Category Archives: Technique

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Burgers may seem like humble food but listen up- burger making is an art. There is certainly technique and timing involved if you want a juicy, crisp on the outside, juicy on the inside patty, a lightly toasted bun, and cold, crisp veggies that crunch with each bite. Listen, if you’re gonna make a burger, do it right or don’t do it at all.

This post is more about tips and techniques to help you make a better burger. For fun, I did make two different kinds: a classic American, and a teriyaki shiitake with spicy pickles. See below for the teriyaki sauce and pickle recipes, but if you want to up your burger-making game, read the whole post. To help you in the reading of this post, I’ve put all my burger-making rules in bold italic. Take notes.

Let’s start with the meat:

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They say 80/20 is best (80% lean, 20% fat), and I agree. Start by rolling the meat into even-sized balls.

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Smash each ball into a 1/2″-thick patty, smoothing out the edges so it doesn’t fall apart on the grill. Here’s a good rule of thumb: whatever size burger your making, always make your patty slightly bigger than the size of the bun, because there’s a lot of fat in those meat pucks and they WILL SHRINK as they cook. There are few things I dislike more than an excessive bun to meat ratio, so do this and you will thank me. Or I will thank you, whatever.

Another good rule of thumb (literally): After forming your burgers, stick your thumb into the middle of each patty to create an indentation, so that the center of each patty is thinner than the outside. Burgers tend to swell up in the middle as they cook, and if you have a completely flat raw patty, you will end up with more of a football-shaped patty when cooked. Making this little divot in the middle counteracts this burger phenomenon. This rule right here might be the only good thing I’ve gotten from Bobby Flay.

One last patty forming rule: try not to work the meat too much. The more loosely-packed the patty, the more tender it will be when you bite into it. The patty should just hold together so you can gently scoop it up without breaking it in half. Grease some foil on a cookie sheet and lay your patties on there as you wait for the grill to heat up, then the next important step:

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Place your patties in the freezer for a good 5-10 minutes so they chill and firm up. This is important for a couple reasons: 1. It makes handling your loosely-packed patties easier since cooling them down will firm them up and keep them in one piece, and 2. Chilling your meat and then placing them on a HOT grill will allow the outside to caramelize and crisp up before all the fat heats up and renders out, giving you JUICY burgers.

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SO, once your grill is SEARINGLY hot, drizzle a little olive oil on your patties, season liberally with S&P, and get those bad boys cooking. Listen- a lot of people like to fancy up their burgers with minced onions, chopped herbs, Worcestershire sauce, etc mixed into the meat. STOP THAT! I would say it’s permissible if you’re using other types of meat (like turkey or lamb), but if you’re using ground chuck (or better- chuck/rib/sirloin blend), just let the beef speak for itself. Salt, pepper, maybe some garlic powder is all you need.

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Ashy, glowing coals = HOT. Place your patties seasoned-side down, then season the other side while the bottom is cooking. 1-2 minutes on each side should do it.

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Flip your patties. This is the time you want to brush on any sauces if you’re going for any specialty burger (e.g. teriyaki burger). If you’re going classic, wait another minute as your burger continues cooking.

If you’re gonna add cheese, which I suggest you do, wait till the burger is almost done to your liking, then lay your cheese (I prefer good ol’ gooey American) on each patty and cover the grill for about 15-30 seconds to allow the cheese to melt. If you’re using a thicker or heartier cheese (like swiss or sharp cheddar) put it on a little earlier because it takes longer to melt. Personally, I don’t know why you would ever use swiss though. That cheese is the worst.

Okay, that about does it for the burger cooking portion. Let’s work on some accoutrements:

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These are thinly sliced persian cucumbers with some salt added.

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This is what happens when you leave salt on thinly sliced cucumbers for 10-15 minutes.

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These are the salted cucumbers after you have squeezed out as much water as you could from them. Coincidentally, they are now ready for (quick) pickling.

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Add your vinegar, your sugar, your sesame oil, and voila!

