Sunday, May 26, 2013

Celebrate National Hamburger Day - 05/28/2013

 photo cburger2.jpg"Tried to amend my carnivorous habits.  Made it nearly seventy days, losin' weight without speed, eatin' sunflower seeds, drinkin' lots of carrot juice and soakin' up rays.

But at night I'd have these wonderful dreams, some kind of sensuous treat.  Not zucchini, fettuccini, or Bulgar wheat, but a big warm bun and a huge hunk of meat.

Cheeseburger is paradise.  Heaven on earth with an onion slice.  Not too particular, not too precise.  I'm just a cheeseburger in paradise."
Cheeseburger in Paradise - Jimmy Buffet

Above is an except from just one of many songs dedicated to this fundamental American dish, the hamburgerCommander Cody waxed lyrical about his love for Two Triple Cheeseburgers, Side Order of Fries, Johnny Hicks had hip teens boogieing to the Hamburger Hop, and Jaxsn  released a hip hop ode to the Hamburger just to name a few other musical tributes to this beloved, and oh so versatile, sandwich.

I first wrote about hamburgers in March of 2012, but the focus of that piece was on the pink slime scare.  May 28th  is National Hamburger Day, so I decided this would be a good time to talk more about hamburgers, and touch on some things which I neglected last time.

Historians pretty much agree on the origin of ground beef.  Essentially, Mongol warriors, in the 1200s, rode with cuts of meat under their saddles.  At the end of the day, they would eat these portions of ground raw meat.  This eventually evolved into what we know as Steak Tartare, and later into cooked meatballs and meatloaves.  (Note: Meatloaf actually dates back to 5th century Rome, but those early recipes refer to "minced," not ground, meat.)

While the origin of ground meat is a matter of historical fact, the origin of the sandwich known as the hamburger is a matter of hot debate by some.
  • There are those who believe the hamburger was invented by an Italian cook who flattened his meatballs between two slices of bread and called his new creation “Charlie’s Hamburgers.” 
  • Others contend the hamburger was invented by a hot dog seller who decided to substitute ground beef for his sausages, and named this sandwich the “hamburger” after the stand's location in Hamburg, New York.
  • Texans maintain that the burger was a reincarnation of the breakfast patty (a beef sandwich between two slices of french toast and garnished with glazed onions).  
We'll probably never know the true origin of the hamburger, the truth being lost to time.  Yet, one can't argue with the fact that this basic sandwich, since its inception, has become as American as apple pie, westerns, or NASCAR.

One reason may be its versatility.  Americans love to express their individualism, and one can pretty much do that adinfinitum with the hamburger.  Think about it, add Pastrami & slaw to a Reuben it becomes a Rachel, add pickles & peppers to a Club Sandwich a you have something else entirely, but top a burger with anything from lettuce & tomato to eggs & bacon to hot pepper & onions along with any cheeses & sauces you want, and it's still a hamburger.

This is not to say, I have no pet peeves when it comes to  hamburgers.  I do.  Essentially there are two things I want to clarify once and for all.
  • Hamburgers are made from beef (buffalo in a pinch).  Patties made from ground; chicken, turkey, vegetable matter, etc...; may make tasty sandwiches, according to some palettes, but they're not hamburgers.
  • Bigger isn't always better.  Commercials and certain food pundits who make a show of gulping down the most grotesquely huge burger they can find, as if size somehow equates to flavor, irk me to no end.  If I'm stuffing my face with enough meat & cheese to make me feel bloated and sick, I'm not enjoying my meal.  I'd much rather have a well cooked, well seasoned 1/4 pound to 1/2 pound burger topped with just enough ingredients to maximize flavor.
To that end, I played in the kitchen a few weeks ago and developed the following recipe.  Recipe prints individually as page 3.

    My Chile Cheeseburger Recipe

    Ground beef is the least expensive grind, and contains the most fat, up to 30 percent fat. Since the juiciest, most flavorful burgers, result from a grind of 70 percent lean to 30 percent fat, ground beef, from a trusted (pink slime free) butcher/grocer, is really all you need.

    For those hung up on the health thing, you can use the slightly more expensive ground chuck, which comes from the shoulder and neck part of the animal, an area producing the chuck primal cut, often containing 15 to 20 percent fat. If you use the chuck grind, you want a ratio of 80 percent lean to 20 percent fat. Beef grinds containing less than 15 percent fat make dry tasteless burgers.

    To see what the lean-to-fat ratio is on ground beef/chuck packages, look on the label. The ratio will usually appear in slashed numbers, with the lean content before the slash and the fat content after the slash.

    As for other cuts, unless you're really into conspicuous consumption, there's no reason to grind a T-Bone, Filet Mignon, or other high steak into burger meat. What makes those steaks so delicious is the marbling and tenderness, which are lost during the grinding process.

    For the purpose of this recipe, I'll refer to the grind as ground beef.

       photo cburger.jpgIngredients:

    1 1/2 pounds 70/30 ground beef
    McCormick's Montreal Steak Seasoning
    1 4.5 oz can chopped green chiles
    8 slices American cheese
    4 hamburger buns, split
    Mayo & ketchup to taste


    Set your stove's burner to medium heat per manufacturer's instructions.

    Divide your grind into 4 equal burgers.  Season the one side of each burger with the steak seasoning. Place the burgers into a nonstick pan, seasoned side down and cook covered, until nicely browned on the bottom, about 4 minutes.

    DO NOT PRESS ON THE BURGERS AS THEY COOK!  Doing so only forces the juices out and leaves you with a dry burger.

    Season the other side of the burgers with the seasoning, then flip them carefully and continue to cook.  Top each cooking burger with 1 ounce of chopped green chiles, cover with one slice of American Cheese, and continue to cook, covered, until an instant-read thermometer inserted sideways into the center of each patty registers 160°F for well done, about 4 to 5 minutes longer.

    Dab mayo on both halves of the bun, ketchup if desired, apply second slice of American Cheese to the bottom half of the bun, top with burger patty, and close with top half of bun.

    You'll be treated to a creamy cheesy slightly spicy sandwich of savory beef.

    Makes 4 Chile Cheeseburgers.

    Note: Some professional chefs cook hamburgers to medium-well, warm with little or no pink, (150° to 155°), or even medium-rare, warm and red, (130° to 135°).  However, these chefs, ideally, grind their beef themselves and store it under pristine conditions.  Retail ground beef and home grind cooked to a temperature below 160°F can't be guaranteed to be safe.

    Of course, this is just one possible burger variation, there are, quite literally, thousands of other possibilities you can experiment with.  Have some fun on May 28th, National Hamburger Day, try a few different burgers.

    What's your favorite hamburger?  Leave your answer in comments below.


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