakes of Lea & Perrins, I was suddenly a genius.
And now I'm giving up my secret.
(If you don't want to use Lea & Perrins, there are plenty of alternatives. Just go to Whole Foods or a gourmet food shop and ask.)