Friday, December 4, 2009

Ran across this interesting posting for those of you interested in creating your own burger from scratch. would love to try one day, but for now it's just fun reading... would love to hear from anyone that has tried to grind their own meat for burgers and how it turned out...

You can find this posting's origin at, posted by J. Kenji Lopez-Alt.



902098 161x300 %organic foodI’ve had a dilemma recently. If you follow any of my work, you probably know that I’m somewhat (ok, insanely) obsessed with hamburgers. After having spent around 9 months averaging a dozen variations a week, I feel like I’ve finally perfected my own burger recipe (for the record, it’s a griddled, west-coast syle burger). To get the flavor of the patty right, I ended up using three different cuts of meat, all of them relatively fatty.

Here’s the dilemma: I live in Boston, and despite the fact that high quality, grass-fed local beef is readily available, it’s simply too inconsistent and too lean to make a decent burger out of. Even local short ribs have barely any marbling.

So about a year ago, when the Tony Maws, chef of Craigie Street Bistrot (now Craigie on Main), my favorite restaurant in the city, and one that has been a champion of local foodslong before it became cool contacted me claiming that he was in the process of developing a burger for his bar menu using locally sourced beef from Hardwick, MA, I was excited to see how he tackled the problem and watch the development, and even more excited to taste the end results. Today, Tony shares his secrets with us.


20091124 burger meat types craigie %organic food
I’m going to give it up straight away. His solution to the inconsistent size and low fat content problem was one so intuitive that I’m surprised I’ve never seen it anywhere else:
just add pure beef fat. By starting with three very flavorful and lean cuts of beef (he uses equal partsshort rib, flap meat, and brisket), and adding in as much fat as you want (he goes with a ratio of around 85/15), you can get all the flavor of grass-fed beef combined with the juicyfat content of grain-fed beef. Best of both worlds.

20091124 burger meat types craigie patty %organic food“I started off using 100% bone marrow as my fat,” Tony says with an elated grin. Anyone who’s tried roasted bone marrow knows that it’s easily the richest, beefiest part of the cow. Spread it on toast, sprinkle it with sea salt, knock it back, and it’s like afull-on stampede on your tongue. “It tasted awesome,” he continues, “up until the time that it cooled a little bit and started coagulating in your mouth. It was like eating a beef flavored candle.”

In the end, he settled on a 2:1 mixture ofsuet (fat taken from around the kidneys of the cow) and marrow, all of which get ground together with the beef a single time through a coarse die on the meat grinder.


I like to feel at least in a small part responsible for the sparking the second secret of the Craigie on Main burger. I’d been toying with grinding anchovies or sprinkling a bit ofmonosodium glutamate (which, contrary to popular belief, has never been linked to any health problems) into my own burger mix for a while – not enough to make the burgers taste fishy, but just enough to give them a little umami kick to ratchet up their meaty flavor. I mentioned this to Tony, and here was his response:

20091124 burger meat types craigie miso %organic foodumami!!! great idea. A-1, etc are total umami bombs. I use anchovies in most of my braises, makes great sense. What about white soy, or kecap manis?

Well, after months of testing far more rigorous than my own, he came up with a novel solution: dehydrating miso paste.

Miso paste is already an intense “umami bomb” on its own. spreading it thin and leaving it overnightt in the dehydrator only intensifies this flavor.. “We were using a bit of A-1 for a while, but dehydrated miso was the only thing we found that wasconcentrated enough in glutamates to give the beef the amount of umami we wanted without adding its own flavor.”

Could this be the next big thing? Imagine having a shaker full of this next to your salt and pepper. Roasts, chops, stews, the number of things that could be improved with just a dash of umami is endless.

This 8-ounce patty holds more than a little promise.


20091124 burger meat types craigie cooking %organic foodFor any home cooks attempting to follow this recipe, here’s the part where you might get a little stuck. Though with the combinations of meats and the miso, this burger promises to deliver flavor no matter how you cook it,Chef Maws’ method of choice forgoes the griddle or the grill. Instead, he pops it inside a steam-injected, pressure and temperature-controlled C-Vap oven.

Often described as being “sous-vide without the bags,” items placed in the cabinet are cooked slowly under positive pressure. What does this mean? It means you get a perfectly medium-rare burger all the way from edge to edge, with barely any lost moisture

The one thing it doesn’t do: brown the meat. Tony pulls out a sad, pale-gray, patty from the cabinet and shows it to me. “Doesn’t look very good, does it?” he asks. He heads over to another one of his new toys: a steel plancha set into his state-of-the-art Molteni range. This puppy reaches over 900 degrees, which is hotter than any grill on the market. All of this translates into: instant char with no chance of overcooking the interior; The patty spends no more than 30 seconds on each side.


