With the recent worldwide scandal surrounding meat of dubious origins (and species for that matter) found in our processed meat products, I think it’s high time we start taking a more serious look at where our food comes from, how it is made and how it gets handled.
Better yet we can start doing some of the processing ourselves! You’ll get more control over what goes into your food, you’ll end up with a far superior product than the mass produced stuff we gladly accept as “food” and to top it all, it’s fun!
Luckily for you, I have been doing some research on the art of burger making over the last few weeks. I’ve spent many late nights watching YouTube video’s and have read loads and loads of blog posts containing contradicting statements, each guy thinking his way is the right way.
A few key points seem to be consistent across the board though:
- Amazing burgers need a good amount of fat. The most often suggested ratio is about 80% lean meat to 20% fat. The fat brings flavour, and the all important juiciness. This is not diet food people, you should not eat these babies every day. Spoil yourself once in a while and do things properly. You’ll thank me later.
- Choose the right cuts of meat. Different cuts of beef have a difference in flavour, so you need to find the right combination that works for you, taking care to get the fat content right.
- While processing the meat, heat is your enemy. Put the metal parts of your meat grinder in the freezer the night before you plan to use it. The friction of the grinding process will cause heat which will melt the fat, which we do not want. Freezing the parts well beforehand helps combat this. Also keep the meat refridgerated while you are not working with it, it will grind easier if chilled well.
With regards to buying the meat, I suggest you stop buying all your meat at supermarkets, and start the search for a decent butchery in your area. Shop there regularly, be nice to the staff and they’ll be nice to you, and you’ll most likely get much better meat.
You will build up a relationship with the people over time, and they’ll most likely have no problem in helping you out with special orders or requests. My current go-to butchery is Eatwell Meats in Durbanville (no website unfortunately, but phone them on 021 919 5064 if you are in the area).
For this batch I phoned the guys at Eatwell, explained my plans and requirements and they phoned me back a day later saying they have the right stuff for the job in store. When I pitched up there Phillip got out a beautiful piece of deboned prime rib meat that was left over after they’ve cut the ribeye steak out. He suggested it would be perfect for awesome burgers, and boy was he right.
He allowed me behind the counter where he cut it up into medium sized chunks. I then eyeballed the fat content to my liking, we weighed the lot and off I went.
Next job was to get my spice mix (also called a mix-in) sorted. This will, of course, depend on your tastes and preference, but I will give you my base recipe below, you can modify it from there.
Fritz’s Burger Mix-in (V1.0):
The ratio below is for 2.2kgs of meat, so adjust accordingly. Also, if you are keen on experimenting with your own spice blends etc, I suggest you get a small coffee grinder, they work great for grinding up spices.
- 15 g freshly cracked black pepper
- 30 g rough ground mustard seeds (use the coffee grinder, or a mortar and pestle)
- 30 g crushed garlic powder
- 10 g paprika
You will notice that I left out the salt. There is an ongoing debate about this one. Some say that adding salt early enhances the flavour and helps the patties bind, others say it starts curing the meat and makes the end product go rubbery. I went with the same methodology I use when braaing steak, adding the salt just before cooking. Mix all the ground spices together in a bowl and set aside.
Next, cut up your meat into smaller cubes that will easily fit into your meat grinders chute. Sprinkle over your spice mix, and toss the cubes around with your hands making sure everything is well coated.
You should end up with something resembling the below.
Once done, return the meat to the fridge while you set up your grinder. Remember to freeze the metal parts of your grinder beforehand, as mentioned earlier on in this article. Use the large plate on your grinder, to get a coarse grind.
I use a Kenwood MG450 Meat Grinder / Sausage Maker that I bought at Tafelberg Furnishers for around R1300.
You get attachments for most of the big name stand mixers, like this one for the KitchenAid Artisan Stand Mixer.
You also get hand-cranked grinders that work just as well, like this one by Gefu, or you can raid your grandma’s kitchen cupboards. She is bound to have one of these lying around.
Right, on to the actual grinding. Remove the meat cubes from the fridge and start working them through the grinder at a steady pace, don’t try and jam it all in there at once, take your time let the grinder do the work. Turn your receiving bowl as it fills up to avoid the mince spilling over, or just use your hand to keep things in check.
Next up is forming the patties. I use a hand operated pattie press that I bought some time ago from Freddy Hirsch. It is built like a tank and has served me well in the past. They also sell those little discs of plastic that you put above and below each pattie to prevent them sticking to each other.
First you have to decide how big you want your burgers. I like a man sized 200gm pattie, so I weighed and shaped 200g meatballs lightly with my hands.
Next place a meatball on one of the plastic discs, and add another disc on top. Then lower the pattie press over the meatball, make sure all the edges are in solid contact with your work surface, then press down on the handle, firmly but not too hard.
You can also shape the patties using only your hands, but I’ve never tried it. They say wetting your hands with a bit of water helps.
It should look something like the pics below.
Next up is the all important part of cooking the pattie. Since I didn’t use any binding agents (lots of recipes calls for eggs, breadcrumbs etc) these burgers are quite crumbly, as in they break up easily compared to the rubber stuff you may be used to. This is a good thing, it is a joy to eat but you need to be more carefull when cooking and handling them. So far I’ve had great results with pan frying them.
If you are looking for a more solid burger that will work on the braai, check out my Big Boy Burgers
Add a splash of sunflower or canola oil to a pan, and add a smidge of butter. The butter will add flavour and the oil will keep the butter from burning. Heat the pan up to medium high heat.
Sprinkle coarse / sea salt liberally on the pattie just before cooking. Use a touch more than you think, a lot of it will stay in the pan.
Using a spatula, gently place the pattie in the hot pan, and leave it alone for 3 to 4 minutes. Do not poke at it or squish it with the spatula, you will just make it break apart and press out the juice. After 3 minutes or so turn it over gently and cook the other side. Take a spoon and baste the pattie with the juices in the pan a few times, this adds more flavour.
If it looks like the pic below you have struck gold, remove from the pan and let it rest on a plate while you assemble the rest of your ingredients.
I’m not going to give you an exact recipe on what to eat with your burger, I’ll leave that creative process in your capable flippers.
I went with an oven toasted bun, some cos lettuce, cheddar cheese, tomatoes, pickles and a touch of horseradish sauce spread on the top bun. I served it with some oven roasted potato wedges.
Be adventurous and experiment with flavours, condiments etc. The possibilities are endless.
Let me know how these work out for you, I’m always interested to hear feedback on recipes, especially the ones with a twist!