A few weeks ago, I was asked to compete in the Macy’s annual “Battle of the Burger” in Herald Square. I never really considered myself a burger aficionado, so I wanted to come up with something that was different.
Oh, by the way, I won.
This may come as a surprise to my readers, given that earlier this year, I gave you what I then considered to be my “perfect” burger recipe. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a great burger. But when I go toque-to-toque with some of the best burger restaurant chefs in the city, I want to bring my A+ game.
Who knew it would all revolve around cream cheese? Hey, don’t laugh — it won!
Let’s talk about the burger first. There are many different blends of meat, but a mix with brisket and/or short rib gives you that real burger flavor.
But to each his own, right? If you want more of a chopped steak flavor, go with ground chuck or chopped sirloin.
But whatever taste you’re going for, use a blend that’s 80 percent meat and 20 percent fat. This will give you the perfect amount of fat so the burger does not dry out.
People think they can fudge this mix, but you can’t: Any more meat and it’s too dry; any less fat and the juices will all cook out and you’ll get a small burger.
And it doesn’t matter if you are grilling outside, cooking in a frying pan, or broiling, the same principles apply: Start with really high heat to seal in the juices, then lower the heat as you cook. You do not want to have to keep flipping the burger because it may break, letting the juices escape like Frank Morris from Alcatraz.
Another trick is to add an egg to the chopped meat mixture to hold it together better during the cooking process.
Now, let’s cook:
The Best Burger in the City
Yields four burgers
2 lbs. prime chuck roll, 80-20 blend
3 ounces tomato juice
1-1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. black pepper
6 ounces cream cheese
4 tbls. scallions, sliced thin
1/2 cup soy or canola oil
3 large jalapenos, sliced 1/8 inch thick on a bias and deseeded
1 cup flour
4 ounces pasteurized eggs
1/2 cup coarse grain yellow cornmeal
8 slices bacon
4 brioche rolls
4 tbls. whole unsalted butter
1 head Boston lettuce
Preheat oven to 375. Mix the first four ingredients together in a bowl. Set aside. In another smaller bowl, work the cream cheese and scallion together with your hands. Set aside. Scale out roughly nine ounces of meat for each burger. Mold them just a bit larger than the bun, then make a crust-like rim around the burger so it resembles a small pizza shell. The “crust” should be about a half-inch wide. Now take 1/4 of the cream cheese mixture and form a disk and place it on your burger. Fold the “crust” over the cream cheese very gently until the cream cheese disk is in the middle of your burger. Make sure there are no cracks in the burger and it is a uniform shape. Repeat three more times. Put your four burgers in the fridge to set, about 10 minutes or so.
Meanwhile place the bacon on sheet pan in the oven. Pour the oil in a medium sauté pan over medium heat. While that is going, coat your sliced jalapenos with about three tablespoons of flour. Mix the remaining flour with the cornmeal. Drop the dusted jalapenos in the eggs, then in the cornmeal. The jalapeno slices should now be covered completely with the cornmeal mixture. Pan fry them for about a minute or so on each side. You are looking for a golden brown color. Place them on a paper towel and set aside. Take the crispy bacon out of the oven and place it with the jalapenos.
Gently place the burgers on a hot, oiled grill or broiler and cook for three to four minutes on each side. Do not press down too hard on the burgers during cooking because this will cause the cheese to run out. While your burgers are on the grill, slice the buns in half, butter the cut side, and put them on a sheet pan butter side down on the bottom of your oven and toast them till they are browned.
Lastly, place a piece of the bib lettuce on the bottom bun followed by the burger, another piece of lettuce, three jalapeno slices and then the bacon.
Give yourself an award, because you’ve just made the best burger in the city!
Joe Raiola is the executive chef at Morton’s The Steakhouse [339 Adams St. between Willoughby and Tillary streets in Downtown, (718) 596-2700].