20091124 burger meat types craigie cheesing %organic foodI’m generally a purist when it comes to burger toppings. I don’t want anything interfering with the flavor of the carefully selected beef. Enhancing, sure, but interfering, no thanks. Some thin sliced onion to play up its savoriness, a bit of mild-flavored cheese only for its goo-factor, a pickle or some tangy sauce to add a bit of sugar and acid to cut through the richness, and on the rare occasion that I find a perfect tomato, a single slice will do.

But, as the blue-cheese coated burger at the Spotted Pig showed me, there are exceptions to every rule. Thus far, the Craigie on Main burger looks like it may be one of them.

The cheese is a 3-year old cheddar from Vermont, which melts into a gooey, salty, piquant veil with a brief stint under the salamander. Chef Maws simultaneously checks on the cheese as he carefully toasts the house-made bun.

20091124 burger meat types craigie plating %organic foodThe bun is slightly giving, with a light dairy sweetness, and a sprinkle of sesame seeds. Like my toppings, I tend to prefer my buns a little less conspicuous – soft and squishy is the way to my heart – but again, in this case, it’s robustness seems appropriate given the intensity of the beef.

Next he grabs a handful of watercress and places it on the warm sizzle platter he’d just pulled the patty from. “Hamburger vinaigrette,” he says, as he swirls the watercress around to sop up the few juices that managed to escape from the patty. Along with the dehydrated miso, I now have two things I need to add to my must-have-on-hand-at-all-times list.

Finally, a handful of crispy fried onions(Boston chefs seem to have a thing for onion rings on burgers), and a smear of house made mace-scented ketchup complete the “cheffiest” burger (and I mean that in a good way) I’ve ever seen. Boston’s been slow to join in on the custom meat blend game, but we’ve beat NY to the punch with the bone marrw. Find me a NY chef doing it. I dare you.


20091124 burger meat types craigie finished %organic foodI’m a bit biased, because as I’ve said, I’m a thin, griddled, simple burger man myself. At the same time, I also feel at least a tiny bit personally vested in this particular burger, having been a close observer from the start.

Here’s my assessment: In the running for the most expensive burger in town at $18, the patty itself is spot-on and worth every penny. The meat and fat blend makes it thebeefiest burger I’ve ever had, the novel cooking technique ensures that it’s perfectly coooked every time with a nice crusty sear, and the ingenious use of powdered miso gives it that extra push over the top.

The toppings, on the other hand (and I know there are those who disagree, but hey – I’m about as opinionated as it gets when it comes to burgers), are where I have a couple problems. The cheddar works well, but the watercress loses a little too much structure – I find myself wanting something with a little more crunch in there to add texture to the otherwise tender sandwich.

And finally, while some burger-eaters may like the overload of richness and sweetness from the combination of the sweet fried onions, the sweet ketchup and the rich beef and cheese, I feel that a bit of acid crunch from a pickle would do wonders.

20091124 burger meat types craigie split 300x199 %organic foodWhen I express my opinions to Chef Maws, he gives a reason that I can’t possibly argue with. “You know, I want to try pickles on it, but I didn’t plan ahead from last summer, so I don’t have any pickles in the walk-in. As soon as the first cucumbers of the summer become available, we’re going to start experimenting again.”

Like all the food at his restaurant, this burger is a work in progress, changing as dynamically as the seasons (Just last week I caught him chatting casually at the bar with the baker from the fabulous Iggy’s Bakery about ways to improve the texture of the bun). You can’t help but respect a chef who spells it out to his guests by printing right on the menu, “sorry, no tomatoes until August!”

Well, Tony, see you August 1st.

UPDATE: I recently ate the burger at Craigie on Main which now comes complete with house-made red wine vinegar pickles, celery root cole slaw, and shoestring potatoes fries in place of the sweet potato. The pickle is just what the burger needed. Excellent!

Available for $18 at Craigie on Main
853 Main Street, Cambridge MA, (617)497-5511
Open Tuesday through Sunday
Dining room: 5:30-10 (10:30 Friday, Saturday)
Bar: 5:30-1am
Bar Food: 5:30-midnight
Brunch: Sunday 11am-2pm

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