Rise of street foods Gourmet burgers — Part 2

With the rise of late night food stands across Fiji, Chef Seeto delves into the myths and history of some of our favourite hand-held foods and shares some delicious recipes to enjoy at home or to sell on the street.

ONE reader was recently surprised to see me in a local burger eatery and said she didn’t expect to see me eating burgers! I asked “Why not?” Although you would not find me in one every day, I do like to indulge in American snack food every now and then.

The secret is to not let fast foods become an everyday habit, and besides, burger restaurants are an example of how even the cheapest cuts of meats and simplest ingredients can be turned into something fulfilling and at times, deliciously tasty. The introduction of Burger King to Fiji’s fast food landscape was met with mixed reactions last year as burgers are not endemic to our normal diet and many question the value of a $20 burger meal deal compared with say, a local barbecue pack.

However, with both BK and McDonald’s now advertising and marketing widely, their presence can only further encourage people to eat out more and thus expand the local dining scene. While the fast food chains may be seen as junk food because of their highly manufactured and processed ingredients, celebrity chefs around the world are playing their part in influencing a new wave of burgers that aren’t so processed and look just as good as their advertised picture; the gourmet burger.

Why are they

called hamburgers?

As with any iconic food, the history of the hamburger is a long and sordid tale from the minced meat that Mongol horsemen put under their saddles and gnawed on during conquests to the iconic patty’s much-contested state-fair beginnings in the US. Like most American foods, the burger has immigrant roots, sailing over from Germany as the Hamburg steak; a minced meat patty with onions and seasoning.

The difference between the Hamburg steaks and hamburgers we know today, is the bun.

Two simple pieces of bread launched the Hamburg steak into nationwide popularity in the mid-1800s, when many Americans found industrial jobs in factories. When steam powered factories began operating through the night hours, food carts offering coffee and small food items were often parked outside. Hungry workers would order food through a window and eat quickly before heading back inside to work. A few years later, when food carts came equipped with gas grills, Hamburg steaks started showing up on their menus.

While customers enjoyed the Hamburg steak, it proved too difficult to eat while standing. Placing the patty between two slices of bread solved this problem, and the hamburger sandwich, just like the hot dog, was born.

Who was the first to serve the Hamburg steak as a sandwich? The details have been lost to history. Whoever it was, looking back it might be considered a stroke of culinary genius.

By the turn of the century, the burger with no ham, had become a part of American culinary history.

Birth of the burger chain

Unless you’ve seen the movie Harold and Kumar Go To White Castle (a highly recommended comedy), you might not know of the first burger chain that opened before BK and McDonalds. In 1921, Billy Ingram and Walter Anderson opened the first fast food hamburger establishment, White Castle, in Wichita, Kansas. Their main offering was a small 5 cent hamburger which they encouraged customers to purchase by the sack.

At that time many Americans were concerned with the sanitary practices of the meat industry. White Castle addressed the fears of their customers by furnishing their clean, white-decorated restaurants with stainless steel countertops that could be easily wiped down. Their hamburger meat was ground in plain sight, ensuring patrons that they were paying for a quality meal. Around the same time, hamburgers became a popular menu item at roadside diners and soda shops where they were often served alongside French fries and milkshakes.

During World War II, American soldiers took hamburgers overseas with them as they were easy to make and helped to cure some of the homesickness felt by the troops. When the McDonald brothers opened their Burger Bar Drive-In in San Bernardino, California in the 1940s, the hamburger made its official debut in the suburbs. By that late 1950s, McDonald’s had sold over 100 million hamburgers. Today, they sell over 75 hamburgers per second!

Today, hamburgers can be found in nearly every part of the world. Over time the concept has evolved and meat patties are covered with an endless variety of creative, tasty toppings. The meat patties themselves have been replaced with healthier options, including black bean, turkey, lentils, chicken and fish burgers.

