I have been reading through an excellent new cookbook called “The Food Lab” by J. Kenji Lopez-Alt. First of all, if you like to cook, buy the book. Kenji does a great job of demystifying the process on a number of levels and his book is also fun to read and easy to follow. The recipes are very well-tested and explained and the photography really helps with the explanatory process. As a working chef who has spent over 30 years in restaurant kitchens, I can also attest to the deliciousness of the recipes.
Lately, I have been reading through his discussion of burgers and the logic behind cooking them well. He does a great job of nailing the “smash” burger technique and his “pub-style” burger discussion is also excellent. If you read them and follow his lead you will be cooking outstanding hamburgers at home (pay special attention to his discussion of beef at the beginning of the section).
Back in 2008, when I was the executive chef of the 1770 House and cittanuova in East Hampton, NY, we decided to overhaul our burger operations at both restaurants. The first move was to come up with a better beef blend for the burgers. We had always used ground chuck that typically was eighty percent lean and twenty percent fat (80/20) and we had a pretty solid burger. But I wanted something more indulgent. I approached my friends at Main Street Meats in Farmingdale, NY about the project and after testing a lot of blends we came up with one that used beef chuck as the base and we added brisket, flap meat, and aged rib cap to finish it. The flavor was great, but the texture was not what I was looking for. We tried a grind that was coarser and we finally had our blend. The coarser grind allowed the fat to melt more slowly and gave the burger a better chew. And it was very indulgent.
From the standpoint of technique, the burger was already cooked using the “smash” method on a griddle but it was an eight ounce burger, closer to what Kenji refers to in his book as a “pub-style” burger. So the burger I developed for the restaurants was a mash-up of the two styles of burgers he discusses in The Food Lab. Check out my photos (from 2009 I think) and buy Kenji’s cookbook. It’s all good fun.
copyright 2015 Kevin Penner