My mother was making burgers before Kenji Lopez-Alt was born; before even, Ray Kroc had cast his visionary eyes over the McDonald brothers’ hamburger joint in San Bernadino. Mum never used the term burger: to her, they were always rissoles—chopped-up meat enhanced with herbs and breadcrumbs and chopped onions, all held together by an egg. The mince was always from the same butcher, and always chopped to order. It helped that the butcher was on the committee of the Hawthorn Football Club, and mum was a fanatical fan. They had more to discuss than the texture of the beef, or lamb.
Mum never formed her enhanced mince into circular, flattened, lookalike patties: they were rough and ready rounds of meat, formed in the hands, and patted flattish—something like those formed by the shearers in that wonderful 1975 Australian movie Sunday Too Far Away, although Max Cullen preferred to shape his rissoles via his underarm. In each case, however, it was all done without machine aids; our only kitchen assist in those days was the wonderful Sunbeam mixer. Food processors of the style of Magimix or Bamix or Thermomix were not part of mum’s kitchen, nor the shearers’; and, if the butcher couldn’t form the mince, or there was some leftover lamb or beef, it was done with a pounding pair of sharp knives.
Mum’s rissoles were never put into buns—we ate them pan-fried, then baked, usually accompanied by peas, and mash, and tomato sauce, and slices of buttered bread to wipe it all up.
The Thermomix, via a neat pre-whizzing trick, makes it all simple, and brings the best cuts of meat into the home environment, minus the footy discussions. Home, in this case, means control over not just the source, but the outcome. No mystery about the leanness or fat content of the meat.
And that pre-whizzing trick? As Kenji points out in The Food Lab, freezing best cuts for burgers before whizzing them into mince creates the best texture; in the Thermomix, freezing before whizzing is a must-do; the blades can cut most things, but they need that hard, frozen texture to provide the best mince, without streaks or gristle.
The battle of the burgers is not really a battle of outcomes, just a discussion on techniques, and additions. As Kenji notes in his recipe, “toppings as desired”; that noted, however,
I am firmly of the view that all burgers are enhanced when the bun, or toast, is wiped with a powerful mustard, not to overpower, but to enhance. I’ve even used home-made peanut butter as a wipe; sounds off, but it provides a surprising middle flavour. I’d add to “toppings as desired”, “additions as desired”.
- Chop the meat into rough cubes, and freeze, at least overnight.
- Preheat oven to 180C.
- Place frozen meat (if it is stuck together after freezing, chop with a cleaver into rough cubes) in the Thermomix and whizz 15 seconds/speed 10. Scrape down the bowl. If the mix is too coarse, whizz again 5 seconds/speed 10. The preferred mince is coarse, (crumb-like, even) as it will be whizzed again. Scoop the mixture out into a separate bowl.
- If using stale bread, whizz 10 seconds/speed 10. Remove from the Thermomix bowl and set aside.
- Whizz garlic, onion, chilli and ginger 10 seconds/speed 10. Scrape down the bowl, return the breadcrumbs, and whizz 10 seconds/speed 10 to assist chopping the garlic, chilli, ginger and onion more finely.
- Return the meat and add the egg, fennel seeds, herbs and salt, and whizz 20 seconds/speed 10. The mixture will now be finely chopped.
- Remove from bowl, and form into mounds, each mound enough for one rissole/burger. There’s no need to be cute, but, if using for burgers, flatten to allow for placement between two pieces of toast or a bun.
- Once formed, coat the burgers lightly in flour, and fry one side in a hot pan until brown. Turn and brown the other side. Finish in the oven for five minutes or until done to your taste (from rare to well done is your choice, remembering you’ve controlled the source of the meat). Towards the end of the baking, lay some slices of your favourite melting cheese on top of the burgers, for a minute or so, until just melted. At the same time, toast bread or buns.
- Remove burgers from the oven, and keep warm while you organise your favourite combos. I prefer a little butter on the toast or bun, English mustard wiped on butter, slices of tomato, rocket, and a good hit of tomato kasoundi or chutney. It may not be a fair dinkum Aussie burger without a slice of beetroot, or an egg. But, that’s for individual choice. Whatever, as with the shearers, there’s no need to be cute.