Ok, I know.
I said there were going to be a lot more posts about tomatoes. Don’t worry, they are coming.
This post just couldn’t wait.
Its a post about my happy place.
Its a post about where I live, and how we spend our weekends this time of year.
Its a post, if you couldn’t tell, about cheeseburgers.
Burgers are undoubtedly one of the trendiest foods in America right now. I mean seriously, they’re everywhere! Haute burger bars are popping up all over the place with overindulgent toppings and wacky combinations of everything from foie gras and fried eggs to kimchi and guacamole. Its fun to get a little crazy once in a while I suppose. But to be honest, I’m a burger purist at heart. Boring? Some might say. But when the meat is really good and the cheese is nice and melted and the bun is soft and pillowy, there’s just no need for all the bells and whistles.
You see, the only thing that can make a humble cheeseburger taste better is when its eaten on the beach with good company. Chaser and I live in a little seaside community just north of Atlantic City, called Brigantine. Every weekend in the summer, when we’re not working, we get to spend hanging out on the beach with all of our friends. Our beach, “the jetty”, is unique in that its one of the only beaches in New Jersey that, with a proper permit, you can drive your car on to. We pack our trucks with coolers full of food and drinks, grills, tents, tables, chairs, surf boards, kayaks, etc., giving us the opportunity to arrive at the beach early in the morning, and have no reason to leave until the sun goes down.
This past weekend at the jetty was a huge milestone for me. Only a few months into my new hobby of stand-up paddle boarding, I finally caught my first wave. (“I caught my first tube this morning, sir” -name that movie). The conditions were perfect. The water was warm, and the waves were nice and clean, not too big. I rode that first wave all the way to shore without falling. And then I went on to catch a few more. What an incredible feeling! I am beyond stoked in this picture:
In case you didn’t know, surfing is one hell of a work out. Every time you get thrown from your board its like a wrestling match between you and the water to get back up. It really, really works up an appetite. Luckily, its never hard to find something to eat. Either someone is cooking up egg sandwiches for breakfast, or shucking freshly dug clams to be slurped down with siracha, everyone brings something to the table, literally. On this particular day, I brought down some freshly ground beef, ready to be made into the most insanely fatty, ridiculously delicious cheeseburgers.
As a personal chef, I often cater small dinner parties, and one of the most requested menu items is filet mignon. It’s always a crowd pleaser, and relatively easy to prepare. I always insist on roasting a tenderloin whole. The end pieces will be more well-done, and the middle more rare, pleasing just about everyone at the party. I always use a digital probe thermometer (like this one) that beeps as soon as my steak reaches the perfect temperature. Its both fool-proof and a life-saver! I recommend that every cook have one in their tool box.
The best part about serving a whole beef tenderloin at parties, is that the roast needs to be trimmed quite a bit before cooking. I recently invested in a meat grinder attachment for my KitchenAid mixer, and boy am I glad I did. The trimmings that used to get thrown into the trash, now get transformed into succulent, juicy burgers. Because the trimmings consist mostly of fat, these burgers have a moist richness that you just can’t get from your standard grocery store package of 80/20.
You don’t have to use filet trimmings to make a really great burger, but it helps! You also don’t need to have your own meat grinder. Visit your local butcher and kindly ask them to grind up some beef for you. We have a great butcher here in town, Ernest and Son, which is where I always go when I’m dying for a burger and don’t have any trimmings lying around. Ask for Mel, he’ll set you straight. Chuck is always a good choice, and be sure to ask if they can throw in a little extra fat. You are going for about a 70/30 – 60/40 ratio, 50/50 if you’re feeling really naughty.
Ok, relax you guys, a little meat and fat every once in a while won’t kill you… just don’t make this an everyday habit. Once a week in the summer is plenty. Also, realize that a lot of that fat is going to cook out once its grilled.
When ground fresh, the meat needs no accouterments. Leave it unseasoned and form into nice, thin patties. I’ve never been a fan of the ginourmous-cant-fit-in-your-mouth kind of burger. This is rich stuff, so take it easy. Nice, thin patties will do. Then liberally salt each one, and a little pepper if you want. Just keep in mind that the salt will bring out the natural flavor of the meat, and a lot of it will come off in the grilling process, so don’t be shy with it.
Then, take those babies to the grill. I love anything grilled on charcoal, so that’s always my first choice. But charcoal grills aren’t allowed on the beach, so we use what we’ve got. Make sure the grill is piping hot so you can get a nice crust on the outside. Because these are thin, they won’t take long to cook, only about 2 minutes on each side.
To obtain the juiciest burger possible, refrain from pressing down on the meat and only flip them once. And once you flip them, throw the cheese on immediately and close the grill. Wait a few minutes until the cheese gets really good and melted. DO NOT OVERCOOK! The meat is nice and fresh, so don’t be afraid of a little pink inside.
Whatkindacheese you ask? For me, its gotta be American. I love all the artisanal sharp cheddars and gruyeres and fontinas and other beautiful melty cheeses. But on a burger? No thanks. Give me the processed white stuff (not yellow, please). Same goes for my cheese steak.
Take the burgers off the grill and put them directly onto the buns so they can soak up all the juice and fat. I’m partial to Martins potato rolls, and kings Hawaiian when I can find them. They are pillowy soft and just a tad bit sweet. Together, with the fatty grilled meat and oozing cheese, its perfection. Serve them with the classic condiments if you want, but I like them as is. Pass them out to all your friends, and enjoy them together, standing up, sans plate.
Warm water, sand, sun, good company, and juicy cheeseburgers. This is definitely my paradise.
Jetty Cheeseburgers (serves 6)
1 lb freshly ground beef, with 30% fat or higher
freshly cracked pepper
6 slices white American cheese
6 soft hamburger buns, such as Martins Potato Rolls or Kings Hawaiian
Form ground beef into 6 thin patties. Season each liberally with salt, and a little bit of pepper.
Prepare your grill so that it is good and hot. Place the burgers on the grill and cook for about 2 minutes. Flip the burgers and immediately place a slice of cheese on each one. Close the grill and cook for an additional 1-2 minutes until the cheese is oozing down the sides and the middles are just barely cooked through. If desired, throw the buns on the grill for a few seconds until they are toasted and put a burger in each one. Serve with condiments like catsup, mustard and pickles, if desired.