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Eating In: Flipping over burgers
Do it up with style this barbecue season with a summer feast of gourmet burgers, standout salads and sides.
This story was originally published in the Summer 2010 edition of East Coast Living.
If your idea of homemade burgers involves balling up tepid ground beef with chopped onions and slapping it onto the barbecue (and you wonder why your burgers turn out like hockey pucks?), consider finessing your technique.
“That won’t do!” says chef Tahir Salamat from the grill at Cut in Halifax. He suggests taking things up a notch by creating an outdoor feast with grilled burgers for all tastes, a trio of inventive salads, easy onion rings from scratch and more.
Burgers are the star of this show and deserving of special treatment. “You need to show your burgers love,” says the executive chef of this downtown restaurant famous for its gourmet burgers.
Building a great burger—one that’s moist, savoury and grilled to perfection—requires some skill, some time and some food-science basics. “The meat you’re working with has to be the right balance of fat and fibre from the muscle tissues,” Salamat says. “The fat marbling is important to overall texture. If the meat isn’t properly chilled or if you handle it too much, you break down the marble and this can resultin tough, dry burgers that will shrink a lot.”
For both the beef or lamb versions, he suggests grinding the meat yourself if you have the equipment. “The blade must be sharp,” he notes, “Or you can tear the fibres of the meat. You can also get a grocery-store butcher to do it for you or set it up in advance with a provider at a farmers’ market. A lot of farmers sell beautiful meat, so source them out.”
Veggie burgers can run the risk of being boring but this lentil burger is moist and tender. Salamat makes his with ingredients such as minced sun-dried tomatoes, garlic, onions and spices.
For lamb and beef patties, bread crumbs and raw eggs help bind the meat, preventing crumbling and adding texture. You can also use cornstarch, soaked corn meal or cooked lentils in place of bread crumbs.
Make generously sized burgers around eight ounces (225 grams), 3/4 inch (two centimetres) thick and 3.5 inches (nine centimetres) in diameter. “If it’s too small you don’t get the juice and moisture,” Salamat says. Gently form the patties, don’t over handle them and chill them immediately.
When it’s time to cook the burgers, Salamat prefers grilling at medium-high or 375 to 400°F (190 to 200°C), searing the burger on each side and leaving the barbecue top down between flips. Every barbecue is different, so his rule of thumb for doneness is to use common sense. “Use your spatula to lift the edge,” he says. “If it isn’t sticking onto the grill, it’s ready. Don’t overcook it—you leach out the goodness if it’s cooked too long.”
Choose fine-quality buns—sesame, whole and multi-grain, for instance—that befit the burger. And when it comes to toppings, break out of the ketchup and mustard habit. Salamat suggests taking your cues from the meat. The earthy flavours of bacon and smoked cheddar suit beef.
“I also love to use mushrooms, any kind of grilled mushroom because the earthy flavour goes well with the patty,” Salamat says. “If you sauté the mushrooms, a touch of soya sauce in the pan will deepen the earthiness.” Foie gras adds true decadence. He suggests serving the lamb burgers with a minty yogourt-cucumber relish. Try chipotle sauce or crumbling goat cheese on a veggie burger.
Depending on your tastes, you can choose some or all of the following salads and side dishes for your meal. The salads are also adaptable as appetizers. Do all the prep work well in advance to avoid chopping and slicing while your guests are outside on the deck.
Onion rings are a tasty treat and surprisingly easy to make, even without a deep fryer. Slice Spanish onions, dip in a spiced tempura-based mixture, lightly fry in an inch (2.5 centimetres) or so of cooking oil, and be sure to keep warm on the top shelf of the barbecue while cooking the burgers. You can keep the buns toasty there too.
Asparagus on the grill is easy as can be but watch the spears carefully, rotating them often so they don’t burn. Toss with vinaigrette of freshly squeezed grilled lemon and serve at once with a garnish of fresh raspberries for colour.
For a fresh take on Caesar salad, romaine lettuce meets the grill. Cut the romaine in half lengthwise and place on the grill until light marks appear, being careful not to burn. Drizzle with classic Caesar dressing, top with croutons and divvy up among friends.
You’ll need to make time to prepare the remaining salads in advance. Salamat’s coleslaw consists of thinly sliced cabbage, cucumbers and
peppers dressed in a wasabi mayonnaise.
In order to get the full pickling effect of the vinegar-based dressing in Pickled Spring Vegetables, you must marinate this salad of paper-thin carrots, daikon and cucumber in the fridge for a few hours. This dish does require some fancy slicing with a mandolin but the effect is beautiful.
Peach Melba gets the special treatment on the grill, if only for the few minutes needed to deepen the colour and bring out the essence of this summer fruit that Salamat layers with fresh raspberry sauce on a scoop of vanilla ice cream. Serve cool glasses of dessert wine to complement the flavour of grilled peaches.
There’s a lot going on in this menu and it does take some careful planning and preparation. But it’ll be well worth your effort when you sit down at the table with friends gathered round and relish this delicious summer feast.