By the way, this is what spicy sesame oil looks like: IMG_4681

I also sautéed some sliced shiitake mushrooms for this burger but forgot to take pictures. It’s pretty straightforward: sauté some thinly sliced shiitake mushrooms in olive oil and a little salt and soy sauce, reserve for burger topping.

OKAY let’s talk construction. For goodness sake, TOAST YOUR BUN. Having a nice, crispy, buttered and toasted inner bun will add a little more depth in texture, and also protect your bun from getting too soggy and mushy once your patty is on there and dripping those delicious juices.

Another thing: BUN BREAD IS IMPORTANT. Any health benefit a dry, mealy, whole wheat bun can offer will not make up for the soft, pliable, toothsome and slightly sweet goodness you would be missing out on if you had a Martin’s Potato Bun instead. It’s no secret that these are the buns used by my beloved Shake Shack, so if it’s good enough for the Shack, then it’s probably way too good for me. But whatever I’m using it.

So yeah, toast your bun. You could simply slather a little mayo or melted butter on the inside of your bun and throw it on the grill (open side down, of course).

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Then assemble! I like to keep all the raw components nice and cold– lettuce, tomato, and pickles stay in the fridge until time to build. My beloved In-N-Out keeps their veggies cold and crisp, and if it’s good enough for them… you get the idea.

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Yum. I just like a little mayo on my burgers, but feel free to add whatever sauces you like. If you want a Shack Sauce clone recipe, check it out here: epicurious’ secret sauce clone.

Happy Grilling!

BURGERS:

INGREDIENTS:

1 1/2 lbs ground 80/20 chuck (80% lean, 20% fat, grass fed if you can swing it)
House seasoning (equal parts salt, pepper, and garlic powder)

DIRECTIONS:

Get the charcoal going on the grill.

Divide beef into 12 equal balls. The easiest way to do this is to divide all the beef into 2 halves, divide the halves into threes, and divide each third in half again. Roll each portion into a loosely packed ball.

Press each ball into a patty between your palms, then using your thumb, press a little indent into the middle of each patty. The patty should be slightly bigger in diameter than the buns you use (I’d say about 10-15% bigger).

Throw the patties in the freezer for 5 minutes, pull them out, season tops with garlic salt and pepper. Make sure the grill is HOT HOT HOT*, then throw them seasoned-side down on the grill. While grilling, season the other side the same way. Flip each burger once the bottom is browned and there are visible grill marks (about 1-2 minutes, depending on how “done” you want your burger, I like mine medium-just a little pink in the middle).

After flipping, add your cheese (for the classic burger) or brush with teriyaki sauce (for the shiitake burger), cover, and grill another 30 seconds or so until the cheese melts.

*chilling the patties, then grilling them on a super hot grill will let the patties brown and caramelize without all the fat rendering out right away. This is how you get juicy burgers, boiiiiiiii.

EASY TERIYAKI SAUCE:

INGREDIENTS:

1/2 cup soy sauce or tamari
1/4 cup rice wine (sake or shiaoshing cooking wine is fine)
1 tbsp honey
1 tsp fresh grated ginger
1/4 cup pineapple juice

DIRECTIONS:

Combine all ingredients and simmer over medium low heat until the sauce has thickened slightly and reduced about 10% (10-15 minutes).

QUICK SPICY PICKLES:

INGREDIENTS:

1 Persian Cucumber, thinly sliced
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1 tbsp rice wine vinegar
1 tsp sugar
1/2 tsp sesame oil
1/2 tsp spicy sesame oil

DIRECTIONS:

In a bowl, sprinkle salt over the cucumbers. Let sit at room temperature about 20-30 minutes as the moisture gets pulled out. When you see about a tablespoon of liquid at the bottom of the bowl, stir the cucumbers around and in small handfuls squeeze out any remaining liquid from the cucumber slices.

In a separate bowl, mix the squeezed out cucumber slices with the vinegar, sugar, and both sesame oils. Refrigerate until ready to use.

SAUTÉED SHIITAKE MUSHROOMS:

INGREDIENTS:

2 cups Thinly sliced shiitake mushrooms
1 tsp Soy Sauce
1 tbsp Olive Oil
Salt

DIRECTIONS:

Saute the mushrooms in the oil over medium high heat, sprinkle salt and a splash of soy to the mushrooms, cook until tender.

