As part two of a series of three columns on perfecting homemade burgers, this one will focus on ingredients to add to the hamburger mix, and the next column will be on burger toppings and bread selection. If you missed my previous column on meat selection, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I will be more than happy to send it to you.
There are literally countless ingredients one can add to their hamburger mix to create a flavorful burger patty, and trying to cover all of them in a single food column would be next to impossible. Therefore, I will focus on some general tips and a handful of unique ideas for you. Firstly, please understand that the burger patty itself should be flavorful and don’t rely on just the toppings to make it taste good. If it doesn’t taste good on its own, you are not done making the burger patty yet.
Let your pantry and spice rack be your guide. Think of the type of burger you would like to create based on what you have on hand. Maybe you would like to create an Italian burger? Then use herbs such as basil and oregano and add lots of garlic. An Asian type burger would be better suited with sesame oil, sesame seeds, and maybe some Chinese 5-spice powder. A Southern Louisiana type burger may come together with some cayenne pepper, onion, garlic, and a flavorful paprika. A Greek burger could be made with oregano, rosemary, tons of garlic, and maybe some crumbled feta cheese.
Cheeses are a great way to not only introduce flavor but also to add moisture. A dry burger patty is not very palatable. Sometimes I will also include a chunk of melt-able cheese in the middle of each patty, like mozzarella, for a hidden cheesy center. Also, keep in mind the salt content of the cheeses you select; salt and pepper to your burger mix is crucial, but you don’t want it to be overly salty.
Breadcrumbs are not always necessary to make a good burger, and with the number of gluten intolerant people seemingly on the rise, this is more important to know than ever. Breadcrumbs act as a good binder to help hold the burger together by giving it some stability, but breadcrumbs also tend to dry out the burger as well. Some of my best burger creations were created without any breadcrumbs at all and just relying on eggs to hold the patties together when cooking. Keep in mind that the number of wet ingredients one is adding to the mix must then be kept to a minimum as there will be no crumbs to soak up the excess moisture. You can also serve burger patties in lettuce cups, which I find is a refreshing change from regular burger buns.
Probably the best tip I can share when cooking red meat is to add a small amount of dark berry jam, like blueberry jam or blackberry jam to your raw hamburger mix. The dark full-bodied flavor of the jam compliments the full-bodied flavor of red meat very well. This is a trick I have used many times when creating such red meat dishes as meat loaf, tomato meat sauce, and burgers. An approximation of two measured tablespoons of dark berry jam to each pound of red meat should result in a complimentary effect.
My last suggestion is to simply be resourceful. Armed with a knife and a cutting board, a look in the refrigerator may uncover such hidden gems to add to the mix such as pickles, hot peppers, capers, anchovies, olives, sundried tomatoes, celery, and bell peppers for example. Let your imagination run wild and you may become famous for your creation.
Dear Chef Dez:
My homemade burger patties always taste bland or at least never have as much flavor as I expect there should be.
When creating a burger patty from scratch it is always good to taste it before all the patties are formed and cooked off. This way you have a chance to adjust the seasonings before they are served. I am not suggesting you eat the raw meat. Instead take a small meatball sized amount of the raw mixture, flatten it into a miniature patty and cook it thoroughly in a small pan. This will give you an opportunity to taste, and adjust any ingredients and seasonings before proceeding to the grill.