Cheese that burger!

Cheese Bitch, circa 2010

I’m at a catering event: 1000 for a company picnic under a canopy in a freezing rain.  I’m working with two other cooks – one shaved, muscled and tattooed, the other pudgy and petulant, with a curly red beard.  They are flipping burgers; I have been told to “cheese” them and place them in hotel pans for servers to run to the chaffers. Of the available tasks, I don’t mind this one; it keeps me out of the smoke that burns my eyes and makes my nose run. At my side is a server, a short kid with a crew cut and weight-lifter’s chest.  He leans to one side, keeping time to the Jimmy Buffet tribute band with his tongs. “Cheese those burgers!” he snaps at me intermittently, pointing his tongs in my direction while I dart around him applying cheese and removing burgers at the moment of optimal cheese melt, which is indicated to me by the flick of Red Beard’s tongs.  “Here you go,” I say, handing him a hotel pan to run to the hotbox.  This is his job; I can see he resents it.  He wants to be a cook, but he’s only interested in feeding his ego. I’m glad for his runs to the hotbox, but here he comes again, dashing back, tongs at the ready.

Dad’s burgers, circa 1965

My father grilled in the backyard for family and company wearing loud golf pants and white shoes.  Everyone loved his burgers, which were juicy and contained hidden treasures of melted cheese in the middle.   For condiments we had bottled Heinz Catsup, yellow mustard, sliced tomatoes, and lettuce he crisped by rinsing and then whirling above his head in a pillowcase, to be stored on the bottom shelf of the fridge the night before the cook-out.

I’ve updated the recipe with instructions from Los Angeles foodie guru Nancy Silverton and Joyce Goldstein‘s recipe for a spicy tomato jam, but nothing will ever match the memory of those burgers of Dad’s, with their rare juices mingling with the crunch of lettuce and bun and the surprising tang of melted cheddar, all ready to run down my chin and hands to my elbows.

Silverton advises asking the butcher to coarsely grind 2 3/4 pounds of prime chuck (10% to 15% fat) with 4 to 6 ounces of prime sirloin fat (the combination should have 20% to 28% fat total). Also, try not to pound, knead or squeeze the meat when you form the patties – the less handling, the better. Of course, use the best beef, hamburger buns and cheese you can find or afford.

For six burgers:

3 lbs ground beef (see note above)

2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce (optional)

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon pepper

1/2 cup grated sharp cheddar cheese

Prepare barbecue (medium-high heat). Combine meat, Worcestershire, salt and pepper in medium bowl; blend well. Divide meat mixture into 6 portions and shape each into ball. Poke deep hole in each ball and fill each with a portion of grated cheese. Mold meat around cheese to enclose, and then shape each burger to a 2 inch thick, 4 inch diameter patty.

Grill burgers to desired doneness, about 5 minutes per side for medium. Meanwhile, brush olive oil or butter onto the hamburger buns, place face down on the grill. Grill until they beginning to color, about 1 minute per side.

Morrocan-inspired Spicy Tomato Jam

This is a popular recipe from Joyce Goldstein’s Back To Square One, perfect for making use of a late summer abundance of cherry tomatoes from the backyard or farmer’s market.  It goes well with burgers; but also with lamb kabobs, grilled tuna or white fish, on crostini with a bit of goat cheese, or simply spread on a warm biscuit. It keeps in the fridge for a long time, so you can pull some out to serve as a condiment for a roasted chicken or loin roast when the weather turns cold.  If you have a mandoline, use it to slice the ginger and the lemons.  Otherwise, slice as paper thin as possible.

Serve warm or at room temperature.  Yield -4-5 pints

1/2 pound fresh ginger root, peeled and sliced thin across the grain

1 cup cider vinegar

2 quarts cherry tomatoes, washed and stemmed ( 4 pint containers)

2 cups brown sugar

2 cups granulated white sugar

2 large juicy lemons, sliced thin, then cut slices cut into eighths

3/4 cup water

1 tablespoon ground cinnamon

1 teaspoon ground cloves

1 tablespoon ground toasted cumin seed

1 teaspoon cayenne

1 teaspoon salt or to taste

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

In a food processor or blender, grind the ginger and spices with the vinegar. Put into a deep heavy saucepan along with the cherry tomatoes, the sugars, the sliced lemons and the water. Bring to a boil and cook over high heat for about 15 minutes. Lower the heat to medium and cook the mixture until it is thick. Stir often to prevent scorching. Season with more salt to taste.

Pack in sterilized canning jars and process 15 minutes in hot water bath, or put in containers and store in the refrigerator. Can keep for up to a year in the refrigerator, and up to 4 years in canning jars.

© Susan Arick and Locaovre’s Progress, 2010. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Susan Arick and Locavore’s Progress with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. Content not the author’s own has been credited to the original author, and falls under that author’s copyright.

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