Burger Joint – Cheap can leave you Cheerful!

The UK press abounds with Shergar munching misery. Cheap food surprisingly appears to be made with cheap ingredients. Who would have thought it? The rare-breed, black face, Angus cow that you believed to be in your ready-made lasagne, turns out to have been an early faller in the 3.30 at Kempton races. Neigh, I don’t believe it, I hear you snort.

Well, your average Tesco rump steak costs £15 per kilo but you can buy frozen burgers at Iceland for £2.20 a kilo.  So what cut of meat is 6 times cheaper than rump steak? As they say in the States “you do the math!” And to save you the headache of nodulating over this inequilateral equation for too long, I’ll give you the answer. It’s called filler, something that is such a disgusting mixture of mechanically recovered gunge, dubious species, chemical flavourings, stabilisers and other atrocities, that no right thinking person would ever inflict a cheap burger on his nearest or dearest.

Actually, the horse meat is the least of your worries. It’s generally a lean, healthy, dark meat, though rather strong tasting and sweet for my tastes. Of course, no civilised person would ever eat it, let alone kill a horse (not an unbiased view, I consider myself a horseman after all). Unless of course it was a mercy killing, though thereinafter you are obliged to dig an unfeasibly large hole and erect a massive marble monument. Well, other than the French obviously, but despite our admiration for the rest of their wonderful cuisine, we still have doubts about their intimate shaving abilities.  Says it all doesn’t it? Horse murderers with hairy armpits!

Much has been made of the dangers of Bute, the equestrian painkiller of choice to relieve the swollen joints of the hardworking equine and its potentially toxic effect in the food chain. Well I had an arthritic friend that swore by it, demanding the vet prescribe it for her perfectly sound horse, so she could anaesthetise her own depleted synovials.  Given the small percentage of horse meat found in most filler, you would have to eat a hundred burgers a day to feel the beneficial effects of the Bute as you go for that yoga stretch. And by that time, the rest of the (totally legitimate, cow based) rubbish will have killed you.

Happily I live in Buenos Aires. The best meat at my not-inexpensive butcher costs about 52 pesos per kilo (£4.72 on the “blue” market). I want to make burgers? 70% rump (cuadril) fat left on, with 30% rib eye (ojo be bife). Passed through the mincer twice. While I watch! Like a bloody hawk!! My target is about 20% fat, which will keep the burger nice and moist as it cooks. If the meat is a bit older and has gone that browny-purple colour, so much the better. A kilo will do 8 decent burgers and guess what, it’s top quality steak. You can cook it rare.

There are a lot of theories about making and cooking a “proper” burger. They all have their merits. Some even use filler, but only nice things, breadcrumbs, onions, herbs, garlic, and eggs to bind? Whatever takes your fancy?……… Thin or thick is a reasonable debating point. Thin is about getting that tasty crust on the outside while leaving the inside moist and tender. It’s focussed on the Maillard reaction (nonenzymatic browning) that imparts the flavours that the burger chains try and replicate with their various additives. Done well it’s good, if a little crunchier. Thick is more about the meat’s inherent taste and texture. It’s more complicated to cook. You can squash a thin burger and it seems to “rise” during the cooking process, its texture loosening. Squash a fat one together (perhaps using that abomination, the hamburger press) and the heat penetrates unevenly, leaving you with a solid mass, overcooked on the outside with a cold blue interior.

Heston (Blumenthal) is a cook with an obsessive/compulsive disorder that a Buenos Aires psychiatrist could make their life’s work. It might take you three days just to prepare breakfast according to his strictures. However when he says a burger should be light and airy, I believe him. After all, if you want a steak, then buy a steak. The problem with a light, airy burger, is how do you get it to stick together? There are two things he recommends; one, add quite a lot of salt before you mix the meat (it breaks down certain enzymes and acts like a light glue and appears to render out with the fat) and two, align the fibres as they come out of the mincer, roll them in cling-film, chill, then cut in rounds. I’m sorry, the first I can handle but my butcher already thinks I’m weird (and overly demanding). If I ask him to match up the fibres, he’s going to slip Black Beauty’s nether regions into the mix, just for fun. Though maybe when I have my own mincing machine….?

