The Hamburger That Made Me Whole: With Recipe, At Last!

Given that I was just unmanned by hamburgers last week, it is with some trepidation that I approach the topic again. But then – the hell with it. I am the Hamburger Man! I wrote the book, didn’t I? And after attending the Rachael Ray Burger Bash last week, and then flying to Columbus Ohio this past week to give a burger seminar at the House and Garden show. This was an even bigger test of my burger manhood, since it was in front of a big crowd that cared but little for my grandiloquent shtick. I stood up in a fake kitchen on a stage in front of 100 indifferent men and women in bridge chairs, and I did my burger on a hostile induction range.

But you know what? It was a near-total vindication. And the reason is the recipe, which is included here for the first time since I started my column.

I discovered the Jose Soto onion burger on my first and only visit to White Diamond of Linden, a tiny, ancient slider joint hidden in a forgotten backwater of north Jersey. The place had been in business and make hamburgers exactly the same way since the 1940s up until the day I discovered it, and, like the elderly wizard that gave Captain Marvel his powers, expired almost immediately after passing its secret to me. Soto, the equally ancient grill cook, had a technique which I have since made my own. It involved keeping a pan of diced onions covered with a little water, which he would then spoon onto the hamburgers as they cooked. Unlike the seared, stringy onions of the Oklahoma-style onion burger, this created a savory confection so soft, supple, and cohesive that it was impossible to say where the onions stopped and the beef or bun began. Here is the recipe. It’s simple, but it isn’t easy, because it has to be done quickly, so it may need some practice. That’s OK. even the failures are good to eat.

Jose Soto Onion Burger

1 pound fresh 80/20 ground chuck. (70/30 is better.)

1 large yellow onion (you can use a red onion if you like. Why not?)

Kosher salt

10 white unseeded enriched white supermaket squishy buns of the simplest possible kind.

Ten slices of american cheese, trimmed on four sides and brought to room temperature.

  1. Dice the onion medium-fine and cover with a thin layer of warm salted water. Set aside.
  2. Have cheese warmed, separated, and the bun split, as you will need them quickly.
  3. Make a meatball about the size of a ping-pong ball. Flatten it somewhat and sprinkle it liberally on both sides with kosher salt. It’s hard to over salt the surface of meat. Don’t be a sissy. If you make one and it’s too salt, throttle back. Salt drives much of this recipe.
  4. Drop the flattened ball into a hot, slightly greased pan. If you haven’t been cooking hamburgers, it will lack grease, so a think coating of grapeseed oil or clarified butter will be just the thing. One beat after it hits the pan, flip it over and press hard to flatten it with a reinforced metal unslotted spatula. Do this once, while the meat is still cold, and then never do it again.
  5. After the burger has sizzled for about thirty to forty seconds, spoon two tbsps of onion and onion water onto it. It will produce a good amount of onion fumes. That’s OK. spread the water and onions as evenly as you can and press them in gently, so that they are in the meat rather than just on top of it. Do not squish down hard. (see above.)
  6. Wait another thirty seconds, and, taking great care to scrape and separate the meat from the pan with its crust intact, flip it over. Immediately put a slice of cheese on the meat and a bottom bun on top of the cheese. Wait another ten to fifteen seconds and remove onto a top bun.
  7. Invert and serve. Repeat nine more times.

This is my favorite and best hamburger recipe of all time, and I still am not guaranteed it will come out perfect each time. It’s very demanding and produces many onion fumes; moreover, each burger is a little hard to do as the pan get messier and messier. I can’t do anything about that. Greatness of this sort occasionally has a cost, and I am happy to pay it. Try this one and you will be too.

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