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The burger is a great American invention. Even so, one question has nagged Ordinary Joes for decades: how do you make the perfect burger? With an infinite number of variations – fluffy buns, crunchy vegetables, gooey sauces and numerous options for preparation – perfection has never been more difficult to achieve.
“Good-quality meat is an essential, if not the most important element of a burger,” says Aarik Persaud, The Butchers Club corporate executive chef, who uses beef from Angus cattle naturally raised and pasture-fed in Australia. The cattle are finished on grain for 100 days which is said to increase the marbling and inter-muscular fats to add flavor. “Nobody wants a thin, dry patty,” he says.
However, there is disagreement and division in the ranks. Chiu So, Burger Circus executive chef, says a good bun matters most. Burger Circus has its buns delivered every morning. “Buns need to be lightly toasted and soft, but strong enough to carry all of the other ingredients,” says So.
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Looking at the bigger burger picture, what you see before you is, in essence, a sandwich. It should be well-balanced, no matter if it’s managing the ingredients, textures or flavors. Experts agree on a one-to-one ratio of bun to patty, the patty being 80 percent meat and 20 percent fat.
To make a good patty, Double D executive chef Justin Haefler uses a blend of chuck and brisket. The chuck, taken from the shoulder, works particularly well in a burger because the more the muscle is used, the more flavor it has. So he maintains the same ration – blending 80 percent chuck and 20 percent brisket – for the perfect fat-to-meat ratio.
Persaud adds rump to the blend, making a combination that “has a good natural fat, for a delicious, succulent patty”. It’s of paramount importance to resist adding extra fat, he says, and to shun fillers such as breadcrumbs. “It changes the texture and takes away from the juicy flavors,” he says.
Once the patty has been sorted out, the cooking of the meat is crucial. For a patty that is crisp on the outside and moist inside, Haefler is a believer in “meat no more cooked than medium” to maximize juiciness. Whether you cook the patty on the grill or in a skillet, Persaud stresses the need to rest the meat after it is done. “Justlike steak, it’s important to let the patty rest on a wire rack after it comes off the grill for a few minutes, so the juices run out,” he says. “Nobody wants meat juice running down their elbows.”
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As consumers have become more health-conscious, even the most passionate of burger enthusiasts have contemplated a vegetable burger. There is a seemingly endless range of substitutes for meat, which means creativity is called for.
Haefler prefers to substitute with eggplant or portobello mushrooms, which have the meatiness to satisfy. Persaud’s wife is a vegetarian, so he finds himself continually experimenting with vegetarian options. He makes a veggie patty by blending potato, chickpeas, garden vegetables, herbs and spices – such as cumin and coriander – and then fries the result.
“You want it to be hearty and somewhat unique, as opposed to slapping a couple of portobello mushrooms on there. People are getting more and more health-conscious, but they’re also looking for something different.”
At Burger Circus, So is a minimalist with his vegetarian burgers. “It doesn’t need to have any patty in it. You don’t need to imitate meat to make something tasty,” he says.
So fills fresh buns with pickles, savory onions, lettuce and tomatoes on a thick slab of American cheddar cheese and dresses it with his Burger Circus special sauce. “It’s so simple, and so good,” he says.
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All three chefs agree that whatever you use as a patty, the sauce is where you can be really creative. Double D has more than 30 sauces, but Haefler warns against over-complicating the burger with mismatched sauces.
“Barbecue sauce is a great addition to a classic-style burger, or creative sauces such as chipotle dill or mint yoghurt, but most importantly, the choice of sauce has to match the style of burger,” he says.
To add texture to a charred, crisped burger patty, Persaud suggests whipping up a creamy mayonnaise-based sauce at home. “I throw together roasted garlic aioli, a couple of eggs, grape seed oil, mustard, a bit of acid from lemon juice and vinegar, which gives you a tangy contrast,” he says.
For those looking for something fresh and impressive, “a tangy tomato jam can really take a burger to the next level,” says So. “Or you could always do ketchup,” adds Persaud. “But that’s too easy.”
Source of Images: Taste of Life; Ezume Images / Shutterstock.com