Wednesday, July 4th, 2012...6:50 pm

My Go-To Mini Burger

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I love burgers. Whether it is an artisanally crafted gourmet patty made from heritage steer, dolloped with homemade mustard, balanced atop an heirloom tomato slice and sandwiched between brioche buns made from stone ground wheat, or if it’s a plain double cheeseburger from McDonald’s, I’ll eat it.

For some reason – like many other traditionally inexpensive foods that have been shoved into the semi-gourmet limelight in recent years – are one of the more polarizing dishes out there. Everyone and their grandmother has an opinion on not just the best way to make it, but the right way to do so. And to those people, before you read the rest of this post, I know that a ‘proper’ burger patty has nothing more than (preferably home-) ground beef seasoned with a little salt and maybe a touch of freshly ground black pepper. I know the amount of salt used isn’t the only important factor, but when you salt it too. I am also aware that in burgers where you have nothing but meat and salt, the type of meat (whether this pertains to the blend of cuts, percentage of fat, or breed of cow) matters.

All that said, sometimes you can’t be bothered (or can’t afford) to go out and source for a slab of chuck with 35% fat content from some deliriously happy cow. Or maybe you already have a bag of thawed supermarket mince that your neighbour palmed off to you before heading off on his 3-week long jaunt to some exotic destination, and you’d like to beef up its flavour (haha) before you throw it on the grill. If so, this recipe’s for you. And I daresay it’ll be a damn tasty burger waiting for you on the other end.

When I started making these, probably over 10 years ago in Singapore, I somehow got stuck on the idea of mini burgers. I suppose it’s the notion of having everything that I could want in a burger – meat, cheese, condiments, toppings, bun – but in a size that will leave room for my chips, for once, or anything else I might fancy at the same meal. It was also really easy to find mini burger buns in my local grocery store, but I’ve had to make some adjustments with what’s easily available in Hong Kong, and now generally end up buying soft milk buns and cutting out the middle third so that my bread-to-meat ratio doesn’t get thrown off by too much. (Alternatively, you could always just make regular sized patties and use normal sized buns, if mini burger buns aren’t easily available where you are.)

A couple of things to take note of when you’re making your burger patties – the primary difference between a burger and a sausage patty lies in the texture. In sausages, you want the mixture to emulsify and give you that dense, chewy bite. In burgers, you want it tender and almost falling apart. So apart from not packing the patties tightly as you shape them, I also try to handle the meat as little as possible, which I accomplish by mixing all of the other ingredients together before adding the beef, and handling it very gently. Also, since you won’t be able to tell for sure what the fat content of your mince is, I tend to err on the side of caution and include some sweated-down onions for extra juiciness.

Finally, I’d like to wish all my American friends and readers Happy 4th of July! Hope I didn’t upset too many of you with my bastardised method of making one of your nation’s favourite foods. :D

My Mini Burger

1 large white onion, peeled and finely minced
400g good minced beef
3 tbsp honey mustard
50g parmesan, finely grated
a small handful of breadcrumbs (I particularly like using blitzed up day-old foccacia)
1 large hen’s egg
1 tbsp paprika
1 tbsp finely chopped fresh rosemary
1 tbsp finely chopped fresh thyme
sea salt & black pepper

To assemble
8 slices mild cheddar cheese
a handful of rocket
4 cherry tomatoes
wholegrain mustard
8 quails eggs
8 mini burger buns
olive oil
truffle sabayon & balsamic onion jam (optional, see below)

Heat 2 tbsp of olive oil in a frying pan over medium-low heat, and once it starts to shimmer, add in the finely chopped onion. Cook gently, stirring every couple of minutes until completely softened and just starting to caramelise, about 12-15 minutes. Remove from heat, and set aside to cool to room temperature.

In a large mixing bowl, beat the egg, salt, pepper, and honey mustard together. Add in the herbs and spices, breadcrumbs, cooled onions, a large pinch of salt and about a level tbsp of black pepper. Mix it all together, then add in the minced beef, and gently combine until well mixed.

Divide the mixture into 8 portions, and roll each portion into a ball, then flatten slightly to get a patty that’s about 2.5-3 inches across, and about 1 inch thick. Transfer to a tray lined with greaseproof paper, then clingfilm and set aside in the refrigerator for 1 hour, or until you’re ready to cook them. (They’ll keep like this, if well wrapped, for about 24 hours.)

At least half an hour before cooking time, take patties out of the fridge. Slice your buns in half, and butter them lightly. I also like to smear some wholegrain mustard on the top bun. Toast, if you’d like.

Slice the cherry tomatoes, and wash the rocket. On the bottom half of each bun, place a few rocket leaves, and lay 2-3 slices of tomato on top of it. Crack each quails egg into a saucer and fry them in a little oil to your liking. (I like them sunny-side up, plus they look so cute like that!)

Heat up some olive oil in a non-stick pan (that has a lid) on medium-high heat. Fry each patty for about 3-5 minutes on the first side, flip them over and fry for another 1 minute. Lay the slices of cheddar, then turn the heat to the lowest and cover the pan for another 5 minutes. By this time, the patty should be cooked through, and the cheese should have melted all over it.

Place the cooked patty on top of the rocket and tomato slices, top with a fried quail’s egg (and the truffle sabayon and onion jam, if using). Place the top bun over it, squish it down and dig in!

Truffle Sabayon
2 egg yolks (at room temp)
50ml white truffle oil
20ml white wine (at room temp)
50g butter (softened, but not liquid)
fine sea salt

Place the egg yolks and white wine in a metal bowl (that can fit atop a small saucepan of barely simmering water). Whisk together until pale and frothy.

Place the bowl onto a saucepan of simmering water, and continue whisking for about 2-3 minutes until the entire mixture is evenly coloured (the froth should no longer be paler than the liquid part).

Add the butter in, 10g at a time, whisking throughout. Keep whisking for another 5 minutes or so, until the mixture thickens to the texture of a custard. (The egg should have thickened, but it should NOT look scrambled! If it does, this means it’s overcooked already – i.e. the heat was too high/you’ve cooked it for too long.)

Remove the egg mixture from the heat, and whisk in the truffle oil, then season lightly with salt.

Balsamic Onion Jam
olive oil
10g butter (softened)
1 large white onion, finely sliced (slices should be about 2-3mm thick)
sea salt & freshly ground black pepper
1/2 tsp castor sugar
30ml chicken stock
50ml balsamic vinegar

Heat about 1 tbsp of oil and the butter in a small saucepan over medium heat, swirling until the butter has melted and started to foam. Add the onions in, season with a small pinch of salt and a few twists of pepper, then cook, stirring occasionally, until very soft and lightly caramelised, about 12-15 minutes. Scatter the sugar in, and stir well.

Turn the heat up to high, then add in the balsamic vinegar. Stir well, so each piece of onion is coated in the balsamic, and reduce until almost all of the liquid has evaporated, about 3-5 minutes. The onions should look pretty mushy and jammy by now.

Add in the chicken stock, then stir well and reduce by about 2/3. Remove from heat and set aside until ready to use.

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