Friday, July 11, 2014 Tammuz 13, 5774

The Ambiguous Blessings of Cooking Outdoors

August 11, 2005
Posted In 
Comment0
Enlarge Image »
If you've ever sacrificed a platter of burgers to the incendiary powers of a backyard barbecue, or tried to convince yourself that "black and crusty" is exactly how you like your chicken, then you know, firsthand, the ambiguous blessings of cooking outdoors.

On the one hand, we can all agree that a subtly, smoky barbecued steak is infinitely tastier than its electrically broiled counterpart, but at the same time, we must also admit that consistently achieving such perfection, without first incinerating dinner, is a feat beyond the grasp of all but the most skilled grill-jockey.

The problem's not just a lack of skill, it's a lack of understanding. Most of us operate under the delusion that outdoor cooking is little more than throwing the desired number of edible items over a blaze and sitting back until they heat through. To the contrary, cooking without the hightech benefits of thermostats and heavy gauge saucepans requires greater vigilance and artistry than anything demanded from indoor cooking.

And while burgers remain the most elementary grill project, but even they have their rules:

• Use ground beef with at least 15 percent fat (that means 85 percent lean, usually sold as "85/15"). Any less fat will create burgers that fall apart and lack moisture.

• Add flavor to burgers by chopping up garnish ingredients, such as tomato, onion, pickle, cheese, sweet peppers or black olives, and mix them right in with the ground meat. In this way, the flavor comes through in every bite.

• Mix condiments right into the burger meat. Mustard, ketchup and relish are even better permeating a burger than they are perched on top.

• To ensure juiciness in burgers - even when cooked to welldone - add several tablespoons of ice-water to the ground meat before forming it into patties.

• When forming a burger, don't pack the meat too tightly. As soon as the patty can hold its shape, it has been sufficiently molded. Beyond that point, beneficial returns diminish.

By compressing the meat too much, any moisture coming from the meat fibers during cooking will have no place to go except out of the burger, yielding substantially dryer results. In addition, heat passes more slowly through denser-packed patties, thereby slowing down cooking time.

• To take the guesswork out of timing for rare, medium and well-done burgers, make patties of different thicknesses. Use the same weight of meat for each burger, but make some wide and thin, others plump and round - namely, alternate shapes.

Given the same time on the grill, over the same fire, the halfinch thick patties will cook through, while those that are an inch or more in thickness will still be juicy and rare. Not only does this make grilling almost effortless, it lets you satisfy all of your diners' preferences without the aid of a stop watch.

• The rarer you want your burger, the hotter the fire should be. The trick to getting meat rare is to have the heat source hot enough to brown the surface to the desired degree of crispness and color without cooking the meat through.

Because the transference of heat to a food is generally faster than the heat movement through the food, cranking up the temperature will give you a browned, crisp exterior, and an interior that can be anywhere from raw to barely pinking, depending on your preference.

On the flip side, the more well-done you want a burger to be, the lower the fire should be. If your flame is too robust, the surface of the meat will char before the interior is fully cooked. So if you have a firebed with hot and cool spots, use the hotter areas for the burgers you want to be rare and cooler coals for the better done requests.

GREAT BURGERS
(MEAT)

11/2 lbs. ground beef, chuck or round, preferably 85 percent lean
1/4 cup ice-water salt and ground black pepper, to taste
4 split hamburger buns

Using your hands, mix the ground beef, water, salt and pepper until all is incorporated.

Form into 4 patties, each 1 to 11 /2-inches thick; do not pack too tightly.

Grill or broil about 3 inches from a high fire, until browned and cooked to desired degree of doneness - about 3 to 5 minutes per side for rare, 5 to 8 minutes for medium, 10 minutes for well-done.

If desired, during the last 45 seconds of grilling, place 4 split hamburger buns next to the burgers to lightly toast the interior surfaces. Serve with lettuce, tomato and condiments, as desired.

Serves 4.

• • •

Here are some variations on the basic burger:

• Steak and Onion Burger: Follow recipe for burgers (above), adding 1 /4 cup finely chopped onion softened in 1 teaspoon oil, 2 tablespoons steak sauce and 1 teaspoon brown mustard to the ground meat.

MEXICAN BURGERS:
Follow recipe for burgers (above), substituting 1 /4 cup spicy salsa for the ice-water and adding 1 tablespoon chili powder, 1 teaspoon ground cumin and 1 tablespoon chopped cilantro to the ground meat. Serve with 1 /2 cup more salsa and 3/4 cup shredded lettuce on top.

PEPPERCORN BURGER:
Follow recipe for burgers (above), rubbing the surface of the burgers with a mixture of 1 teaspoon each black, dried green and Szechwan peppercorns.

WHOLE-SEEDMUSTARD BURGER:
Follow recipe for burgers ANDREW SCHLOSS ALMOSTFROM SCRATCH The Ambiguous Blessings (above), adding 1 minced clove garlic and 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard to the ground meat, and rubbing the surface of the burgers with a 1 /3 cup mustard seed before cooking.

• • •

TASTES-JUST-LIKE-

HAMBURGER TURKEY BURGER
(MEAT)


11/2 lbs. kosher ground turkey
3 Tbsps. ketchup 3 Tbsps. grated onion
1 Tbsp. steak sauc
1/4 cup seasoned breadcrumb

4 split hamburger buns

Using your hands, mix the ground turkey, water, salt and pepper until all is incorporated.

Form into 4 patties, each 1 to 11 /2-inches thick. Do not pack too tightly.

Grill or broil 3 inches from a high fire until browned and cooked through, about 5 to 8 minutes per side.

If desired, during the last 45 seconds of grilling, place 4 split hamburger buns next to burgers to lightly toast the interior surfaces.

Serve with lettuce, tomato, pickles and condiments, as desired

Serves 4.

MISO TUNA BURGER
(PAREVE)


11/2 lbs. tuna steak
1 Tbsp. miso paste (any type)
1/2 tsp. prepared wasab
4 scallions, trimmed and mince
1 tsp. soy sauc
4 split hamburger buns

Chop tuna by hand or in a food processor till finely minced. If using a food processor, be careful to avoid puréeing the tuna. Transfer tuna to a bowl, and using your hands, mix in the miso, wasabi, scallion and soy sauce.

Grill or broil 3 inches from a high fire until browned and cooked to desired doneness - about 2 to 3 minutes per side for rare, 4 to 5 minutes for medium, and 6 minutes for well-done.

If desired, during the last 45 seconds of grilling, place 4 split hamburger buns next to burgers to lightly toast the interior surfaces.

Serve with lettuce, tomato and condiments, as desired.

Serves 4.

Andrew Schloss is a food-industry consultant and a cookbook author. His current book is Almost From Scratch: 600 Recipes for the New Convenience Cuisine.

 

Comments on this Article

Sign up for our Newsletter

Advertisement