Over the holidays we had our young American nephew staying with us. He was a little hesitant of trying British food when we were out and about, especially gastropub items like potted shrimp and steak and kidney pie. So, everywhere we went, he ordered a ‘safe’ cheeseburger and fries, which were described on the menu, confusingly to him, as cheeseburger and chips. He was very happy, but looking at the variety of efforts served during his stay reminded me how difficult it can be to get a really good burger when dining out in the UK. The quality varied greatly, with some burgers juicy in a soft, toasted bun, while other burgers were as dry as a piece of cardboard and stacked with gherkins and onions, despite being ordered plain. The best burger by far was a burger that we had at home, made by my mum to her own special recipe. Sometimes, home-cooked food really can be as good as, if not better than, the food you can find in a restaurant. Great tasting homemade burgers and their miniature counterparts, called ‘sliders’ or even ‘meatballs’, also happen to be extremely simple to make.
The best burgers, in my view, should be made with high quality beef, or even better, a mixture of high-welfare minced pork and beef. It also has to be cooked through, yet still juicy, and well-seasoned. The recipe I follow at home is the same as my mum’s. To the minced beef and pork you add a finely-chopped and lightly-cooked onion, a clove of grated garlic, a good teaspoon of mustard, an egg, salt and pepper, some fresh herbs and two slices of bread soaked in plenty of water and torn into small pieces. The whole mixture is then given a really good mix (using your hands is best) before rolling chunks of the mixture into balls that are, ideally, slightly larger than a golf ball. A great tip to share is to dip your hands into cold water before rolling each meatball or burger – this prevents the meat from sticking to your hands too much! You can flatten your burger a little if you are making burgers to go inside a bun, or leave them in a rounded shape and pan-fry them until they are cooked. If you’ve made larger burgers or meatballs, you can finish them off in the oven to make sure they are cooked all the way through. The best burger buns I find are a slightly sweet, almost brioche-type bun that can be very lightly toasted before filling. You can try Jamie’s recipe for burgers and sliders, using red onions, Jacob’s crackers and Parmesan cheese. Or, for a spicier and more rustic patty, try this Elvis burger with chopped salad & pickled gherkin.
Homemade burgers or meatballs are great for kids as they can be eaten with a big pile of mash potato and veg, or try homemade meatballs and pasta, or even stack mini meatballs and burgers up with interesting accompaniments within each bun. You can serve plain burgers, or topped with cheese using a mature Cheddar or something like Red Leicester for a different flavour. Cooked onions are often a better bet with kids than raw onions, or skip them altogether and just serve the burgers with a chopped salad on the side or very finely grated white cabbage and carrot. Slices of apple can also work with a burger, and you can even have a go at making your own homemade tomato ketchup if you want to be extra virtuous!
So don’t be afraid to experiment with your own high-quality, homemade burgers. Whether served simple on a plate for dinner or for a crowd at your own party burger station, complete with lots of interesting toppings and fillings, I’m sure you’ll find them to be a very tasty option.