Road Foodie

Some people drive simply to arrive.

A Burger for Our Age

Posted By on April 9, 2010

Foreshortening has caused this hunk of protein to look like the Burger That Ate New York. It's actually only seven ounces of beefy, porky goodness

I’m back in the Hudson Valley, after six months on the left coast, and the first thing I do is buy a freezer-full of meat from Turkana Farms in Germantown. It’s an antidote to the gray, cold days, a carnivore’s snuggle-blanket to protect me against the vicissitudes of a Northeast winter that doesn’t know when it’s worn out its welcome. (As far as I’m concerned, the welcome was frayed and shabby back in late November, but I know some people actually seem to love what they refer to as “the changing seasons”—a euphemism for misery if I ever heard one. Just sayin’.)

Grass-fed ground beef alone can be dry, so I add ground pork. What else is new?

Peter and Mark welcome me with radiant warmth—I think partially because the annual appearance of Brigit-in-search-of-protein signals the return of fecundity to their fair farm. We troop into their big kitchen—equal parts antique store, Bachelor Pad, and library—and pore over the possibilities: three packages of gloriously marbled Ossabaw-Tamworth chops, a picnic ham, Boston butt, primeval hunks of beef chuck and brisket, and, destined for tonight’s very special table, one and a half pounds of ground beef—all grass-fed, natch. Tonight’s menu warrants extra care because it marks a Significant Birthday for my Significant Other—aka C—from whom I’ve spent waaaay too much time away during the past six months. As a multiple-cookbook author, I have a U.S.A.-budget-sized number of great dishes in my repertoire. Sometimes, choosing just one can be difficult, and often I fall into a creative morass at the prospect of a special dinner.
But not this time.

This loose and leek-flecked patty is Ready for The Heat.

On the menu: Hamburgers. But I’m not talking about just any burger (a word with which, in case you care, virtually nothing rhymes except maybe, with license, perjure). This burger is to a fast-food patty as Barack Obama’s oratory style is to that of our late and unlamented ex-president. Don’t worry, it has everything a great burger should: hefty weight, lettuce, onion, and tomato. Only different. Also, somewhat counterintuitively, it contains some pork. Is that wrong? I don’t think so.

Recipe: Consolation-for-Aging Truffle Burgers

(Serves Six) Break up 1 1/2 pounds grass-fed ground beef and 1 pound ground pork with a fork until kinda crumbly. Season aggressively with sea salt and freshly ground pepper, and add about 2 tablespoons of minced leek or shallot. (Don’t be tempted to add other stuff—like chopped peppers and capers; although delicious, that would be meatloaf.)
Use a light hand when forming your burgers. Ie do not compress the patty too much, or the burger will be tough. Gather the meat loosely into thick disks of about 7 ounces each and two inches high, then flatten gently with a spatula until about 1 1/4 inches thick. Don’t worry that the burger seems too loose around the edges to hold together—as soon as it hits a hot pan, it will firm up nicely.

On a burger, frisee is to iceberg as silk is to sackcloth.

Refrigerate, uncovered, on a plate until 10 minutes before cooking time, then let stand at room temperature for 10 minutes.
Meanwhile, for each diner, brush both sides of one or two slices of ciabatta or sourdough bread lightly with good olive oil, then toast until golden, and season. Rinse the pale inner leaves from two heads of frisee in very cold water and spin thoroughly dry. In a bowl, toss vigorously with a large, minced shallot and two chopped, juicy sun-dried tomatoes, sea salt and freshly ground pepper, plus 3 tablespoons truffle oil 1 tablespoon sherry vinegar.
Preheat the oven to its lowest setting, and put in your plates and a platter. Preheat a big, dry—but well seasoned—cast-iron skillet
to smokin’ hot. Season the burgers generously with more salt and pepper.
Transfer three of patties to the skillet, allowing plenty of airspace around each one, and cook for three minutes without any futzing. Flip over, cook for three minutes more, then transfer to the warm platter, and cook the remaining three burgers. (The oven-rested burgers will be on the medium side of medium-rare, while the second batch will be on the rarer side. To be sure, press down firmly in the center with your finger: if the surface gives easily under pressure, it’s still quite pink inside; if it’s springy and firm, it’s verging on medium. Divide among your guests according to taste and seniority.)
On each warm plate, place a perfectly-cooked burger on a slice of toast. Top with a mound of the truffle-scented frisee salad. Add the second slice of bread at a jaunty angle (or serve open-faced, like I do). If you are a truffle-hound, drizzle with a touch more truffle oil. Serve!

There is a certain protein-centric sensibility at work here, I agree.

Variation: My mom always concealed a blue-cheese-surprise in her burgers. (I never failed to manifest shock upon discovering its presence.) These days, I like to embed a walnut-sized chunk of Taleggio in the exact center of each burger, as I gently form it. Imagine your diner’s delight as they cut gently into the center with their fork (this is not the sort of burger one eats by hand, ok?), only to encounter a nugget of molten Italian cheesiness lurking within.

It may not be possible to stave off the (pretty much unavoidable) process of aging, but with meals like this, I hope to soften the blow. As I look around the happy faces at my table, it’s clear that I’m well on the way. We raise a glass of luscious Central Coast Pinot Noir, and my eyes meet his; there may be more crinkles around the edges of all four—eight if you count our glasses—but they were caused by plenty of mirth and laughter. I have no regrets.


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