Beer Pairing Recommendation: Anything. Really. It’s a burger. Go crazy! Okay if you’re really lost on this, I’ll give you a suggestion: Bear Republic Hop Rod Rye. Hoppy, peppery, but not so bold that it will overwhelm the burger. Enjoy!

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Rotisserie Chicken Stock

Waste not, want not. Let’s make some stock with that leftover rotisserie chicken from the tortilla soup!

Did you know there is a difference between stock and broth? I just learned this. Stock and broth are both made basically the same way: scraps of meat, bone, and a few vegetables boiled down in water like some slow-brewed meat tea. Stock usually ends there and is not especially tasty on its own, but when used as a base for a sauce, soup, or in place of water to cook grains, it can add something really special to your food. (Source: thekitchn)

Broth, on the other hand, can be further seasoned with salt, pepper, some wine, or other herbs and can be really delicious just on it’s own. I remember after the first race I ever ran (the 10-mile Broad Street Run in Philadelphia), they served cups of hot Swanson’s broth at the finish line and it was like I was eating at The French Laundry.  Just delicious and really hit the spot.

So I’m going to show you how to make a stock. It’s not really rocket surgery  but here it is.

Here’s your chicken, devoid of breast and leg/thigh meat. A shadow of it’s former glorious self. But wait, there’s potential in those bones.

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I like to shred off even more of the meat before throwing it in the stock pot, it’s up to you what you want to do. The more meat you leave on, the more flavorful the stock, but I think it’s plenty flavorful with just the bones and skin, and that meat is just too good to boil all of it down.

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I threw in half an onion. Most people would say throw in a carrot and celery as well (a mirepoix) but I didn’t have any. Also, I’m not making that much stock so adding more vegetables would add more sugars and would have made the stock kind of sweet.

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Add water, bring to boil, cover, simmer.

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2 hours later… like magic.

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Don’t get lazy now. If you try just using a slotted spoon to get out all the bones it’s gonna take you FOREVER. Put a wire colander in a bowl and drain that stock.

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It’s so beautiful

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There you have it. Easy as pie. Speaking of pie, this will make a fine base for a rotisserie chicken pot pie.

ROTISSERIE CHICKEN STOCK

Bones and skin of 1 Rotisserie chicken, most of the meat removed
1 Half an onion
8 cups of water

Place all ingredients in a pot, bring to boil, then reduce heat and simmer, covered, for 2-3 hours. Drain stock through a wire colander into a large bowl. Discard bones.

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(Sort of) Pan Seared Chicken Breast

Okay, so technically this isn’t searing.  Searing is cooking your meat on a very hot surface for a few seconds on all sides to develop a crispy crust, then usually finishing the cooking process in a different medium at a lower temperature, like in the oven or in a braise. This tutorial isn’t that.

Here I’m just going to show you how I like to quickly cook a chicken breast so it’s flavorful, juicy, and tender, with a crispy outer crust. Whatever, I’m just gonna call it a seared chicken breast.

Contrary to popular belief, searing does not “seal in the juices” of your meat.  Here’s a good video about how they figure that. Sure, Alton Brown’s experiment has a small sample size, but similar experiments have been performed by plenty of others with the same results. Despite this, people are still searing their proteins.  Why? Because it’s delicious playa! Come on! Searing creates that beautiful caramelization and crispy crust on the outside, creating more complex flavors and a difference in textures between the outside and inside that makes your food interesting.

All “science” aside, I still like to think that the way I cook this chicken does help to retain a little more juiciness than more traditional searing methods, so without further ado, here’s how I do it:

First, you gotta start with a thin cut of your meat.  A whole chicken breast is way too thick and will probably burn on the outside before cooking all the way through the inside, so I cut it in half horizontally (or in the transverse plane, for you anatomy geeks). Here is a single breast, cut in two with the tenderloin separated, and well-seasoned on both sides:

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Get your pan hot on medium-high heat, add a little oil, and thrown those suckers on there. You should hear a sizzle as soon as it hits the pan.

