Saturday, October 3, 2009

Hamburger Helper

When I recently told my friend Katherine that I didn't know how to make hamburgers, she responded with a look of shock (and disgust?)

"I am a strong believer that everyone should know how to make a few things: perfect pancakes, an excellent chocolate cake and a good burger," she said.

How could I admit that not only do I not know how to make a burger, but I also can't make perfect pancakes or an excellent chocolate cake?

"I pride myself on my burgers," said Katherine, who is not one to brag.

I had recently botched turkey burgers and clearly needed help in the burger department.

"Do you have any idea why my burgers turned out so badly?"

"You know what your first mistake was? You made turkey burgers. Turkey burgers never taste good," said Katherine. "For good burgers, use ground chuck. Lean meat won't make a good burger."

Clearly, Katherine has strong opinions about her burgers. She is equally passionate about her choice of buns. Her preferred brand is Matthews All-Natural Hamburger Buns.

I was thrilled when Katherine took pity on me and volunteered to teach me how to make burgers last Thursday night. Believe it or not, aside from the turkey burger fiasco, I have never made burgers before.

While our kids played not-so-quietly in the other room, Katherine, a high school English teacher, gave me a private lesson in making a good burger:

1. Use a cast iron frying pan. It is crucial to have a pan that is very hot.

2. "It is very important to be gentle with the patty. If you manhandle the meat, the burgers will be tough." (it's hard to keep a straight face when talking about "manhandling the meat.")

3. Don't worry about making perfectly shaped patties.

4. "Keep it plain and simple. It's all about the meat." (no need to add eggs or bread crumbs).

5. Salt the burgers lightly when you put them in the pan.

6. "While they're cooking, don't touch the burgers. Let them do their thing."

For medium rare burgers, estimate 4 minutes a side. For more well done burgers, let them fry for 5 minutes a side.

"While the meat is starting to cook, take out the buns and pour yourself some wine," Katherine said.

Sounds good to me. She sure is a good teacher!

We uncorked a bottle of red and savored the wine while the burgers sizzled.

If you're not sure if a burger is done, cut into one. If it looks like it's just been shot, let it cook some more.

About 45 seconds to one minute before the burger is done, throw on some (creamy) blue cheese so it will have time to melt. Hold the pickles, hold the lettuce (and the mustard and onions too).

After we plopped the burgers in their (non-toasted) buns, we realized that we hadn't thought about any side dishes or appetizers. The end result looked awfully forlorn all alone on the plate (see above photo).

And wouldn't you know -- my kids refused to take a bite.

I, on the other hand, gobbled down my burger without any hesitation. It was delicious.

Thanks, Katherine. Everyone needs a friend who can teach her how to make a good burger. When's our next lesson? Pancakes or chocolate cake, perhaps?

UPDATE: After reading this article, I no longer have any desire to make (or eat) burgers.


Dori said...

What kind of beef did you use? That grass fed stuff at the Coop is way too lean for my taste.

Undomesticated Me said...

Katherine got it from Union Market, not the co-op. It was yummy!

Kathy N. said...

I don't eat meat, but according to my parents my husband makes the best burgers in the world. He dices by hand (as opposed to the food processor) 3-4 garlic cloves and one large onion. He cooks these over a medium heat for a long time, carmelizing them but not burning them. He then adds them to the meat. Then, if possible, he grills them. My parents and my brother-in-law (who pretty much only eats meat) say these are the best burgers they have ever had.

As for kids, though, yeah, they don't like the big burgers. My husband makes tiny burgers for them which he prepares by cutting up bread or buns into smaller pieces. Mayo and ketchup for my daughter. Ketchup only for my son. My husband makes these tiny burgers almost bite sized. And they are gobbled up!

AmandaA said...

I definitely need lessons from Katherine on all three. I've never been good with high temperature, time sensitive cooking (hamburgers, pancakes, potato latkes). Just can't seem to get the temperature, amount of fat in the pan and timing right on each side.

Undomesticated Me said...

Maybe we could get Katherine to give us a cake-baking lesson?