How to Make the Perfect Burger

15 May

Check out the big, fat, juicy moose burger on the cover of Reader’s Digest this month.

And pass the partridgeberry ketchup!

It was dreamed up by Chef Katie Hayes, chef-owner of Bonavista Social Club, in Newfoundland. Montrealer Martin Picard, Calgarians  Connie de Sousa and John Jackson, Kunal Ghose from Victoria and Windsor’s own Jay Souilliere also shared their creations in our pages.

Using iconic ingredients like Kozliks mustard, Qualicum Bay scallops and Maudite beer from Quebec, these top chefs gave their own spin on the Great Canadian Burger.

The images make me want to fire up the barbie NOW!

You can take a peek behind the scenes of our photo shoot to see how our art director, photographer and food stylist made sure the burgers were just as appealing to the eye as to the taste buds, solving problems like how to make Martin Picard’s 5.5-pound venison, pork belly and foie gras burger look like it did not have a big scary tongue.

Back at our desks in the office, our main challenge was to take elaborate restaurant creations and adapt them for the home cook, so they were simple to make but still extra special to eat. We wanted to be sure you could find the ingredients everywhere from downtown Vancouver to rural Saskatchewan—or at least great substitutions. And we went back and forth a few times with our chefs–most of whom work from the hip–to figure out boring but essential details like cup and tablespoon measurements.

It was a whole process, but we’re thrilled with the end results, and we hope you’ll be inspired to try some of the recipes.

Our staff got so wrapped up in the greasy-fingered joy of creating this issue that we ended up having our own staff burger throw-down. How do you think we fare against the chefs?

Elk burger with cranberry + caramelized onion condiment + goat cheddar, by Valerie Howes

And our recipe developer, Alison Kent, went on a mission to find some of the best artisanal condiments in the country, to elevate even the simplest of patties. No shame in short cuts.

If you’re feeling inspired by any of this, then read on for some extra DIY burger tips that I recently garnered at The Works—a gourmet burger bistro that just opened in Greektown, Toronto–by grilling (metaphorically) expert Chris Doepner.

Photo courtesy of The Works, Danforth-Toronto

Chris is the Canadian chain’s in-house research and development manager, a.k.a. master burger inventor.

Image courtesy of The Works, Danforth-Toronto

He has seventy tried-and-tested burger combos on the Works menu, and these can be customized to multiply the possibilities. A favourite: Smokey Mountain which has smokey BBQ sauce, Monterey jack cheese and crispy bacon–classic and delicious.

Photo courtesy of The Works, Danforth-Toronto

More adventurous diners love the Down Under, which is topped with fried egg, caramelized onions, beets, pineapple and Gouda cheese. I suspect my teenage son would lose his mind over the San Francisco Treat, which is shamelessly topped with KD mac and cheese and melted Canadian cheddar.

Here are Chris’s secrets to making really, really great burgers:

1. It all starts with the meat: Get friendly with a reliable butcher selling locally sourced, humanely raised meat. “Key things to look for in burger meat are good fat content,” says Chris. “Many people go for lean or extra lean, but that’s a big mistake!” 15-18-percent-fat meat will keep your burger juicy and full of flavour.

2. Consider the grind. “A really fine ground gives a very processed-tasting patty,” warns Chris. He likes a 2-3 mm grind. “With something coarser, you get a good homemade feel.”

3. Stay fresh. Freezing meat ends up breaking down the protein particles. “When you thaw out the meat, there’s a lot of pooling of blood, and the blood is where much of the flavour is,” says Chris. Vegetarians can make delicious patties with beans or slightly over-boiled and starchy quinoa–egg makes a good neutral binder if you’re not vegan.

Photo courtesy of The Works, Danforth-Toronto

4. Forego the filler. “When you’re preparing your burger, you don’t want to stuff it full of breadcrumbs and all kind of and binders and fillers,” says Chris. “Just add some seasoning, and the meat will speak for itself” At The Works, burgers are hand-pressed then refrigerated for 24 hours to keep them in one piece during cooking. This binds the proteins together and makes the patty more like a steak. “You actually get a better mouth-feel this way,” says Chris.

5. Cook safe. To avoid food poisoning, cook your burger to 160 degrees F in the centre, then rest it for two minutes like a steak. Tip: Prepare your patties on the barbie, then stick it in the oven for a minute or two in its bun with toppings, to let them melt.

6. Top it right. “If you go to all that effort with the patty, you want to make sure you’re not just slapping generic ketchup and frozen veg on at the end.” says Chris. “Go to a local store or market and pick up nice tomatoes and avocados then make a great burger with them.

7. Mix up your patties. Canadian beef is a source of national pride, but we have other fantastic options out there too. Vegetarians could sub in a big Portobello mushroom; carnivores could go with heart-healthy elk or a nice white meat like turkey or chicken.

8. Say cheese. Forget orange processed squares. Chris recommends a nice sharp goat cheese with mild chicken, melting Brie with turkey or Gouda with beef. Play around with cheese-patty combos to suit your own unique palate.

9. Remember it’s just a burger. “When you start trying to get overly creative, you need to take a step back,” says Chris. The classics like bacon, cheddar and dill pickle simply work–no truffle oil or lobster mushrooms required.

Do let us know what burgers you’re cooking up–and dreaming up–this summer!

3 Responses to “How to Make the Perfect Burger”

  1. Allen May 15th, 2012 at 10:43 PM #

    Love the article! I am always on the quest to find the perfect burger! looks like I have to start making my own the RIGHT WAY!

  2. Trisha Klancar May 22nd, 2012 at 5:49 PM #

    I tried the marinade of Jay Souilliere with the Dijon Mustard , balsamic vinegar and worcestershire sauce. I didn’t mix the marinade with the meat as such, but let the hamburger patties sit in the marinade. It was fantastic!

    • Valerie Howes May 24th, 2012 at 10:58 PM #

      Glad to hear it turned out to your liking!

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