A recent story I wrote on cast-iron pans caused me to have a major-league craving for something cooked in one: A hamburger.
Don’t get me wrong — I do enjoy those cooked on the barbecue or indoor grill, but there’s something different about one cooked in a skillet, particularly a cast-iron one.
As the meat cooks, it has a wonderful aroma and attains a marvelous sear. Any juice seeping out of the meat drips under the burger, clings to it and creates another delicious layer of flavour.
To me, it’s an old-fashioned burger. Something that tastes like it was cooked on a griddle, at an old diner or lunch counter, where everything was made from scratch.
Preparing the meat for this style of burger is not difficult.
Simply shape nothing else but good ground beef into nice-sized patties, from meat you’ve ground yourself or bought from an establishment that grinds its beef in house — something that’s about 100 times better in quality than a factory-made, frozen, boxed patty made from meat sourced from gosh-knows-where.
As to how to cook that meat, I checked an “old-school” book for advice, Craig Claiborne’s The New New York Times Cookbook. It was published in the 1970s, making it not so new anymore.
In the book, the trusted culinary guide Claiborne says there are two ways cook a hamburger in a skillet. For the more conventional method, melt about a half-teaspoon of butter for each hamburger in a heavy skillet, such as cast iron.
When the butter is melted but not browning, add the meat and cook until the meat is browned on one side, then flip the burger to cook the other side.
Season the meat with salt and pepper and serve topped with any pan juices.
The other, less-conventional method he suggests starts with coating the skillet with a thin layer of salt.
You then heat the skillet thoroughly before adding the hamburger patties and cooking them.
He says if the skillet is preheated enough, the meat won’t stick. I tried the method, spreading about a half-teaspoon of salt on my cast-iron skillet and using medium to medium-high heat. It does work, and after cooking, you only have to season the burger with pepper.
I tried both methods and enjoyed both, but preferred cooking the patties in a bit of butter, as that added even more flavour. I also seasoned the patties before cooking them, not afterward.
You can buy some pretty good hamburger buns at your local bakery. But when I first got my craving for an old-fashioned burger, I thought a homemade bun would make it even more divine. Then I got a little crazier and made my own ketchup, despite already having a jug of store-bought in my refrigerator.
The buns and ketchup aren’t that difficult to make and if you have some time and make them on a late Saturday morning or other day off, they’ll be ready at dinnertime to welcome those homemade hamburger patties you’re sizzling up in a skillet.
Eric Akis is the author of the just-published hardcover book Everyone Can Cook Everything. His columns appear in the Life section Wednesday and Sunday.
I call these old-fashioned because they are very simple. To make them, shape good ground beef into patties, season with salt and pepper, cook until done, then stuff in buns with your favourite toppings.
Preparation time: 20 minutes
Cooking time: 8 to 10 minutes
Makes: 4 hamburgers
1 1/2 lb. lean ground beef
n salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
2 tsp butter
4 hamburgers buns, split and warmed
n toppings such as onions, tomatoes, lettuce, pickles and condiments
With cold-water-moistened hands, divide the meat into 4 equal loose balls. Gently shape each ball into a 3/4-inch thick patty. Season the patties with salt and pepper.
Place the butter in a large cast-iron or other heavy skillet set over medium to medium-high heat. When the butter is melted, add the patties to the pan and cook 4 to 5 minutes per side, or until cooked through and the centre reaches 160 F on an instant-read meat thermometer. Try to flip the patty only once during cooking, as this will give its exterior a nice sear and help lock in the juices.
Homemade Hamburger Buns
Golden-crusted, homemade buns perfect for sandwiching a juicy burger. Beyond burgers, these buns could also be used to make bunwiches with any other filling you like.
Preparation time: 30 minutes, plus rising time
Cooking time: 18 minutes
Makes: 8 buns
1 cup plus 1 Tbsp lukewarm water
2 tsp instant yeast
1 large egg
2 Tbsp sugar
2 Tbsp vegetable oil
2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp salt
n vegetable oil for the bowl
1 large egg yolk, beaten
1 Tbsp sesame seeds, or to taste (optional)
Combine the water, yeast, egg, sugar and the 2 Tbsp oil in a medium to large bowl, or in the bowl of your stand mixer fitted with a dough hook. If using a stand mixer, add the 2 3Ú4 cups flour and salt and mix on medium speed until a smooth dough forms that pulls away from the sides of the bowl. Continue mixing and kneading the dough about 5 minutes.
If mixing the dough by hand, mix 2 1Ú2 cups of the flour and salt into the yeast/water mixture in the medium to large bowl. Mix with a heavy spoon until the dough loosely clumps together. Transfer the dough to a work surface, scraping the sides of the bowl if necessary. Use the remaining 1Ú4 cup of flour to lightly flour the work surface and top of the dough. Knead 6 to 8 minutes, until a smooth dough is created.
Once it’s kneaded by machine, or by hand, place the dough in a deep, lightly oiled bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise at warm room temperature until doubled in size, about 75 minutes.
Transfer dough to a lightly floured work surface, gently deflate and divide it into 8 pieces. Shape each piece into a ball. Now flatten each ball to about 4 inches in diameter. Place the buns on a parchment-lined baking sheet, cover with a tea towel, and let rise for about an hour, until doubled in size.
Set an oven rack in the middle of the oven. Preheat the oven to 375 F. Use a very soft bristled brush to lightly brush the top of each bun with beaten egg yolk. Sprinkle each bun, if desired, with some sesame seeds. Bake buns 18 minutes, until golden. Set buns on a baking rack to cool and they are ready to use.
Homemade Tomato Ketchup
This nicely spiced, sweet- and sour-tasting homemade ketchup is easy to prepare and makes a nice condiment for burgers, hot dogs, fries or anything else ketchup goes with.
Preparation time: 10 minutes, plus refrigerator chilling time
Cooking time: 35 minutes
Makes: About 3 cups
1 medium onion, chopped
1 large garlic clove, chopped
1 Tbsp vegetable oil
2 (14-oz) cans diced tomatoes
2 Tbsp tomato paste
2/3 cup packed golden brown sugar
1/2 cup cider vinegar
1/2 tsp salt
1/8 tsp white pepper
1/4 tsp ground cumin
1/8 tsp ground allspice
Place the oil in medium, heavy-bottomed pot (mine was 8-inches wide) set over medium heat. Add the onion and garlic and cook until softened, about 5 minutes. Add diced tomatoes, tomato paste, sugar, vinegar, salt, pepper, cumin and allspice and bring to very gentle simmer (small bubbles should just break on the surface). Simmer, uncovered, stirring occasionally, for 30 minutes, until the mixture is quite thick. Stir more frequently at the end of cooking to ensure the tomato mixture does not burn on the bottom.
Puree the tomato mixture in a food processor or blender. Transfer to a heatproof glass jar and cool to room temperature. Put the lid on the jar and chill the ketchup several hours before using. Ketchup will keep in the refrigerator two weeks.
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