So my burgers I want quite rare. Thick and loose! And with the full benefit of the Maillard reaction. What’s the plan? Well I mix the above-described mince with salt, very finely cut garlic, a dollop of oyster sauce (and optionally finely minced onions). I kind of throw them lightly between my hands, minimum pressure, hoping the salt has made them a bit sticky. And then I take Gordon Ramsey’s steak cooking advice, which can be summed up as, turn the heat up to inferno temperature and keep the buggers moving. As with a steak you will gradually achieve the lovely brown exterior, but if you flip every 30 seconds, the inside will be evenly done; none of the graduations from grey to blue. And remember, you have just bought quality meat. You could eat it as tartare!

As a side note, English public health fanatics are trying to ban the occurrence of the rare burger, I kid you not;

(http://www.telegraph.co.uk/foodanddrink/foodanddrinknews/9731808/Is-this-the-end-of-the-rare-burger.html )

Hopefully, they may now have something more important to worry about? Neigh?

Anyway, to the point of this ramble; The girlfriend and I went off on one of those long directionless walks and we passed a hamburger joint, called the “Hamburger Joint “ that a Chef friend of mine had recently written up. http://nolachef.net/2013/02/27/ba-faves-burger-joint-palermo/

I don’t always follow Lisa’s recommendations. She’s a yank. I’m not. And while she is a great cook, there is a fast-food cultural difference. She wants better quality fast-food (http://nolachef.net/2013/02/13/burger-bliss/). I don’t care!!! However, this place had a different “Onda” and we were peckish. Surely worth giving a shot?

To be fair, I’m spending a lot of time studying the food scene here. I for one remember how badly you could eat in London 15 years ago. Or how badly you can eat in Sheffield now? I suspect that in ten years Buenos Aires will be the new gourmet venue and I really want to be a part of it. If I ever serve you horse, it will have a family tree back to Nijinsky, and be charged accordingly. And maybe smoked over the tobacco of pure Cuban cigars?

Other than Lisa’s recommendation, the other thing that encouraged me to try the Burger Joint was a complaint on another review site. “It took them 20 minutes to cook my burger,” moaned Mr Never Cooked.  Well of course it does if they have a successful business, people waiting, and cook everything from fresh. What do you want, a pre-cooked horse patty that comes out in 3 minutes?

The place? Scruffy chic, kind of Rock and Roll, who cares? The burger, biggish, a bit more of the flattened ilk, quality meat, looks like beef, tastes like beef, they ask you how you want it cooked but it all comes out medium-well done. Chips that actually taste of potatoes. Nice fresh guacamole, red onions and salad. Big squeezy bottles of different sauces including a picante that is actually picante.

The fact is, and I’m embarrassed to admit it, I went to Wendy’s recently. I heard a lot of ex-pats squealing joyfully about this addition to BA’s cultural continuum. And while I’d tried Mickey D and Burger King in extremis, this sounded different. I don’t think we have them in England. The American dream or at least the genuine diner experience? Turns out it’s the same dross but with a rectangular burger, so it protrudes enticingly from the round bun. Disgusting all the same! And the interesting thing is, is that their equivalent, hyper processed, artificially enhanced, hamburger interloper combo (fries and a drink), is MORE expensive than the same at Hamburger Joint, a place where the potatoes taste shockingly of potatoes.

Hamburger Joint annoys me. It’s a business I’ve given a lot of thought to. Six months ago it wouldn’t have been difficult to compete in a market where it was virtually impossible to find an edible burger. Now, looking at how busy they are for their 55 peso Mexican combo’s, (with real potatoes and drink) maybe I should just ask for a franchise?

And by the way, the people were nice, enthusiastic, no problem changing the mistaken diet coke for the full fat version. I hope they stay that way as success leads to their commercial roll out! I hope they keep the 5 different homemade squeezy bottles of sauce, including a proper picante. More than anything, I hope they have got their numbers right and will stick around.

If so, count me in for the next 5 franchises boys!!!!!

And yes I know I repeated myself about the picante, but it has taken me years to train a couple of Chinese restaurants to up the spice levels to something detectable by the non-porteño human palate. Finding it in a Hamburger Joint, well how rare it that?

(No pictures with this review but you can click through to Lisa’s above; she takes better photos than me).

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3 thoughts on “Burger Joint – Cheap can leave you Cheerful!

    • Hey, hope you don’t object to me pointing to your blog for additional context!! Yes, thick and loose is my preferred method, though wouldn’t work on the parilla as they would disintegrate. Still, I may be the only guy in BA that insists a steak is best cooked in a pan????

      • haha Of course I don’t object! Thick and loose, it sounds so raunchy….!!
        And I think I’m feelin’ ya on the steak in a pan, especially in a cast-iron! Dried out and overcooked isn’t really my thing either….!! TEZ, WHERE ARE YOU?

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