I never thought I would admit it, but lately we have been selling more mushroom burgers than beef burgers, I would like to take credit but it most likely it has a lot more to do with people wanting healthier options and many are looking at plant based diets and it is here to stay. We thought we would make 15 every two weeks, now we are making 15 every 4 days. Admittedly it is slightly cheaper on the menu, but only marginally.
Before lockdown we had started developing a vegetarian burger that was doing well but needed some further development, in the end we then outsourced the burger due to some consistency issues. During lockdown I spent weeks making batch after batch of vegetarian burgers until we settled on a mushroom and black bean burger that worked and was the right texture that was not dry, that was not made up of only beans and had the right amount of softness and moisture.
The challenge is always making sure everything binds well without adding loads of flour or bread. We managed to make the mushroom burger gluten free which ended up a being a bonus.
The biggest issue was that we did not want a vegetarian burger that reminded us of meat, but rather celebrate the vegetable.
We use a sunflower dressing and hummus in the final assembly and use cider glazed onion and a sweet and sour basting sauce. What we did find is that many guests still ask for a mature cheddar instead of the vegan cheese.
Does it matter where the tomato and the lettuce is placed, does it matter if the lettuce is placed above above or below the patty, where does the chutney work best? For years we have layered our burger with a buttered and toasted bun, ice berg lettuce, aioli followed by the tomato followed by the meat, then caramelised onion, followed by a great cheese and finally some chutney with a buttered and toasted sesame bun on top. We asked the question as one bites through the burger, layers of flavour is exposed and pop one by one, releasing moments of happiness as this happens. We needed an experiment. It is time for change!
I ask these questions after we did a trip to Stellenbosch last week, where I possibly had one of the best burgers to offer in the Western Cape, possibly one of my top ten burger experiences. Bertus a good friend of mine at opened a small burger joint, De Vrije Burger. I studied the assembly of the burger, with a burger patty at the base, followed by cheese, leaves, tomato and thin slices of red onion with slices of cucumber pickle. The sauce was a smoky chili sauce. I liked the idea, as the salad does not get squashed by the patty, the juices do not spoil the salad.
Need to consider a possibility……we did a trial with everything in reverse to what we normally do. After cooking and eating, we like the way it eats, like the look. But the biggest down fall is the juices running into the base making it soggy. This will still need further thinking and tests.
Maybe a burger should be presented in two halves with fresh ingredients on the cap and the remainder on the base, leaving the guest in charge to assemble. This is an option. Perhaps we can leave the lettuce in whole pieces.
In the end of our debate and experiment we walked away only with two things, the possibility of adding red onion and changing our basting for now.
If it has to be chicken then I would do a Southern fried chicken, mincing chicken for a burger just does not seem right. A couple of months ago we did a burger shoot with Crush on line. I this shoot we covered various options from fish to chicken to vegetarian.
There is something to fried food on a bun, like Gatsby with fried fish and chips on a bun, or a po’ boy sandwich. The same goes for fried chicken it just tastes so much better no matter how bad it sounds.
At the hotel we offer these in miniature slider versions with a little coleslaw and aioli.
In the picture we added grilled pineapple, coleslaw, pickles and chili aioli (because chili makes everything ok)
Recipe does contain some extra steps, but so worth it
600g de-boned chicken thigh or chicken breast if using breast cut into two thinner pieces in length. This is a lot of ingredients but well worth the effort
6 ea garlic cloves
1 small chili
1 ea spring onion sliced
¼ tsp Black pepper
1 ½ tsp White pepper
½ tsp paprika
¼ tsp chili powder
2-4 tbsp chopped fresh coriander root included
1 tsp chopped thyme
Salt as needed
Flour (for dusting)
1 tsp Salt(to taste)
1 tsp Paprika
1 tsp Cayenne pepper
1 tsp Black Pepper
1 tsp celery salt (optional)
1 tsp dried parsley (optional)
Oil for deep frying
Pour cream and eggs together into a deep cup and blend with a stick blender.
Add garlic, coriander leaves, paprika, salt pepper, fresh chilies continue to blend.
Add portioned chicken to the egg and cream mixture.
