This is what started it all. The one thing that I got good at before I could really cook.
For me, cooking started as a college-time exploration of marinate it in some storebought sauce, throw it (and all of the sauce) on the George Foreman grill, and then see what happens–yikes! But this dish wasn’t in that category: burgers. They were easy to prepare, cheap, and fed a crowd with ease. And what a crowd-pleaser! People asked for these–and not “hey, could you make burgers?” but “hey, I could really go for some Michael Burgers!” This made it seem like I was on to something…
I’m going to wax philosophical here, but I think a big part of it is simply that people have really grown accustomed to flavorless, flat, dull burgers with a slice of (to quote Gordon Ramsay) plastic cheese on top. Nobody really expects anything from a burger, so this is a dish where you can catch people by surprise and just blow them away. So anyways, enough tooting my own horn, on to the good stuff…
- 1.5 lbs lean ground beef/sirloin
- 8-10 cloves of garlic
- 3 jalapeño peppers
- leaves from 2-3 sprigs of oregano
- a few (like 5) large basil leaves
- some flat-leaf Italian parsley
- 1-2 shallots
- 1/4 cup dark molasses
- 1/4 cup BBQ sauce (I use Sticky Fingers brand)
- 1/8 cup of Worchestershire sauce
- 1 Tbsp soy sauce
- 1 cup Italian style bread crumbs
- 1 tsp black pepper
- 1/2 tsp ground cumin
- paprika/smoked paprika
- ground cayenne/white/chipotle pepper
- dried pepper flakes
- fennel seeds
- ground mustard
- feta/goat/parmesan/bleu/mozzarella cheese
First, mince the garlic and jalapeños finely. You don’t have to remove the seeds/ribs from the jalapeños, but keeping them will increase the heat of the peppers so its your call. If you’re not sure, I’ll go out on a limb and guess that you shouldn’t include them (I do include them). Then, briefly fry for two minutes or so in olive oil to round out the flavors and soften them up a bit. Pour them and the oil into a large bowl.
In that same bowl, add the molasses, soy sauce, Worchestershire sauce, barbeque sauce, and dried spices. Dice the fresh herbs finely and mix them in as well. These are some heavy flavors, and in case you’re skeptical, they do go together very naturally–many of them are commonly used to make barbeque sauce! We just want to tilt the barbeque sauce flavor more towards that richer molasses flavor without going to the trouble of starting from scratch. For lack of any real name, I call this mixture the “mash.” I like to put this through the food processor to make it finer, but its not absolutely necessary.
Using your hands, mix the beef in the mash until well integrated. At this point, you might have noticed that the beef is far too juicy/saucy now to actually hold up as a burger. Enter bread crumbs. They bring a little extra flavor, but the mash is the star of the flavor show. This is more about helping to hold things together. Mix the crumbs very thoroughly into the beef mash until totally integrated. There should be no dry spots and no piles of leftover bread crumbs.
Divide your beef mixture up in roughly six separate pieces, each of which should be about the size of a baseball.
At this point, I like to add a little surprise to my burger patties: I stuff them with cheese. I like to use cheeses with strong flavors like goat cheese and crumbles of feta. If you want to give this a shot (and you know you do!), flatten your beef patties as thinly as you can on a flat surface. Place a mound of cheese (a small handful per patty) in the center of each beef pancake, fold it shut, and try to seal the cheese in so that none of it is exposed and no cracks or crevices to the cheesy center remain (or your burger is going to bleed cheese on the grill!).
Finally, whether you’re in the stuffed burger crowd or not, flatten each piece of beef into a burger patty shape, where each one should be no more than one inch thick. If it’s much thicker, the inside won’t cook well and the outside will burn since burgers aren’t exactly intended for slow-cooking.
Worth noting: at this point, you can put some patties into ziplock bags and leave them in the freezer as they keep very well. Just move them from freezer to fridge about 24 hours prior to when you intend to cook them and you’ll be good to go. This is a very easy way to cook “fresh” when you don’t have much time for dinner prep. And definitely much better than grabbing some fastfood grease burger.
Cook these on the grill on medium-high heat for about 10 minutes total, flipping once. I add a slice of pepperjack or swiss cheese about a minute prior to taking off the grill and toast a french-style bun for just as long.
In the words of Samuel L. Jackson, “that is a tasty burger!” (I’m sure nobody has ever posted that clever and original reference on their blog before!) Enjoy!