Monday, June 28, 2010

Anthony Bourdain, Sandra Lee and a Really Good Burger

Anthony Bourdain was on the Today show a couple of weeks ago. I have to admit I find him hot in an old guy, bad boy sort of way. It doesn’t hurt that he’s a chef and a dad which earns him my respect as well as my affection. During his interview with Matt Lauer he won me over further by not only bashing Sandra Lee for the dumbing down of American cooking, but also talking about his sadness at the disappearance of the great American hamburger. No wonder I love you Anthony, I feel the same way.

When I was a girl, you were absolutely spoilt for choice with burger joints on every corner, and I’m not talking about McDonald’s or Burger King. I’m talking about the south Texas kind of burger joint. Prince’s Drive In, Britton’s Broiler Burger and my favorite of all time, the now defunct Lang’s Pharmacy (the best burger on the south side of Houston). Things have changed a bit since then; most of these places have gone the way of most things from my childhood and disappeared into extinction or worse...turned into a franchise. I will admit that when I travel back to Texas, a trip to Whataburger is still a must but it just doesn’t have that fresh, homemade taste with the ever sought after crispy and golden brown bun. I don’t know about you Mr. Bourdain, but in my opinion a buttered and toasted bun is just as important as the meat in the make up of a good burger. I am pleased to report that after much exhaustive research over the last few years, a great burger can still be found at the Citizen’s Hospital cafeteria in Victoria, Texas. So if you are lucky enough to have a friend or relative land up here, pop down to the first floor cafeteria for a quick bite in between visiting hours.

I tell you what else makes me sad, the demise of the fried pie. On the menu at most of the aforementioned burger joints were these wonderful sugary blobs of gelatinous fruit and goo which were wrapped in dough and drowned in sizzling fat until they were fried to a crispy golden brown; ummmm, delicious. Those were the days boy, when no one worried about fat, calories or the health dangers of hydrogenated oils. We could all just dig in without worrying about the “Eat This Not That” guy sucking the fun out of it on the Today show. Oh sure, you can still find the odd fruit pie around. McDonalds used to have a pretty decent fried pie but in doing scientific research for this blog, I ordered one of the ones they are selling now and I can tell you without reservation, save your dollar and pass on these. They are now baked for our health and culinary disappointment. Come on Mc Donald’s, embrace who you are! Don’t let the food police bully you into baking your pies and removing your toys from your kids’ meals. If “they” don’t like it, they don’t have to pull into to your drive-in lanes.

With summer here the good news is that a great hamburger for most us is just a hot barbeque grill away. Even though I love burgers that are prepared indoors just as much, we just seem to make more of them during the summer. I guess that it’s a combination of the easy clean up and the smoky flavor that just means summer to me. I have a few of my own hamburger secrets that I will pass on to you here:

1. The first is when making your patties, don’t worry about making them perfectly round, the less perfect the better to give them that homemade appearance.
2. Use meat with a little fat. When making burgers, I prefer using 80/20 ground beef. While using super lean meat is healthier, it also makes for a dry burger.
3. Don’t make your burgers too thick. The perfect meat to bun and veg ratio is essential to a great burger. I like to press out my patties then push a few holes in the center of the meat with my fingers to facilitate more even cooking. Try it once, you’ll be a believer.
4. If at all possible, butter the buns and place them in a hot skillet until they are crispy and golden brown on the inside before flipping over and heating up for just a few seconds on the outside.
5. Finally, if you are making your burgers in advance or cooking a bunch for a crowd, place them in a warm oven in a covered baking dish filled with a couple of cups of beef broth to keep them from drying out.
6. For something different, instead of salt use a teaspoon of beef bouillon granules per pound when spicing up the meat.
7. Offer super fresh toppings. Personally, I love to run my burger “through the garden,” add a slice of room temperature American cheese and some mayo and mustard but burger toppings are personal so I’m leaving that up to you.

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