Burgers of ’Cisco Bay
One of the few remaining guilty pleasures in which I still indulge is the hamburger.
The moment occurs almost weekly and I know I shouldn’t, but I do. It reminds me of being a younger man, carefree, at a time when I could eat anything I wanted, anytime, without any middle-aged side effects.
There are two distinct versions of the burger being served during the great hamburger takeover we are now seeing in Melbourne and Sydney.
The “Aussie” version, found in fish and chip shops and some general stores around the country, usually contains beetroot, fried egg and bacon along with the patty, lettuce, cheese and tomato. Some regional variations include – aghast – a stray pineapple ring. Why?
The other version now available has its origins in America, and is my preference.
The American version, also known as the hipster burger, derives from fast food stores. The point of difference now in smart cafes and burger joints is the use of premium ingredients, which vastly improve the burger.
We make a version at the pub with a recipe that has evolved over a few years. It is not only the quality of the ingredients and the preparation that makes a burger great but the ratio of the ingredients. The drip factor is not often discussed openly but is a serious consideration. A few drips are okay but too many make for an impossible mess, soggying up the bread, which in turn falls apart. Not good. Not enough sauce makes for a dry, almost bland burger. The consideration of balance of flavour and sauce is as important as the ease of eating. Having said that, all hamburgers are best eaten in private.
All too often, this large meal can be found between two flimsy pieces of bread, completely incapable of housing and delivering the contents in a sensible manner. Super-sweet brioche buns are used by some, which make the whole experience nauseating. A simple soft hamburger bun will do.
A well-built hamburger is a beautiful thing. Whether it be a burger, sandwich, or something simply served on toast, when it comes together I believe it could only have been conceived by someone who truly enjoys and understands eating.
The beef patty is the heart of the burger and comes in many forms, from fresh to frozen, sometimes with seasonings or not. Often commercial patties contain filler – a concoction made to extend the patty but also help hold it together. I find the best patty is the one that is kept simple. We use quality chuck or rump and grind it and press it into shape daily.
Pickles are equally important. The recipe for zucchini pickles comes from Zuni Café in San Francisco. The pickle has a great texture and is probably my all-time favourite. Great in the burger but also perfect served in a sandwich or alongside cold cuts.
If possible, make the zucchini pickles the day before you want to eat them.
Makes 4 burgers
– Zuni Café’s zucchini pickles (recipe below)
– special sauce (recipe below)
– 1 tsp salt
– 640g beef rump or chuck minced with 160g fat (get your butcher to do this for you)
– 80g cheddar, Comté or another strongly flavoured melting cheese
– 4 lettuce leaves, preferably butter lettuce
– 4 soft burger buns
– 1 tbsp butter, softened
– 1 tsp oil
– pinch of salt
Make the zucchini pickles first and set them aside until needed.
Next make the special sauce and refrigerate until needed.
Mix one teaspoon of salt into the minced meat and divide the meat into four 200-gram patties. Chill the patties in the fridge for at least an hour to firm them up.
Slice the cheese into four slices. Wash and dry the lettuce leaves.
Slice the burger buns in half and butter their cut sides.
Preheat a grill or heavy-based frying pan with one teaspoon of oil.
Season the burgers with a pinch of salt and cook for two minutes on each side until well coloured but still underdone on the inside.
Put a slice of cheese on each patty and place them in a hot oven for three minutes to finish their cooking.
While the meat is cooking, place the buns cut-side down in a frying pan over a medium heat and toast the buns until they are golden and crisp. Keep them in a warm place until you put the burgers together.
When the meat is ready, spread the buns with the special sauce, lay down some lettuce, then the hamburger patty and top it all with some zucchini pickles. Finish the stack with a little more sauce.
Eat them with your hands, while they’re still hot.
Zuni Café zucchini pickles
– 2kg zucchini
– 4 red onions, peeled and halved lengthways
– 3 tbsp salt
– 1 litre cider vinegar
– 2 cups castor sugar
– 3 tsp powdered mustard
– 3 tsp yellow mustard seeds
– 2 tsp ground turmeric
Using a mandolin or a very sharp knife, slice the zucchini and onion two millimetres thick.
Toss the sliced vegetables together with the salt and leave them in a colander for half an hour to drain.
Meanwhile, place the pickling liquid ingredients in a saucepan and simmer for three minutes to dissolve the sugar.
Remove the saucepan from the heat and cool the solution to room temperature.
After half an hour rinse the zucchini of excess salt and pat it dry with some paper towel.
Transfer the salted zucchini and onion to a preserving jar. Pour the cool pickling solution over the sliced vegetables and refrigerate, preferably overnight, before using.
The pickles will last at least two weeks in the fridge.
– 2 tbsp Kewpie mayonnaise
– 1 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
– 1 tbsp Dijon mustard
– 1 tbsp tomato sauce
Mix all the ingredients together until well combined.
A bottle of your favourite beer.
This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Jan 30, 2016 as "Burgers of 'Cisco Bay". Subscribe here.