July 25, 2018 by Gennefer Gross
You guys know I’m obsessed with burgers. The combination of buttery buns, juicy cuts of beef and blankets of cheese is one of life’s simple pleasures. And that’s the way I typically prefer to keep it: Simple.
My go-to recipe is a ground chuck x short rib x brisket blend, 70/30, smashed and griddled in pure glorious butter with gooey layers of American cheese, and either crisp white raw onion for crunch or roasted Vidalia onion to impart a diner-style warmth.I usually don’t even add any other condiments because the butter and meat fat seep into every nook and cranny, making each bite an unadulterated unctuous experience. Yes, that’s one of those pretentious food words like ‘umami’ and ‘maillard,’ but it’s really the best way to describe it. Look it up. Expand your food lexicon, friends.
Plus, as my good friend and burger expert George Motz says, “Grease is a condiment.”
But, when The Oaks Gourmet, a local wine and cheese shop, asked me to create a burger for one of their Tuesday ‘Burger Nights,’ I decided to get a little more creative. I still wanted that savory symphony of sizzling beef, swaddled in creamy cascades of cheese, but decided to add more depth of flavor and a few unexpected toppings. In other words, I wanted it to be comforting but decadent. And wholly original.
The Oaks uses an 8oz aged prime beef blend for their burgers, so I wanted to give it another meaty note. Remember my signature burger blend I mentioned above? Well, the reason I love it is because the chuck gives it that beefy flavor and is loaded with fat to keep the burger juicy; brisket brings a smack of salt and succulent umami; and short rib adds a rich undercurrent for extra moistness and steak-like decadence.
So, since I couldn’t alter their patty, I decided to add a different cut of meat on top. But, not just any meat – wagyu top round in a red wine demi-glace.
IN A RED WINE DEMI-GLACE.
I sliced it thin like a layer of roast beef you could pile on top without overpowering the burger, but would impart a tender texture and a rich, gravy-like reduction, reminiscent of a steakhouse sauce.
Meat flavor sorted.
Now, it was time to pick the cheese. If you follow me on Twitter or Instagram, you already now I’m pro the supreme meltiness of American cheese and emphatically anti-Cheddar that gets all stale, sweaty, and congealed as it cools… unless you transform it into a fondue. (This is the only exception to my rigid hashtag: #NeverCheddar rule.)
Top burger chefs like Ernesto Uchimura have been ‘Americanizing’ cheese for years, from his PCB Burger at Plan Check with Dashi ‘Americanized’ cheese to the Smash Burger at his new restaurant, Electric Owl, where he adds heavy cream to white cheddar to create a creamy texture that coats the meat like American but with a sharper, more potent flavor.
My own ‘Americanization’ came by way of Switzerland with a blend of Emmental, white cheddar, and gruyère, whipped into a melty mound of magnificence that, when poured over the meat, languishes in luscious layers until it flows proudly into a perfect pool of pure cheesy bliss, picking up robust red wine juices along the way.
At this point, I’ve achieved Parisian Bistro-level luxuriance with medium rare beef, shrouded in sticky strands of sumptuous cheese silk. On its own, it’s sheer, satisfying gluttony, but I wanted to add a touch of tang and bitterness to balance all that richness, and reached for the only greens I like: sautéed broccoli rabe.
Stick with me here.
It’s a bitter green so it cuts through the butter, cheese, and fatty meat while still adding some snap. Plus, its earthy, nutty flavor is the perfect complement to the nuttiness of the Emmental and fruity punch of gruyère. It’s not your typical burger topping, but it works beautifully with these ingredients, and unlike lettuce, actually conjures additional flavors. (I’m also firmly against lettuce of any kind. KEEP YOUR SALAD OFF MY BURGER!)
But, I still wasn’t ready to unveil my masterpiece. It needed something else. More crunch. One more layer of texture.
Definitely not pickles. Too tangy and all wrong for the gourmet gusto of this burger. Absolutely not tomato. Too slimy and the acid would fracture the plushness of my fondue. Onion could work. But not raw. Too zesty. Not roasted. Too one-note.
Wait… I’ve got it…
But I’m not talking low brow Bloomin’ Onion-style fare here. I opted for the caviar of onions – the sweet and sassy shallot, tempura fried into airy shoestrings of ever-so-slight crispness that would give you something to sink your teeth into without being overpowering. Shallots also pair well with red wine, turning that demi-glace into a dreamy destination for your tastebuds.
My final addition to what I decided to call “The Vanity Fair Burger” (because let’s face it, this is a chicly dressed amalgam of meat and cheese as alluring as the images in a glossy magazine), was an aioli. I know I said I don’t typically do a spread on my signature burger, but I love inventing aiolis (like the carrot one I created for my Coq Au Vin-wich grilled cheese, also for The Oaks Gourmet).
I didn’t want to do some basic ketchup-based ‘secret sauce’ tantamount to thousand island, but I wanted that velvety texture. So, I went for a Dijon mustard base. I also wanted something herbaceous to breathe some aromatic freshness into this lavish feast.
Rosemary would bring the piney pop I craved… and VOILÀ! The Vanity Fair Burger was complete, an exclusive peek behind the velvet rope in food form, dazzling your eyes and senses with its succulent star power as you’re ushered into some of the most spectacular flavors you’ve ever encountered.
This burger is an invitation to experience how the other half lives. And for a few glorious bites, you’ll swear you’ve got an Amex Black card in your wallet. (Spoiler alert: You don’t.) But you do have an award-winning burger in your belly. You know, if there were an Oscars category for Best Burger, which really, there should be. Imagine the food at the after party…