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As soon as they’re in the skillet, cover it with a tight-fitting lid. You’ll immediately see the lid steam up, and this will allow the meat to essentially steam in its own juices will getting a nice sear on the bottom. Let this cook for about 90 seconds to 2 minutes.

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Once the lid is off, you can already see that the top of the chicken is starting to cook even though it hasn’t touched the cooking surface yet. Check it!

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Flip those bad boys over, cover the skillet again, and cook for another 90 seconds or so.

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You’ll end up with a nice, crispy on the outside, moist and tender on the inside, beautifully caramelized and flavorful chicken breast that you can chop up and toss into a salad, throw between two buns to make a sandwich, or just snack on if you’re trying to bulk after doing some squats.

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Here’s the recipe for the kale salad above, in case you’re interested!

This is a great way to cook any protein filet: chicken, fish, steaks, pork chops, etc. Give it a try, why don’t you.

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Know Your Knives: Grip

What’s the most important tool in the kitchen? Your knife, you say? NOPE. It’s your hands. You could have a world-class chef’s knife made by Hattori Hanzo himself, but if you don’t know what to do with your hands it’s not gonna do you any good. So let’s talk about how to use your knife, mmkay?

The most popular knife grip in the kitchen is called the pinch grip. Here you pinch the spine of the knife right above the handle between your thumb and curled forefinger, then wrap the rest of the fingers around the handle. This grip gives you control, power, and precision during your knife work.

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Now it’s just as important to know what to do with your other hand when chopping, because you don’t want to end up with bits of your fingers in your meal.

While you’re chopping away with your knife in your dominant hand, the other will of course be guiding the food. Now if you don’t get anything else out of this post, please remember this one thing: FINGERTIPS IN!!! I had to learn this the hard way, but you are MUCH more likely to nick yourself if you guide the food with your fingertips spread out, rather than tucked in under your knuckles. Keep the fingertips in, and the knuckles can rest comfortably against the flat side of the blade, and that is a winning combination for no cuts.

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Happy chopping.

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(source: Knives Cooks Love, by Sarah Jay)

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Know Your Knives: Selection

This is important: THROW AWAY those dull, flimsy, stamped metal, $3.99 Ikea knives you bought back in college that couldn’t cut through Jell-O, and buy yourself a DECENT chef’s knife #realtalk.

For serious, the first time I cut through a tomato with a good, sharp, chef’s knife was a revelation to me. The knife glided through the skin without effort, went straight through the flesh down to the opposite side, and created a perfect circular slice begging to be placed on a burger. I was shocked. All those years of forcefully sawing through the skin of ripe tomatoes with sub-par knives, only to get deformed, oblong slices that were paper thin on one side and stupid fat on the other, wasted! If only I had a better knife, I could have been slicing with ease. Listen: making the change from a junk knife to a good knife can change your entire perspective on cooking.

So do yourself a favor, go to your local kitchenware store that has a decent selection of knives, and invest in something good to cut with. I guarantee* your enjoyment of cooking will increase ten-fold.

To get you ready for your purchase, I’d like to introduce you to my knife.  A no-frills, German-made Wüsthof Classic 8″ Chef’s Knife. Say hello, and note all the different parts:

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This may sound funny, but get to know your knife anatomy. All kitchen knives have these components and knowing about their variations is what will help you to select your knife. Not seen in this picture is the tang, which is the metal strip that extends from the blade and is usually covered by the handle, and actually plays a really important role in balancing the knife.

Selecting a knife is a little like buying a car. Different models perform differently, and the different performances will appeal to different people. Also, you’re buying something that you’ll probably be using for years to come, so most importantly, always take the product on a test run before making your purchase.  When shopping, you’ll mainly encounter two styles of knives: European and Japanese (again much like cars, coincidentally). Here we’ll break down a couple of the more popular knife types out there:

European: Usually heavier, with a thicker spine, and a bigger bolster that comes all the way down to the heel, which adds some weight and leverage. Pros: Good for more heavy duty jobs like breaking down a chicken or cutting through thick winter squashes, ergonomic handle, the larger bolster can act as a finger guard if you’re worried about getting nicked. Cons: Not that pretty to look at, heaviness can cause you to fatigue faster if doing a lot of knife work, not as good at jobs that require a little finesse or a sharper edge, like thinly slicing fish.

