Saturday 25 August 2012

Recreating a chargrilled taste at home: Peppered Burgers with Smoky Cheese & Puffy Onion Rings

When I order a burger meal in a restaurant, I expect the Full Monty: rustling chips, brittle golden onion rings, a juicy patty that tastes of fire and smoke, and lots of piquant relishy bits. It’s not easy, admittedly, to replicate the bells-and-whistles steakhouse experience in a domestic kitchen using ready-made burger patties, but there are some sneaky strategies you can use to create what comes close to that essential char-grilled taste on a stove top, and to produce super-crisp chips and onion rings that are at least as good – if not better – than those from your local steakhouse.

Peppered Burgers with Smoky Cheese & Puffy Onion Rings
Here's a recipe I've created for Woolworths South Africa's Blogger Burger Off*. This is a vote-based challenge (and something I'm not very keen on, because the very thought of having to beg for online votes makes my ears bleed).

[Postscript (15 September 2012): I won the burger challenge with this recipe.] 

Instead of begging, may I take this opportunity to introduce you to my burger 'opponent', South African blogger Alida Ryder of Simply Delicious. Alida is a gifted young cook, photographer, mother of twins and food blogger whose first cookbook Simple & Delicious – Recipes from the Heart is about to be published by Penguin books. Here's a short video that sums up Alida's easy, light and bright approach to home cooking. I think she's a TV star in the making! 

But back to the smoky burgers. This will takes some time and effort – as all good food does – so if you’re in a hurry to whip up a quick Friday feast, feel no shame in slapping these burgers together and serving them with oven chips and a squirt of tomato sauce: they’ll still taste great.  Or, thinking ahead, you can start the night before: make the tomato relish, parboil and refrigerate the chips, slice the onions and mix together the dry ingredients for the onion batter, all ready for the big event.  

Everyone has their own favourites when it comes to burger toppings (I’m partial to earthy mushroom sauces, blue cheese, bacon and rocket, although not necessarily all on one burger) I think the time-tested components of a classic burger take an awful lot of beating: very crisp, frilly lettuce, melty, mild cheese, a good toasted bun and of course lashings of good tomato sauce.  

To recreate the smoky taste of a chargrilled burger, I’ve used Woolies’ BBQ marinade and some nutty, smoked provolone, and a scorching-hot ridged griddle pan. If you don’t have a ridged pan, use a big frying pan, but make sure it’s very, very hot.  If your kitchen isn’t wreathed in smoke while you’re cooking the patties, the pan’s not hot enough.   Leave out the cracked peppercorns if you’re feeding small kids. The spices in the relish recreate the classic flavourings of tomato ketchup, but you can leave some of them out if you don’t have them to hand.

 * I was paid by Woolies to develop this recipe.  We were restricted to using pre-prepared Woolworths burger patties and rolls. 

Peppered Burgers with Smoky Cheese, Tomato Relish, Puffy Onion Rings and Fat Chips

For the burgers:
8 (800 g) thick burger patties
1 cup (250 ml) Woolies Smoky BBQ Marinade, or similar
juice of a half a lemon
flaky sea salt
2 Tbsp (30 ml) black peppercorns, coarsely cracked
4 nice crusty ciabatta rolls, or fresh burger rolls
2 baby gem lettuces

For the onion rings:
2 large white onions, peeled
1 cup (250 ml) self-raising flour
3 Tbsp (45 ml) cornflour
1 tsp (5 ml) salt, to taste
1 x 200 ml tin ice-cold soda water
sunflower oil for frying

For the chips:
4 very large potatoes
a squeeze of lemon juice
flaky sea salt

For the tomato relish:
1 x 400 g punnet ripe, sweet cherry tomatoes
1 Tbsp (15 ml) olive oil
1 Tbsp (15 ml) balsamic vinegar
1 tsp (5 ml) sugar
a pinch (1.25 ml) each of ground cloves, nutmeg, allspice, cinnamon and paprika
salt and milled pepper, to taste

If you’re making chips, start them the day before, or at least six hours ahead. Bring a pot of salted water to the boil and add a squeeze of lemon juice. Peel the potatoes, trim them into rectangles and then cut them into neat batons as thick as your thumb. Immediately parboil the batons in the salted water for 6 minutes, or until they are just tender when pierced with the tip of a sharp knife, but still holding their shape. Drain in a colander for 30 minutes, spread on a tray and place them, uncovered, in the fridge to dry out for six hours or overnight.

To make the sauce, heat the oil in a pan until it is very hot, just to the point of smoking. Cut a slit in the side of each tomato. Stand well back, throw in the tomatoes and cook over a high heat, tossing often, for 2 minutes, or until the tomatoes are blistered and beginning to catch in places. Add the vinegar, sugar and spices, turn the heat right down and cook at a brisk bubble for 8-10 minutes, or until the mixture is thick, glossy and reduced. Stir the sauce often, and use a potato masher lightly to squash the tomatoes to release their juices. Season to taste with salt and pepper. If you like a smooth tomato sauce, blitz the mixture in a liquidizer. Or leave it chunky. Set aside to cool.

When you’re ready to start the burgers, heat up your oven grill, ready for toasting the rolls.
Heat a large ridged griddle pan for 4-5 minutes, or until it is blazing hot. Lightly brush the griddle with sunflower oil. Mix the Smoky BBQ Marinade with the lemon juice. Place the patties, in two batches if necessary, on the hot griddle and cook for 1 ½ minutes. Flip them over and cook for another minute and a half. Generously brush the tops and sides of the patties, using a pastry brush, with the BBQ marinade/lemon juice mixture, then flip them over again and cook for 45-60 seconds (watch them carefully, as the molasses in the marinade burns fast). Coat the uppermost side with marinade, sprinkle generously with cracked black peppercorns, flip over once more and cook for 45-60 seconds (total cooking time is about 5 minutes; each patty is flipped three times).

 In the meantime, cut the ciabatta rolls in half lengthways and toast them lightly under the oven grill until golden brown and heated through (or you can toast them on the wiped-clean griddle pan when you’ve done cooking the patties).

To assemble the burgers, place a few lettuce leaves on the toasted lower half of each ciabatta roll. Place two hot patties, peppered side up, over the lettuce, and top with a few slices of smoked provolone and a dollop of tomato relish. Place the upper half of the roll on top and serve immediately with chips and onion rings.

For the onion rings: Heat a litre of sunflower oil in a deep saucepan to about 170 ºC. If you don’t have a thermometer, put a small chunk of raw potato in the oil before you heat it. When the potato rises to the surface, fizzles vigorously and turns a rich golden colour, the oil is hot enough. To make the onions, cut them into thick slices and separate the rings.  Combine all the ingredients for the batter in a bowl and whisk well.  The batter should be the consistency of thick cream: if it seems too thick, add a little more iced water. Using a pair of tongs, dip the onion rings in the oil and fry for 3 minutes, or until puffed, golden, crisp and cooked right through. Drain on kitchen paper and keep hot in the oven.

For the chips: Turn the heat up under the oil so the temperature reaches about 180 ºC. Cook the chips, in batches, for  3-5 minutes, or until golden brown and crunchy. Drain on a paper towel, season with salt and serve immediately.

Serves 4.
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Kitchenboy said...


Alida Ryder said...

I only saw this now!! Such lovely words J-A. Your burger looks truly delectable. When I come to CT again I might just drop in for one of those babies! ;) x