The burger is an American classic — but it’s not always so classic anymore.
See, nowadays you can’t throw a French fry without hitting a burger joint, and not every chef knows what he’s doing.
The perfect burger does not depend on ingredients (though top-quality components help). The key, of course, is technique.
For instance, most chefs know to use a ground beef mix that is 80 percent meat and 20 percent fat. But few know that a really hot cast-iron skillet is the best — even better than a grill or a broiler.
And here’s a secret: Make a small well in the center of the burger on both sides to prevent the burger from shrinking and balling up on you.
Here’s another: Salt the outside of your burger; it’ll give the burger a nice crust on the outside while leaving the inside juicy. After you have a nice crust on the burger, it is OK to flip it more than once so you do not burn it (but don’t use the pancake technique and smash the burger flat — all that does is squeeze out the juices).
The bun should be very soft and fresh and also be the same size as the cooked burger (I love the brioche or the potato). But just before putting the burger on this delicious bun, lather the top and bottom with some butter and toast it on your cooking surface buttered side down. This will give it flavor and create a barrier that will keep the integrity of the bun so it won’t sog up.
Last but not least, hold the burger from the top, bottom, and back so the burger does not slip out the back on every bite! There is nothing worse than losing some of your burger.
Joe’s Perfect Burger
Makes four eight-ounce burgers
1 whole egg, beaten
3 oz. tomato juice
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. ground black pepper
2 tbls. salad oil
4 really big, really soft buns of your choice.
1 tbl. butter
Break up the ground beef in a bowl, add the egg, tomato juice, salt and pepper.
Mix it all together thoroughly but gently. Portion it into four eight-ounce patties then lay them on a oiled sheet pan. Crisscross with a knife four times in each direction then put them in the fridge for about an hour to let them set. Get your cast-iron skillet, grill or broiler very hot.
Make a well in the center of the burgers on both sides then season with a pinch of kosher salt on both sides. Place them on the heat for about three minutes on each side or just until a crust forms. Flip a few times. It’s OK.
Just before your burgers are ready, butter the buns and toast them only on the buttered side. This will create more contrasts in flavor and texture. Top your burgers with whatever you like. You’re the boss, after all.
Joe Raiola is the executive chef at Morton’s The Steakhouse [339 Adams St. between Willoughby and Tillary streets in Downtown, (718) 596-2700].