Think of American Independence Day, July 4th, and you’re bound to conjure up images of barbecues complete with hot dogs, potato salad and, of course, yieldingly soft burger buns crammed with tender, juicy patties, melting cheese, salad and the quintessential French’s mustard. Are you feeling hungry yet?
Now I love a good burger. Who doesn’t really? Succulent beef, squishy bun and soft, comforting cheese. Salty fries and crispy onion rings on the side, natch. In fact, I have quite the soft spot for ‘American Diner’ style food in general. Not having visited The States in a long while, I blame a childhood nostalgia for this.
And so, when I spotted Byron The Cookbook by Tom Byng and Fred Smith for sale at barely a quarter of its RRP I grabbed ahold and am yet to place it more than arms reach from me. I am completely enchanted by their recipes, tall tales and the beautiful photography. It is a slight untruth when I say I want to cook my way through the book. What I actually mean is that I want to eat my way through the book. Fifteen different beef burgers, patty melt, club sandwich, chile chilli cheese fries, cobb salad, pancakes with maple syrup, milkshakes … need I go on?
Burgers need cheap meat and by that I mean cheap cuts like chuck steak, skirt, brisket or a combination of them. According to John Torrode the "best formula will be something like 40% fat – yes, truly that much - otherwise it will not be moist". Byron recommend around 20% fat, but they do concur that all you need to add is a dash of salt and pepper.
The fresher you can get your mince the better, and if you can grind it at home even better. Ask your butcher to grind the meat for you while you wait. Avoid packets of mince from the supermarket chiller cabinets as these are likely to be several days old, and ground beef tends to set and stick together when it's been stood a while. Don't scrimp on the burgers main ingredient. Another key point here is that if you know exactly what cuts have been used and how fresh the meat is you can leave your burgers gloriously pink in the middle, not withstanding the usual food safety advice please.
The OED's earliest reference to "Hamburg steak" is from 1802, a dish of salted and smoked minced beef. After the 1848 revolutions, many Germans emigrated America, almost all of them leaving for New York. Soon restaurants began catering for these immigrants, creating a ‘taste of home’ with various versions of ‘hamburgers’ based on spiced minced beef.
The ‘bunned burger’ arose in Tulsa, Oklahoma on 4 July (natch!) 1891, but it was not until the 20th century that the burger's day truly began. The New York Tribune reported on a new "innovation of a food vendor" at the St Louis World's Fair of 1904, and many sources credit this event as the start of the burger's heyday.
Byron’s recipe yields excellent burger buns, soft and squidgy with just the right amount of chew. They’re well worth the small amount of effort they take. You will definitely notice the difference and your family & friends will be truly impressed. When I served them at our little July 4th party I was met with comments like “that’s the best bun I’ve ever eaten”, “oh those buns” and “I haven’t eaten a burger bun like that since I was in The States”. So, yes, they’re definitely worth the time and effort.
It is rare that I don’t put cheese, probably too much cheese, on a burger and when I spotted a recipe Homemade Cheese Slices I just had to make them. Another food confession, I have a weakness for those processed cheese slices, the kind that fast food joints put on their burgers. Yes Golden Arches I’m looking at you.
Surprisingly enough making cheese slices is incredibly easy and all it requires is cheese (obvs) and cream. No preservatives. No additives. Just natural ingredients that when combined give a texture and similar taste to the heavily processed cheese slices, as if by magic. Clearly it isn’t magic, it’s a chemical reaction mainly to do with the protein structure of the cheese, but magic sounds better doesn’t it? The orignal recipe calls for American cheese but I couldn’t get my hands on any locally so I used Monterey Jack. It really does melt like a dream and is so creamy and flavoursome.
Have you ever made your own cheese slices? What's your ultimate burger? I'd love to know, so why not leave me a comment?