Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Winter-Blues Burger

Seasonal affective disorder. I don’t have it, but sometimes it sure feels like I might. I should have written more often, so you have my apologies.
Here in New England we’ve accumulated quite a fair amount of snow, given the unusual amount of winter storms we’ve had in the past two months. Neither I, nor anyone I’ve spoken with can remember the last winter that was this bad. Pretty much every town in the state has exhausted its snow removal budget. Street corners are piled so high with filthy brown-black snow that you have to crawl at a snail’s pace to safely make it through traffic intersections, and even then you might get hit by some undiscerning driver going too fast to see around corners.
On top of it all, next week is the 5 month anniversary of my being unceremoniously laid off from work. After 5 months of looking and applying to a countless number of prospects I still haven’t got a job lead. I have quite uncomfortably, however, become the spitting image of a house wife. Something that I’m not too happy about, or enthusiastic to admit. There comes a certain amount of shame to being the man of the house, yet having my wife (God bless her) be the typical bread-winner, working full time. Once again, not an ideal relationship for either of us.
Not to make excuses for myself, but this is the cause of my mini-depression, which in turn has de-motivated me from writing. But rest assured, as the days get longer, and temperatures hopefully rise, I do feel more optimistic, and I want to get back on track. To start, I’ll be making the typical summer picnic treat to liven things up around here: hamburgers and potato salad! The problem is that my grill is outdoors. And the outdoors looks like this:

But that’s going to be alright, because if we play our cards right we can pan-sear our burgers and still get a taste of summer, even if our kitchen is 52 degrees … Fahrenheit.
We're also going to up the ante with a whole bunch of "umami" flavors.  You'll notice that I add what I call "powdered Porcini" to the meat.  All this is is a package of dried Porcini mushrooms, which pretty much every supermarket sells in their produce department.  Take the contents of the package to your coffee grinder, spice mill, blender, or whatever device you've got, to reduce it to a powder.  Store the 'shroom powder the same way you would any other spice or dried herb, and use it to flavor ground meats, stews, soups, sauces, coffee, ice cream, or whatever your heart desires.  
Of course you can top the burger with whatever you want, but I'll give you one of my favorite topping combos, so stay tuned for that!

1 1/3 lb. Ground Angus sirlion
1 Tbs powdered Porcini
1 tsp kosher salt
½ tsp thyme
½ tsp cumin powder
½ tsp garlic power
¼ tsp freshly ground grains of paradise, or pepper
2-3 Tbs bacon fat, or other cooking fat, such as oil or clarified butter
1 avocado
Grated (not shredded) Pecorino Romano, or parmigiano reggiano
Ketchup “spiked” with cumin powder and soy sauce
Bread or buns for each burger

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees.

In a large bowl mix together the first 7 ingredients.  I like to use my hands, but you could use a wooden spoon, or whatever you've got.  Just don't be too aggressive with it, because if you over-mix, it may become more of a paste than a burger.  If that's your preference, fine, but I don't like my burgers to have the same consistency as the Swedish Meatballs from a furniture stores' cafeteria.  Form 4 or 5 patties (depending on your preference) and let them rest for at least half an hour.  A full hour would be even better, if you really want the flavors of all those potent seasonings to infuse themselves with your meat.

While the meat is resting grate/grind the cheese.  You only need about a quarter cup for 1 "cheese chip" per burger, but I like to add a couple to each of my burgers, so I had about half a cup worth.  Line a cookie-sheet with a sil-pat or parchment paper and evenly space no more than six individual 1 Tbs heaps of the grated cheese.  Bake in the oven for 10-15 minutes, or until they look like this:

Slide the sil-pat or parchment paper off the hot pan and onto your counter to cool.  They will be soft at first, but after a few minutes they will crisp up nicely.  Unlike cheddar or american cheese, which must be liberally melted all over a burger in order to make a flavor impact, just one of these deliciously thin crispy chips turn the overall flavor of a hamburger up to 11.  I like to make a couple extra to nibble on while cooking the burgers.

Prep the other toppings:
Mix in 1 tsp cumin powder and 2 tsp soy sauce for every ¼ cup ketchup. Slice the avocado in half, discard the pit, and use a fork to mash up the flesh while in the skin still.  Spread a quarter of the avocado onto the bottom half of your bread or buns (assuming you're making 4 burgers; if you're making 5 burgers, use only a fifth of the avocado per bun). Discard the avocado skins.  Or save, and decorate your neighbors porch with them.  Be imaginative.

Preheat a heavy (cast iron is best) 12 inch skillet over medium-high heat on your stove. Should take 3-5 minutes. Add the fat. If you're using the bacon fat that you should be saving, like me, or using butter, let it melt down. Once the fat shimmers, twirl the pan to coat it thoroughly and drop in the burgers. Cook about 5 minutes per side for medium done-ness, 3 minutes per side for medium rare, or 7-8 minutes for well done.
Put the burger straight from the pan to the avocado-spread bun, and top with the umami ketchup, crispy cheese chip, and of course the top half of the bun.

          Enjoy along with your favorite potato salad recipe!  I haven't included one here because, to be honest, I haven't been able to make the perfect potato salad, yet.  Until then, I hope you like this, MY perfect hamburger recipe.
          Press “Comment” below and leave me your favorite potato salad recipe, or your favorite hamburger ever. Or better yet, do you have an escapist methods for forgetting that it's winter out there?

“Sacred cows make the best hamburger.”
- Mark Twain