As the final entry of a three part series on perfecting homemade burgers, this one will focus on burger toppings and bread selection. If you missed either two of my previous columns on meat selection, or ingredients to add to the burger mix, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I will be more than happy to send them to you.
When building a burger from scratch, many people will tend to be scant with the toppings in order to minimize the amount of prep, but they’re missing the best opportunity to compliment the patty that they proudly created. Going without complimentary toppings is like having mashed potatoes without the gravy, or apple pie without the ice cream.
Mayo, mustard, relish, and ketchup are obvious additions. A classic, but essential way to also top any burger would be with the traditional lettuce, tomato and cheese, but there any many others to consider: bacon, onion (fresh or sautéed), pickles, etc. The main thing to remember that when adding vegetables (such as lettuce and tomato) make sure you season them with salt and pepper — this one step will dramatically enhance the flavor of your finished burger.
The toppings don’t have to stop there. There are countless others that could crown your masterpiece but there is not enough room in one column to list them all. They could be hot sauces, ethnic sauces, different types of mustards, salad dressings, dips, spreads, olives, sundried tomatoes, and an assortment of cheeses for example.
The type of bread/bun you choose could be based on many factors. Maybe you are creating a burger of a certain ethnic cuisine, such as an Italian burger; then I would use a type of Italian bread like a ciabatta bun for example. Or perhaps your burgers are quite messy because they are dripping with toppings; then I suggest a denser type bread/bun to help make it firmer when it comes to eating the burger. Try to stay away from the plain, generic, small white burger buns as they are just so ordinary and boring. Also toasting the bread/buns on the grill always adds more texture/flavor to your finished burger; brush lightly with oil and put directly on the grates of your barbecue until lightly charred and toasted.
One last note, always melt the cheese onto the burger patty during the last part of the cooking time, if using a melt-able cheese. Melted gooey cheese is more appealing in not only taste, but presentation as well.
Dear Chef Dez:
Someone once mentioned to me that there is a proper order to assembling a burger or sandwich for best flavor. Is this true, and if so what’s the secret to doing this?
Yes, there is a proper order for assembling a sandwich or burger. The rule I tend to follow is this: Strong flavors below the protein and light/creamy flavours above the protein. So for example on the bottom half of the bun/bread below your burger patty or meat slices you should put such ingredients as onions, ketchup, relish, mustard, etc. Layered on top of your protein should be items such as lettuce, tomato, cheese, mayo, etc. I have been told that because different taste buds at different locations on our tongues pick up different flavors, this is the best way to experience the finest a burger or sandwich has to offer your awaiting palate. If you don’t believe it, assemble it as I have suggested, take a bite, and then take a second bite with it upside down… the first bite will taste better.