It’s safe to say that I have an on-going and long-lasting love affair with the humble burger. There’s something about the simple mince patty that just works for me on a deep and primal level, far more than a steak would. When I first started working in London, a weekly treat would be a visit to Wimpy for a quarter-pounder meal – still a flavour of childhood, and increasingly difficult to find. The now sadly defunct southwest American chain Santa Fe used to serve theirs in a tortilla that had been seared shut. I still do this at home on occasion when I can’t be bothered with the big bready hit of a bun. Sealed in a light edible package with salsa, guacamole and a good strong cheese, it’s an enduring pleasure.
These days, I have become more enamoured of the French way with a burger – the steak hache. It’s basically a burger without the bells and whistles, so the meat becomes the star. That means, of course, that any old rubbish won’t do. Last night, I had steak mince left over from the cottage pie I’d made earlier in the week. A light went on. For a burger fan, it seems almost shameful to note that I have never made one from scratch. It was time to stretch my culinary boundaries.
Now, the thing about steak mince is that it isn’t that fatty, and you need a certain amount to keep it moist. A dry burger is a friend to no-one. Most burger aficionados recommend two cuts blended together to get the right balance of flavour and texture. I didn’t have anything like that. But I did have some bacon.
Four rashers of unsmoked went into my blender for a dose of fine chopping. Careful careful. No more than a few seconds. You don’t want a slurry, you want a fine mince. I mixed the bacon and beef together gently. Looked good, but I was in an experimental mood. Purists can turn off now. I like a flavoured burger. Some veeeery finely chopped spring onion and a dash of Worcestershire did the job. I resisted the temptation to put chili in – this time.
Formed into patties, and damn if they didn’t look like your actual shop-bought burgers already. I popped them in the fridge for an hour or so to firm up, and shoved some spuds into a hot oven.
When I’m feeling a bit fancy and a bit lazy all at once, the twice-baked potato is a great way to show off without working too hard. It’s simple enough. Once your spuds are about done, take them out and slice them in half lengthwise. Scoop the flesh into a bowl. Careful to leave the shells intact. Then mash, adding stupid amounts of cheese and butter. Pile this back into the shells, cover with even more cheese, then back in the oven for another 15 minutes or until the cheese is bubbly-golden and the shells crisp up.
While the second bake was going on, I fried the burgers. They were thick, at least quarter-pounders, so I gave them about five mins each side. With all the bacon, the colour was a bit lighter than usual, but they developed a pleasing crust. Meanwhile, I warmed through some tomatoey pasta sauce I had kicking around as a pour-over. I just fancied a sauce to go with.
Plating. Two potato shells per person, one burger with a spoonful of sauce over, dressed green salad on the side. The meat was juicy and crumbly all at once, and tasted great. I hadn’t added salt to the burger, figuring that the bacon would do the job. I was right. The spuds were as moreish as anything that’s had a handful of butter and cheese added to it can be. The whole thing was perfect for a Friday night – comfort food with a bit of sophist.
This is eminently tweakable. I’m sorely tempted to try a version with cumin and chili, maybe one with smoked bacon or smoked paprika. The potatoes seem wildly over the top – imagine what they’d be like with some crispy pancetta or mushrooms added to the mix. I think the dish needs some sauce, but it could be anything you like. Something creamy or garlicky would be good (although I think a garlic butter might be a bit much). In the summer, perhaps something cold: tzatziki, guacamole and sour cream. You could even, if you were a complete heathen, just go with a dollop of ketchup.
All of a sudden, I feel my horizons opening, and the prospect of home-made burgers becoming a new part of my kitchen repertoire. Who knows, I might even stick ’em in a bun with some salad one day.