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Japanese: Usually lighter, with a thinner, rounded spine, smaller bolster (if any) at the end of the handle, usually has a cylindrical handle made of wood. Pros: The lighter knives allow for more maneuverability and control, thinner knives can have and maintain a sharper edge (especially because a lot of Japanese knives are made of high-carbon steel), thus making slicing delicate foods easier, smaller bolster makes it easier to sharpen the entire length of the blade, and last but not least, they are just beautiful knives. Seriously they are sexy. Cons: Not ideal for heavy duty jobs like breaking down a chicken, knives tend to be more brittle and the cutting edge requires more maintenance than the European style.

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Carbon Steel: Carbon steel knives are starting to gain popularity again after about a century hiatus.  These are the blades people used to use before stainless steel was invented/perfected. They’re worth mentioning here just because I think they are bad ass. They tend to tarnish really fast and start looking like some medieval Game of Thrones blade after a while. They’re also easier to sharpen and maintain a sharper edge for a longer period of time.  If you take care of them and use the right cutting board you don’t have to sharpen them for like a year. Pros: They’re sharp and bad ass. Cons: A TON of maintenance and they rust right away if you don’t wash and dry them vigilantly. Also, although very sharp, they are more brittle and not as flexible so not great for heavy duty jobs.

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Ceramic: I’m just gonna come out and say I probably will never buy a ceramic knife.  I think they look like little toy knives. But from what I’ve read, they supposedly keep their edge for much longer than your typical high-carbon steel knives, and tend to be lighter than stainless steel. Pros: Very sharp, very light, great for chopping veggies and boneless meats, more affordable. Cons: Looks like a kid’s toy (at least the white ceramic ones do), very brittle, not good for heavy duty jobs.

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So there you go. For me, I tend to like the weight and the sturdiness of a European-style knife, and I just don’t think I have the discipline for all the maintenance required for a carbon knife.  One day I’d like to get a Japanese knife but for now my Wüsthof Classic is serving me well. But like I said, choosing a knife is a very personal thing, so what works for me will not necessarily work for you. Think about what you’re probably going to use your knife for most and go from there, and for goodness sake, go out and try some knives. See how they feel in your hand, try chopping a couple veggies if the store lets you (you might want to bring some of your own veggies to chop, or some stores, such as Sur La Table, usually have celery and carrots available for you), and get an idea of what you like and what’s comfortable. Don’t get caught up by brand names or by the sheer beauty of a knife. Unless you’re going to display it in your trophy case or if you’re going to juggle it in a circus, it really doesn’t matter what your knife looks like. Happy hunting!

Another little tidbit: A good knife should well-balanced if you hold it at the end of the handle, and angle slightly towards the blade side, like so:

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Okay I hope this helps if you’re still reading.  Now go out and TREAT YO’ SELF!

(resource: Knives Cooks Love, by Sarah Jay)

*guarantee not guaranteed.

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Scoring A Fish

(From Whole Roasted Porgy with Root Vegetables Post)

Cooking fish whole will give you a nice presentation with little wasted meat, plus you’ll have bones and the head leftover to make into a stock if you’re so inclined.  The problem with cooking a whole fish is that you’re dealing with a varying thicknesses of the meat from head to tail, so it’s very easy to get overcooked meat in the thinner areas such as by the tail, while the meat in the middle of the fish stays raw. Not pleasant. To correct this, many cooks will score a fish to allow for more even cooking.

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When you “score” a fish that means you cut into the flesh of the fish in the thickest parts of the meat to allow for even cooking. Cut at an angle towards the head, as if you were cutting another gill into the flesh. Try not to get all the way to the bone. Depending on how big the fish is, you may need 2 or 3 scores.

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Once you’ve scored your fish, you can cook it however you like, roasted with veggies, as above, pan fried with oil and ginger, or you can dredge the whole thing in flour and seasonings and have yourself a fish fry with some lemon wedges on the side. That’s good eatin.

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