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Cooking Class with Chef Ivan Flowers: Lesson Thirteen- Burgers

By Chef Ivan Flowers,

The last cooking class was all about dry rubs. I hope you put what you learned to good use over the Fourth of July. This week we are going to talk burgers.

This topic came to me while working with a line cook at the restaurant. We just added a new burger to our menu and I realized that she didn’t know how to properly cook a burger, it was overdone and the cheese was not melted. After showing her a few techniques, the burgers were going out perfectly cooked. In this class I will give you tips, techniques and recipes that will allow you to make the perfect burger.

First let’s start with the meat. I think an 80/20 blend is best. That means the meat is 80% lean to 20% fat. I also like a blend of equal parts chuck and brisket because these two cuts really complement each other in flavor. You can experiment with what mix you like best, but please stay at 20% fat, that fat is the difference between a dry burger and a juicy one.

Now, I know lots of people that mix all sorts of things into their meat before making the burger. I don’t agree with this because I think when you do that you create a meatloaf patty, not a burger. Additionally, all the working of ingredients into the meat tends to make it tough. So, simply form the meat into a patty, not packed too tightly (again, keeps it from getting tough) and then liberally salt and pepper both sides of the meat.

I think an eight ounce patty is the ideal size and using your thumb, put a small divet in the top of the patty. This will help it cook evenly and will avoid that swollen, U.F.O. shape.

Another trick to even cooking is to let the burgers sit out at room temperature for about 20 minutes before grilling. This will allow them to cook evenly.

There always is a lot of confusion when it comes to cooking a burger to the desired temperature. Get your grill to a medium-high heat; this will create a nice sear on the burger. Place the burger on the grill and only flip once. Also, please do NOT press with a spatula, which just pushes all those wonderful juices out and onto the coals.

Here are your cooking guidelines: rare, five minutes each side, medium, seven minutes each side and well, ten minutes each side. What do I think the perfect temperature is? Medium rare, to achieve that, cook six minutes on each side.

Okay, now that we know all about the meat, let’s talk cheese. I like a flavorful cheese that melts well. Yes, you can use good old American, but there are also other cheeses that really work well on a burger. Here are some I like: Muenster, pepper jack, smoked provolone and fresh mozzarella. Now, when do you add the cheese? After you flip the burger, top with any toppings you may want (sautéed mushrooms, caramelized onions, etc.), then put the cheese on top of those toppings. This will cause the burger to steam inside and will not only melt the cheese and warm the toppings, but it will also create a juicier burger by trapping in that moisture.

We can’t forget about the bun. It should always be the same size as the burger patty so you get bun and burger in each bite. I like a sesame seed bun. It is soft, slightly sweet and toasts nicely. Brush your buns with melted butter and toast on the grill.

Now, we will build the burger. Yes, order of ingredients does matter. If you put ingredients on the bun in a certain way, the bun won’t get soggy and you will avoid everything sliding out the back side when you take a bite.

On the bottom bun, place a nice leaf of butter lettuce. Make sure the lettuce is completely dry. This will catch all the juice from the burger and keep it off the bun.

Next, place your burger, then on top of the burger a thinly sliced red onion, dill pickle slices, slice of tomato (salt & peppered, please), and finally another leaf of butter lettuce.

On the top bun put mayonnaise and ketchup. Viola, you have the ultimate all American burger.

Now that you know the basics, here are some fun toppings you can make to really make that burger special. Here are some easy mayonnaise based sauces that will add a lot of zip to your burger. Remember to make them ahead and refrigerate for at least four hours before using to allow the flavors to completely combine.

First is a teriyaki mayonnaise. Teriyaki enhances that natural umami that is already in the burger. Umami is our fifth taste and occurs when we eat savory foods. For the Teriyaki mayonnaise combine: ½ cup of mayonnaise, two tablespoons teriyaki (I like Maui Maid, it is perfectly balanced and not too salty), one tablespoon chopped cilantro, juice of one lemon, ½ teaspoon sriracha and a pinch of salt.

Growing up in New York, we always ate Russian dressing on our burgers. I love the play of sweet and salty of a Russian dressing. This East Coast Mayonnaise is my ode to that dressing. Combine: ½ cup mayonnaise, two tablespoons ketchup, one teaspoon tomato paste, two teaspoons chopped dill pickle, one teaspoon minced onion, one teaspoon red wine vinegar and salt and pepper to taste.

Finally, garlic Parmesan mayonnaise. This goes especially well with the Muenster cheese. The garlic and salty Parmesan really enhance the sweet creaminess of the cheese. For this, combine: ½ cup mayonnaise, two tablespoons grated Parmesan, juice of one lemon, one teaspoon mascarpone (cream cheese is fine), and ½ teaspoon finely minced garlic.

So, at your next backyard party you will wow your guests with your ultimate hamburger. Once you have the basics down, experiment. Add bacon, roasted peppers or avocado. A perfectly cooked burger is an ideal canvas on which to paint flavors. As with any technique or recipe, the most important component is the cook’s heart. The heart is what creates delicious.

Chef Ivan Flowers brings 25 years of fine cuisine experience to Top of The Market, San Diego. Prior to becoming Executive Chef at Top of The Market, Chef Flowers owned Fournos restaurant in Sedona, Arizona, named a top 25 restaurant in Arizona. He was also Executive Chef at L’Auberge de Sedona, the AAA Four-Diamond, Four Star award winning restaurant. Flowers has created extraordinary cuisine for some of the finest restaurants in Arizona, including T. Cooks at Scottsdale's Royal Palms Resort and the Phoenician's Mary Elaine's and Different Pointe of View.

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