Fast food chains have also become more adventurous with their patties to attract customers who’ve become bored with the plain beef patties. At MOS burger in Japan, you can order a rice burger, and McDonald’s in India developed a McAloo Tikki Burger made from fried potatoes and peas topped with tomatoes, onions and spicy condiments, to satisfy the dietary restrictions and taste preferences of their Hindu diners. Maybe Fiji’s Macca’s might one day introduce the McLovo Burger — two lovo beef patties, lettuce, palusami, pickled onions on a coconut lolo bun (sung to the tune of the famous Big Mac advertising ditty!)

Cooking the

ultimate burger

Grilling burgers does not involve complicated rocket science. You just need to stick to the basic pointers mentioned here.

1) Choose ingredients

for the patty

Choose the right balance of meat and ingredients for a juicy burger patty. If you are set on a low-calorie diet, you can use lean red meats that contain about 10 per cent fat. Otherwise, go for standard minced meat that contains 20 to 30 per cent fat.

Most prefer beef but you can substitute for pork, lamb meat, chicken or a mixture of all. Just make sure there is a little fat to ensure it is not too dry.

2) Focus on the flavouring

Don’t make the mistake and let tomato sauce be the major flavour! The meat patty itself should be good enough to eat on its own so let the creative juices flow when it comes to flavouring burgers. You can use fresh herbs such as basil, thyme, rosemary or coriander or aromatic ingredients such as ginger, garlic, mustard and ground spices like coriander, cumin, and oregano. And of course don’t forget the salt and black pepper! I like to taste the mixture raw to check if is seasoned properly but if eating raw meat is not to your liking, cook a small bit first and taste it.

3) Binding the ingredients

Once you have the mince flavoured, you generally need an ingredient to hold it all together otherwise the meat tends to fall apart. Traditional recipes for burger patties used breadcrumbs, biscuit crumbs or a touch of flour but a beaten egg will do the trick nicely.

4) Shaping the patties

Once you achieve a perfect combination of different ingredients, use your hands to shape this mixture into perfect size patties. Take a scoop full of mixture and squash it flat against your palm to shape them into a patty. If you are making plenty of patties for a big family, use cling film to separate them on a tray so you can easily layer them on top of each other.

5) Refrigerate the

patties for better results

For the best results on achieving a firm meat patty, do not immediately start cooking the burgers. Refrigerate the patty for at least 20 minutes before you start cooking as the chilling firms up patties, keeps them in a good shape and prevents the patty ingredients from falling apart. If you are running short of time, you can freeze them for 10 minutes. You can also make a big batch and store them in an airtight bag or container for later defrost and use.

6) Grilling patties

One of the biggest mistakes people make is continuously squashing the meat patty on the grill to try and make them cook faster. Don’t do it! By pushing them with a spatula you are releasing all the juicy goodness, which dries the patty. The heat should not be medium as the patty needs time to cook through to its centre.

Like cooking a steak, you should avoid continuously turning the patty. Cook one side and watch the meat change colour until halfway up the height of the patty, then turn it over to repeat the same. Also avoid cooking them over an open flame as this can also dry and blacken the patty. A flat grill plate or frying pan is preferred as the heat will seal each side and help the patty retain its moisture.

Brush the patties with a few drops of olive or coconut oil and cook them for eight to nine minutes on each side. Check the colour of the meat. It should be deep brown and not pink. Once done, add you cheese on at the end so it melts nicely.

7) Toast the bun

The reason you toast the buns is to help seal the bread which helps avoid serving a soggy bun by preventing the sauce and patty moisture from seeping in. The toasting also adds some crunchy texture to the eating experience.

Making burgers at home is great fun for the whole family as you can lay out a choice of ingredients and sauce for people to make their own creation. Gourmet burgers are much more than just lettuce, tomato and cheese. Use whatever your taste buds love to create the ultimate homemade burger.

On Mana Island earlier in the year, I needed a special burger to cater for part of a 300 US film crew who would turn up at 11am looking for munchies and a hangover cure! And so, my hangover burger was born with crunchy fried onion rings, bacon rashers, a tangy horseradish cream and a runny sunnyside up egg that bursts its yolk as you bite into it. Drool. How do you like your burger?

* Lance Seeto is a celebrity chef and culinary ambassador for Fiji Airways and the Ministry of Industry, Trade and Tourism.

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