Burgermeister Meisterburger probably likes Hamburgers too.
With Christmas soon approaching and holiday meal planning in full swing, this is the perfect time for a hamburger. Why not a lengthy discussion on the criminality of fruitcake or helpful tips on how to turn leftover holiday victuals into a traditional Indian feast? Because the last thing you want to do when you’ve just spent two hours looking at Christmas recipes you want a rest from holiday food. You want a burger, a beer, and a rerun of Louis before your holiday frustration leads you to take down the plastic reindeer on your neighbor’s roof with grandpa’s hunting rifle.
What do you think of when you think of a great hamburger? Do you think of a grey disk of meat product engineered to exacting specifications, veiled in polystyrene and sold to fleshy humanoids queued up like ants to a spilled soda? Is a great burger a hand-formed patty of seared goodness served in the diner your grandfather introduced you to as a child? Maybe it’s that saucer-sized round of fresh ground beef, sizzling on the backyard grill. A great burger is like a great girlfriend; elusive and particular to everyone’s individual tastes. (nice buns don’t hurt either)
We regularly see the hosts on the Food Network go into ecstatic foodgasms because they ate a freshly picked vegetable or a slice of beef from a cow they just met in the last scene. Eating a dish made with fresh ingredients that have shared the same region’s soil, water and climate makes an enormous difference in the taste. The classic icon of American foodways, the hamburger, is a great showpiece for that idea because unless you grew up in an underground bunker you’ve probably eaten what you thought was a pretty good hamburger that you can use as a comparison. When you eat a burger that is made from fresh, local ingredients you’ll feel like the prisoner released from Plato’s cave and will never see your hamburger the same again.
A classic American burger starts with a great bun. There are bakeries in town where you can buy well made hamburger buns, but warm, fresh bread made with your own two paws is a pleasure only topped by love, sex, and news that Guy Fieri has been taken off the air. The difference between bread made with store-bought white, refined flour and freshly milled whole wheat flour is even more dramatic. White, refined flour has had its bran and germ stripped off like a cheap prom dress while freshly milled whole wheat flour has its bran and germ still intact. That means the flavor will stick around because it still respects you. And as an added reward you get the nutritional benefits of the bran and germ directly. That’s why white, enriched flours have to be enriched. They were made nutritionally bankrupt in the refining process so they need enriching. Refining removes 14 vitamins, 10 minerals, and protein leaving the starch alone to wreak havoc on your waistline, while enriching only replaces four of the vitamins. That said, the quality of fresh milled flour that appeals most to me is that it is cheap and it has so much more flavor!
Locally, Sonrisa Farm produces fresh, stone milled, sustainably grown whole-wheat flour, as well as wheat bran, pancake mix, and wheat grain. These Chattanooga residents grow their wheat on a family farm in Colquitt, GA, which is then stone ground at Falls Mill in Belvidere, TN, bagged and sold at the Main Street Farmers Market. I made burger buns with their whole wheat flour and it gave the burger a depth of flavor and texture that paired perfectly with the unctuous flavor of local ground beef.
The heart of every burger is, of course, the meat. Keep it simple, fresh and stay away from Bi-Mart ground beef unless you like your burger to have the flavor of a soggy rice cake. Cows raised in the Tennessee Valley produce very tasty beef that is increasingly easy to find at local farmers markets. For example, Creekridge Farms is a family owned and operated 200 acre farm in Chickamauga Ga. Their cows are grass fed, Red Angus, free range, USDA inspected and delicious.
When you are dealing with fresh, natural, grass-fed beef keep the seasoning minimal. You don’t want anything to compete with the flavor of the meat so just season with salt and pepper. Don’t mash the patties into shape like you’re trying to make diamonds, just loosely form them into patties and make an indention with your thumb in the center of the patty before cooking. This will ensure it cooks evenly and won’t plump up into a football shape as it cooks. If you quickly sear your burger in a very hot cast iron skillet then finish to temp in the oven all of those delicious juices will stay with the burger in the skillet rather than being lost in the fire or drip pan to be discarded like a Crazy Town CD.
The Rest of The Story
The final touches to your meat masterpiece should not include the latest fad or accessory. Stick to the classics - lettuce, onion, tomato, pickle, ketchup, mayo, and maybe cheese. Since winter is upon us some of these things become a bit more of a challenge to find but check out the vendors at the farmers market or at least buy from a local, independent grocer. Lee and Gordon Greens, Pocket Farm, or tAnt Hill Farm all provide beautifully flavored lettuces and greens while a provider like Sequatchie Cove Creamery sells some of the only cows cheese in the area. Goat cheese is wonderful, but I stick with cow’s cheese for classic burgers.
As the holidays approach be sure and continue to support your local restaurants, farmers, and grocers. They will truly appreciate your business and you can casually one-up the in-laws when someone asks, “Where did you get that wonderful beef?”
New Stuff on the Food Scene
- Word on the street is that Blue Plate is partnering with Benton’s Smokehouse and River Ridge Farms to bring some killer bacon and ham to the Blue Plate. Great partnership!
- Rumor has it that a new, unique, and affordable restaurant is coming to Market Street near Panera Bread.
- Another big chain is coming to Chattanooga. Noodles & Co. is set to bring their odd mix of Asian, Mediterranean, and American noodle dishes to the city.
- Southern Burger Company’s food truck is opening a stationary restaurant in Warehouse Row next month. No more chasing them down to get your jalapeno burger with bacon jam.