As you may have heard, the Burger Bash was this past weekend. I got to see Rachael, although, sadly, not as much as I would have liked. We were both there for a purpose, and that purpose was to eat hamburgers. The Burger Bash is something like the TED conference for burger geeks. You get to see all the latest twists and tweaks on our great national sandwich. Most of these are, predictably, bad. As in Nature, most mutations are harmful, and don’t get passed on. But every year Shake Shack shows up and presents us with a perfect hamburger, one that’s immune even to the dopey stuff they sometimes put on it. (This year was country ham - a catastrophic choice, as I could have told them.)
I love Shake Shack. It is the most successful high-end hamburger the world has ever seen. There are Shake Shacks now amid the sands of distant Arabia and on the strands of Merry Olde London. And, yes, the Pat LaFrieda secret burger blend has a lot to do with it, as does the NASA-like commitment to quality control and the use of the all-important “smashing” technique. But the secret weapon of Shake Shack is salt.
The Shake Shack, you see, uses twice as much salt as any other hamburger. That’s what makes it so compulsively eatable, and why it seems to “pop” in your mouth. Salt is basically cocaine for the palate: it conjures a momentary and unearned surge of pleasure. And like cocaine, it’s addictive. The people in that long line at Shake Shack might as well be junkies waiting for a fix.
Shake Shack didn’t get my vote, though. Landmarc did. Landmarc is a big, relatively popular, but generally undistguished restaurant did, and do you want to guess what their secret weapon was? Salt. But they brought another dimension to the burger by using smoked salt. Now, it wouldn’t have worked had the burger not been brown and charred outside, and a deep, juicy pink inside, and served on a soft bun that didn’t get in the way. But the x-factor was the seasoning. (The smoky slaw and aioli added oomph as well, but were less essential, I thought.)
I can’t put this strongly enough. You can’t have a great hamburger that isn’t aggressively salted. But salt doesn’t have to mean just kosher salt or sea salt. There are a panopoly of flavored salts, many of which are ridiculous, but some which go as naturally with charred ground beef as peaches do with cream. My favorite brands are TK, TK, and TK. But you can also use volcanic salts, which frequently give you some of that mineral flavor and depth that the smoking brings. The advantage for me of some of these specialty salts comes in their rocky form; you can put them in a pepper mill and set it on coarse. Then those flakes can really give a crunchy texture to the burger. (The same applies to pepper; nevery use finely ground pepper on the surface of meat if you can avoid it.)
Marc Murphy’s Ozersky-Winning “Smokin’ Good Burger”
(I have substituted store-bought squishy buns for the house-made jalapeno cheese
Makes 4 burgers
4 8 oz burger patties, 80/20 (ground chuck)
8 slices pepperjack cheese
2 Cups smoked slaw (see recipe)
8 tbl smoked aioli (see recipe)
½ cup bread and butter pickles
1 tbl butter
2 tbl smoked salt from La boite (lior lev Sercarz)
1 tbl fresh cracked black pepper
1 tbl olive oil
- Season the burgers with the smoked salt and fresh cracked black pepper and olive oil. Cook on a high heat grill for 3 minutes on each side until medium rare. Place two slices of pepperjack cheese on top and melt. Toast the buns and brush with melted butter. On the bottom of the bun place 2 tbl of smoked aioli and bread and butter pickles. Place the burger on top and finish with the smoked slaw. EAT!
1 ½ cup warm water
1 oz fresh yeast
¼ cup sugar
1 oz melted butter
2 cups roasted sweet potato puree
1 oz salt
¼ cup chopped pickled jalapenos
5 cups flour
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in a metal mixing bowl add the warm water, sugar and yeast. Let activate, about 4 minutes or until it starts to get foamy. Add the melted butter, sweet potato puree, salt, chopped jalapenos and flour. Mix all together in a mixer using a dough hook, mix for about 4 minutes until all ingredients are incorporated. Remove from bowl and kneed for 2 minutes. Let proof for one hour until dough has doubled in size. Portion dough into 5 oz portions and shape, let proof for another 45 minutes. Brush with egg wash and bake in a 350 degree oven for 16-18 minutes.
Makes 8 cups
½ head red cabbage
½ head white cabbage
½ head napa cabbage
2 red onions, sliced, grilled and smoked
3 jalapenos, grilled and smoked
1 large carrot, julienned
½ cup water
1 cup red wine vinegar
1 tbl mustard seeds, toasted
¼ cup sugar
¼ cup salt
Grill the sliced onions and jalapenos for about 2 minutes on each side. Remove the seeds and skin of the jalapenos and julienne, chop the red onions. Add to the sliced cabbage and julienned carrots. In a small sauce pot add water, vinegar, sugar, salt, toasted mustard seeds and bring to a boil, strain. Pour the hot liquid over the slaw and mix well. Cover with plastic wrap and let sit. You should do this a day ahead to develop all the flavors and let the ‘smoke’ flavor carry over to the other ingredients.
Makes 2 cups
20 cloves garlic
2 cups olive oil
1 ½ cup mayonnaise
2 tbl Dijon mustard
salt and pepper
Smoke the garlic, use hickory or apple for additional flavor. Smoke the garlic for about 25 minutes or until the garlic is deep brown in color. Once the garlic has smoked add to a pot and cover with olive oil, cook over medium low heat for 20 minutes until the garlic is soft. Remove the garlic from the oil, reserve the oil. Puree the smoked garlic in a blender with some of the olive oil, puree until smooth. Add to mayonnaise and Dijon mustard, season with salt and pepper and mix together.