By Murray Schulman
I hope that all my friends out there are enjoying their summer. Yes, I said friends. After all the years that you have been following my column, I consider you to be more than my readers. I consider you my friends. Because of that, I know that I can discuss almost anything with you.
During these hot summer days and warm summer nights I find myself having some very real and very strong cravings. No, not for gourmet food. Not for elaborate meals. Not for fancy desserts. Most terrifying is that I am not even craving (dare I say it?) pasta.
Whew, now it is out there.
What I find myself wanting, thinking about and craving are burgers. Big, juicy, delicious burgers on fresh rolls artistically and imaginatively presented and expertly cooked. What could possibly be better right now in this season?
Let me begin by apologizing to my health-conscious, vegetarian, vegan and any other alternative burger eaters. Sorry, but don’t serve chicken burgers, turkey burgers, bean burgers, grain burgers or any other burger simulator products to me. Give me big hearty beef burgers or nothing at all. What can I say? On this topic, I am fixated and laser-focused.
So, with that said, let me break this down for you. If I am buying store ground beef, I check the date and the appearance of the product. It has to be ground that day, bright red in color with no juice in the package. The tastiest store ground beef is the 80/20 beef-to-fat ratio. This simply has the best flavor. At times, I will yield to certain pressures and opt for 85/15 ratio. This is not quite as juicy and flavorful. But, it is not bad. At times, if a nice piece of chuck is on sale at a better price than ground beef, I will pick out the cut that I want and ask the butcher to grind that for me. In most cases, the butchers will comply with the request.
Like I was saying, I like a good-size burger. I generally make my patties 8 ounces. The trick to a great burger is to avoid over-handling. Don’t beat that patty to death. Be nice. Be gentle. Shape your burger to be a bit wider than the size of the bun or roll. Your burger will shrink as you cook it. I like my burgers beefy. So, just some salt and pepper are all the seasonings that I need. Sure, you can stuff them, dry-rub them, mix them with any number of things from parsley to onions to jalapeños. Combination burgers certainly are well liked.
Here, I am talking about straight-up, hard-core, no-frills burgers. My cooking method is simple. I allow the seasoned burgers to get a bit warmed up rather than straight out of the refrigerator. Then there are only two choices: Cast iron skillet or on the grill. Either way, preheating is key. That char provides the big flavor that we want. The other key to a great burger is once it hits the pan or the grates, don’t mess with it. Don’t move it around, don’t turn it over again and again and mostly don’t press on it. I use a trick of making a shallow thumbprint in the center of the burger as soon as it is on the fire. You can tell when one side is ready it starts to bleed through. As soon as you see the juices begin to flow, turn that burger over and cook the other side. You will need about four to five minutes on each side for a medium-rare, 8-ounce burger. Cook six minutes per side for medium.
I throw some thick sliced onion on the grill or in the pan with the burgers to just brown. When finished cooking, let the burgers rest for five minutes. Grab a roll and build that burger to your liking and enjoy.
There are times when I am not at home and that burger craving hits. I know where to go to get a great burger in a welcoming pub setting. If I am in the Wilmington area, Kid Shelleens’s makes a big juicy burger with a build-your-own feature that suits me perfectly. In Swedesboro, New Jersey, the Village Pub puts out a top-notch burger that always hits the mark. Then there is a favorite of mine near the Jersey Shore in Barnegat, called Doyle’s Pour House. I have worked my way through most of their outstanding burger menu. I have yet to be disappointed. Maybe a couple of shots of Jameson Irish Whiskey along with those $1 Coors Light beers served by the friendliest staff around helps. But, this Irish pub can make some serious burgers. Anyway, take a break from the big fancy meals and grab a great burger. I guarantee that you will have a smile on your face.
Murray Schulman is a retired chef and a partner in Arnie and The Chef Wine, Food Lovers and Outdoor Tours, LLC. Contact him at facebook.com/Arnie and The Chef Wine, Brew, Food and Outdoor Tours, and at www.newjerseywineguys.com.