Jim has already written a fine post on traditional, all-American burgers; I won’t mess with his wisdom on his homeland’s favorite summer lunch. Instead, I will tell you about mine.
I grew up on the border of Croatia and Bosnia, in a region whose culinary weapons are onion, pork fat, and paprika. If you can fry one in the other and dust it with the third, you’re golden. It’s beautiful country in the summer - Oregon reminds me of it, in that you get three months of fantastic weather and spend the other nine waiting for three more. And in those tanning days, you better invite friends over on the weekend and serve them one of these.
It’s basically a spicy patty topped with sour cream, served on a softened roll and accompanied with raw green onions. Are you still reading? Good - let’s break it down!
- 1/8 lb ground pork and 1/8 lb ground beef (or, in my case, 1/4 lb ground turkey)
- 1 clove of garlic, finely chopped
- Paprika and cayenne pepper
- Salt and black pepper
- 1 ciabatta roll, sliced in half
- 1/4 cup stock (chicken, vegetable, turkey, what have you)
- 2 tbsp sour cream
- 4-5 thin slices of onion, white or yellow
- 2-3 green onions, fresh and crisp
In a plastic bowl - larger than you think, as is always the case with bowls - mix the meat with the garlic, and season with the hot stuff as you see fit. This should be fairly spicy in that dry, peppery way - don’t introduce any acid by the way of hot sauce. You’ll be cutting the heat with the cream, so live a little.
Press the patty into shape on a large piece of plastic wrap. Go thinner than you would with a typical burger - I don’t recommend you go rare here. We’re shooting for more of a meatball-type muscle to the patty. That said, make sure it all stays together.
Heat your grill, griddle, or frying pan, and get everything oiled enough to minimize sticking - follow Jim’s instructions in the above-linked burger post. If you’re cooking on a solid surface (not a grill grate) and you’d like to try the unorthodox Shake Shack method, press the patty down and let it caramelize on one side before scraping it off with a sharp metal spatula and giving the other side the same treatment. This will result in a “smashed” texture and a burger that’s crispy on the outside.
Meanwhile, grab a strip of aluminum foil. You’ll build a makeshift rack by twisting the foil into a rope and then coiling it into a ring. Place this in a small saucepot and add enough stock to cover the bottom, but no more than half the height of the rack.
Heat the stock over medium heat; don’t boil it, just get it steaming a bit.Place one half of the ciabatta roll, cut side down, on the rack, so it gets steamed by doesn’t sit in the stock. Place the other half of the roll on it, cut side up. Cover the pot so you get a nice steam room going. This will turn the dry ciabatta into a spongy bun - it’s not a texture you get in regular burger buns.
After about a minute of steaming, remove the roll and the rack from the stock. Dip the cut side of each slice of the bread into the stock, brush it with oil, and place it on the grill. This will add lots of flavor and also remove much of the water from the outside of it. Again, it’s a texture all its own.
Time to assemble: when the burger is done - medium-well, I recommend - place it on the bun and top it with the sour cream. Spread the cream on the patty with the back of a spoon; you should see it melt a little. Top with onion slices. Add more cayenne if that’s your thing.
On the side, you’d serve freshly washed green onions with a little mound of salt. Dip the onion in the salt - just a little! - and crunch away. Weird? Yeah, but - it’s crispy, hot, and salty! Sort of like potato chips, right?
We never called this a “burger” when I was a kid. I’m not sure you’d call it one either. But the great thing about food is, your taste buds shouldn’t care who calls it what - I just hope they like it!