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My ideal hamburger

A step-by-step photographic tutorial to preparing one of my favourite foods

In this age of diets and cholesterol panic, you can say all you want; I still think a well-prepared hamburger is one of the most satisfying foods ever invented.
Here I show you how I make my own hamburgers. This recipe has been refined over the years, and it gives me the most satisying experience I can have. You will notice it is a very basic cheeseburger recipe: meat, cheese and onions. This is how I like it; I still haven't found any addition to this base recipe that makes the taste better for me. Of course you might disagree; fortunately, the hamburger like most sandwiches is highly customizable.

Click on images to view them in full size.

I start with warming up a frying pan on medium-high heat. I use a teflon-coated pan; in principle iron pans would work better, but they need much more maintenance and are more difficult to use (foods tend to stick to it). A teflon pan works just fine. While the pan is heating, I cut an onion in half and then in slices. I then put the onion pieces in the hot pan with just a little bit of oil.

I let them roast for a while until they start to change colour. They have to turn slightly brown. Don't be afraid: they are not burning. It is the sugar in them that is being caramelized.
When they change colour, I add salt, a quarter glass of water and a generous sprinkle of balsamic vinegar. I let onions simmer in this juice until it has completely evaporated.Once they are dry, I collect them with a spatula and put them aside.

While onions are cooking, I start preparing the meat. I always use 20% ground beef . It is better not to use a beef which is too lean, as it will form dry patties. A too fat blend, on the contrary, will taste... well, too fat, and will shrink too much.
I mix the ground beef in a bowl with salt (1 tsp for about 350 gr of meat). You might add your favourite spices or herbs here. I mix the meat with a spoon or spatula. Better not use your hands here; handling the meat too much will melt the grease and that will result in a dry patty. Just keep the beef handling to a minimum.

Form meat balls with your hands (again, try not to handle the meat balls for too long). The size of the balls depends on the patties size you want to get. I generally make 4 meat balls from 350 gr of beef.

Squeeze down the meat balls gently with your hand, trying to keep them in one piece. If they break up at this point, this may be a sign that your beef is too lean. Try to get a fatter blend next time.
You don't want juices to run out of the patty; just press them down gently until they have the shape and size of a patty.

Grill the bread buns face-down on the frying pan until golden brown. Pay attention not to burn them!

Put the patties on the pan without any grease - they don't need it. After one minute, move them gently with a spatula using a scraping motion, so that they don't stick to the pan. Leave them alone for about 3 minutes (the time might change depending on the patty size and the degree of cooking you are looking for). [UPDATE Sep 09] I found a way to get even tastier burgers: smear the patties in mustard (both sides) before cooking! The mustard will make a tasty crust and lend its taste to the meat... the result is breathtaking. If I understood it correctly, this is the way In-n-Out makes its "hidden" Animal Style burgers. However, I hope you don't mind your house smelling like mustard for a couple of days afterwards...

After 3 minutes, flip the patties; they should have a slight crust on the cooked surface. Lay a slice of cheese on the patties right away and leave them alone for another 3 minutes.

While the patties are cooking, lay your onions on the bottom half of the bread bun, and put some ketchup on the top half. If you want to put vegetables or salad, it is important to put them on the TOP half of the bun; the bottom half should remain free so that the juices from the meat can flow and be absorbed by the bread (unless you want meat juice running along your arms, that is).

When the patties are ready, put the burger together. My favourite cooking is medium-rare (as in, really rare at the center and medium all round) as in the pictures below. You might want to adjust the cooking time to suit your taste.

One last advice: be patient. Getting a burger right takes some practice, and is almost impossible to do on the first try. Practice a little bit, find your best meat blend, seasoning and cooking time, and you're surely in for a treat. Bon Appetit!