Bun fight: Mark Hix takes on the humble burger

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The once humble burger, now much celebrated and discussed, can come in many delicious variations

There is a celebratory day for almost every kind of food you can think of, but I must admit ‘National Burger Day’ on 27 August completely passed me by. Maybe it was because the press were more focused on a court ruling allowing restaurants to keep rare hamburgers on the menu: the case was prompted by Westminster City Council, backed by the Food Standards Agency, and forced a London chain to stop serving rare burgers for fear of not killing off harmful bacteria without a thorough cooking of the meat. 

The ruling was overturned by the courts, but the whole argument is a wake-up call for restaurants that serve rare hamburgers and steak tartare. At least, for the time being, we can eat bloody hamburgers without looking over our shoulders for the food police, but this is probably not the last we’ll hear of it.

Regardless, with everyone from high-end restaurants to food trucks jumping on the burger bandwagon, it seems like every day is ‘National Burger Day’. We won’t run out of burger serving options in the near future.

Mini lamb burgers

Makes 10

Lamb mince generally contains a decent amount of fat to keep burgers moist during cooking – and it means they won’t be too dry when you get round to eating them.

300g good-quality minced lamb
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
A little vegetable or corn oil for brushing
10 mini burger buns

For the relish

½ a cucumber, halved lengthways and the seeds scooped out
2 shallots, peeled, halved and finely chopped
1tsp black mustard seeds
1tbsp caster sugar
1tbsp cider vinegar
12 or so mint leaves, chopped

Mould the lamb mince into 10 flat patties, using your mini burger buns as a guideline for size. You can also use a pastry cutter. Once done, refrigerate them until required.

Put the shallots in a pan with the mustard seeds, sugar and vinegar, add a few tablespoons of water and simmer until you have about 1 tablespoon of liquid left. Meanwhile, cut the cucumber into ½cm dice, add to the shallot mixture, stir on the heat for 20 seconds or so, then remove from the heat and transfer to a bowl; leave to cool. Finally, stir in the mint.

Heat a ribbed griddle or heavy frying pan, season the burgers, brush with a little oil and cook for 40-50 seconds on each side, keeping them nice and pink.

Meanwhile, toast or warm the burger buns. Cut the buns in half, serve the burgers with the cucumber relish, or separately, if you prefer.

Fish House burger

Serves 4

We serve this at the Oyster & Fish House in Lyme Regis. It’s great snacking material while sitting out on our terrace with an IPA.

300g firm white fish, like monkfish, boned and skinned
300g shelled weight of raw sea water prawns, de-veined
A good pinch of cayenne pepper and salt
1 bunch of spring onions, cleaned and  finely chopped
Fresh white breadcrumbs to coat
4 soft burger buns
6tbsp tartare sauce, spiced up with chilli sauce or Tabasco

Coarsely blend half of the white fish and half of the prawns in a food processor, season with the cayenne pepper and salt, then transfer to a bowl. Roughly chop the rest of the prawns and stir in with the fish mixture and spring onions. To test the mix for seasoning and consistency, make a little flat pattie, dredge with breadcrumbs and pan fry; re-season if necessary. Mould the remainder of the mix into 4 patties slightly larger than the buns and refrigerate for a couple of hours.

Heat a frying pan with a tablespoon of oil and cook the burgers on a medium heat for 3-4 minutes on both sides. Serve in a lightly toasted bun with spiced tartare sauce along with coleslaw or a herb salad and a lemon wedge on the side.

Hamburger with club sauce

Serves 4

You can make these hamburgers as thick or as thin as you like. Obviously, you can cook them rare, if you wish – the FSA is unlikely to show up at your door.

1.4kg good-quality minced rib steak or chuck, with 20-30 per cent fat
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
A little vegetable or corn oil for brushing
8 good-quality baps
2 medium red onions
8 large sweet pickled gherkins
2 beef tomatoes

For the club sauce

80g American mustard
320g tomato ketchup

Mix the mince to ensure that the fat is evenly distributed throughout, then mould it into 8 balls and shape them either with a burger press, if you own one, or by pushing the meat into a pastry cutter. Then put the hamburgers into the fridge to set the meat before cooking.Whisk together the tomato ketchup and American mustard for the club sauce.

Lightly toast the baps and keep them warm until you’re ready to serve. The hamburgers are best cooked on a barbecue or griddle plate, but a smoking-hot cast-iron pan will do: this seals in the juices and will give a nicely cooked, rare or medium-rare burger in a couple of minutes. Don’t cook them under the grill unless you have a red-hot American-style one, as this tends to boil the meat, making it dry and lacking in flavour.

Once the hamburgers are cooked to your preference, serve them in the baps with slices of red onion, gherkin, beef tomato and the club sauce.

Deer steak burger with green peppercorn sauce

Serves 4

Ask your butcher to add about 25 per cent  of minced beef fat into the minced deer meat you order, otherwise when you come to make the deer patties, they tend to cook up a bit too dry.

Ideally mince from a single cut such as shoulder works the best, but, as deer is not as common or as popular as other meats, you may need to go with what cuts your butcher has to hand.

500g coarsely-minced deer with 25 per  cent beef fat
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
A little vegetable or corn oil

For the sauce

4 shallots, peeled and finely chopped
A good knob of butter
2tsp flour
1tsp tomato purée
100ml red wine
50ml red wine vinegar
350-400ml beef stock
2tsp redcurrant jelly
1tbsp fresh or canned green peppercorns

Melt the butter in a thick-bottomed pan and gently cook the shallots for 2-3 minutes until lightly coloured. Add the flour and tomato purée and stir well over a low heat for a minute.

Gradually add the red wine and vinegar to the mix, stirring to avoid lumps forming, and then slowly add the beef stock and redcurrant jelly. Continue to give it a good whisk to remove any lumps.

Bring the sauce to the boil and simmer very gently for about 20-25 minutes, giving the occasional whisk, until the sauce has reduced by about two-thirds and thickened.

Add the peppercorns and re-season if necessary; then keep warm.

Meanwhile, mould the minced deer  into 4 patties about 1-1½cm thick. Heat  a ribbed griddle, barbecue or heavy  frying pan, brush with a little oil and cook the chopped steaks for about 3-4 minutes on each side, keeping them nice and pink.

Transfer the burgers to warmed plates, spoon the green peppercorn sauce over them and serve.

The burgers are best cooked on a barbecue or griddle

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