Leave over night before use.
Combine sifted flour, salt, pepper, paprika, and cayenne.
Dip egg drenched chicken pieces into flour mix. Allow to rest for 30 minutes before frying.
Into a deep fryer.
Fry until golden brown, if the pieces are very large finish in the oven.
For Burger Assembly
1 cup shredded ice berg lettuce
1 cup coleslaw
2 large pickled gherkins sliced thinly
100g shaved pine apple grilled
4 ea sesame buns
Butter for buns to toast
Butter each bun top and bottom and toast in pan or grill until warmed trough and crispy.
On each base sprinkle a shredded lettuce followed by a spoon full of coleslaw.
Top with fried chicken followed by pineapple and sliced gherkins.
Drizzle some ranch dressing on top of everything, finishing with top of bun.
Photo Credit – www.crushmag-online.com
I wanted to put a list together with my favourite top ten burgers, got to number eight on the list and realised that I missed two burgers on my list, I was fixating on the local stuff and not my travels.
And you may find yourself, ordering a burger in another part of the world, and you may find yourself staring at the most beautiful thing, and you may ask yourself well how did we get here? Once in a life time, eating a burger at Bar Boulud in New York, and you may tell yourself, this is the most beautiful thing in the world, am I right or am I wrong. Americana at its best. The original DB burger with braised short rib, FG and black truffle on a Parmesan Bun. Once in a life time experience.
So this is an ultimate burger experience in Finding Burger, but I would not necessary want to have this on a regular basis, maybe. A couple of months ago we did a shoot with Crush online doing a shoot on four different burgers from veggie to seafood and chicken. Then it hit me, sometimes going over the top is Ok, it is part of who we are, as a chef I want have a burger like this, I dream about this. Creating a burger topped with a soft fried egg, bacon, seriously good patty, mushroom ragout and cheddar cheese. I can feel, I can see the juices making mess all over my shirt the table, but it is so good. It will cure even the harshest hangover.
The second burger forgotten was from my travels, at the spotted pig also from New York.
Photo Credit www.crushmag-online.com
We have used Afrikaner, Simmentaler, Dexter, Angus and Boran in all cases the meat was excellent but very different. We have seen how our choices have had impact on the final product. What happens when the animal is put through stress and what it does to the meat, but more importantly how much does the terroir play a part?
Previously I had disagreed on the topic, I did not want to listen to a very good friend. But after experimenting and tasting meat for the burger repeatedly month after month it has become very clear. As the taste of the meat is greatly dependant on the grass and the feed, the PH of the meat changes accordingly. As the seasons change so does the feed. In many cases it is impossible to have a constant supply of feed throughout winter. The animals need a supplement in the dry months. This is a reality. What is the taste of the grass? Sweet or sour?
Very few farms have the luxury of great feed throughout the year. Very few farms can claim 100% free range, grass fed and organic beef.
As we will not compromise we will stay true, we will remain transparent with every delivery, every patty every bite. Currently we are using Simmentaler from Oak Valley with an abundance of rye grass which is supplemented with oat hay and apple pomace.
These animals are pasture-reared, free-range, hormone and antibiotic free.
Perhaps the chutney in the burger can have a little bit of apple to bring it all together.
It is hard to choose where my favourite beef comes from.
Originally I wanted go through beef choices and how it shapes our decisions, but after my holiday I decided to discuss bad burger choices.
The burger is sacred and can never be thought of or regarded as an afterthought, never!
What is wrong with people, chefs and restauranteurs? No…. rather what is wrong with me? Why do I insist in ordering a burger when, deep down I know I am setting myself up for disappointment. You just know it, that gut feeling that never gets it wrong.
Recently while we were in Overberg district, I was slightly upset, ticked off more like it. A restaurant I wanted to visit, was closed and were on their holiday just as I was. No reason to be upset, but I was. So we scanned through a list of local places to eat and came across one. As I always enjoy burger, more than I should, the opportunity in Stanford almost put me off burgers for life.
The support act was the highlight (chips). The rest was downhill and it came down to one thing only.
The main star was disappointing. How hard is it? You buy the meat, you mince it, season it, cook it and enjoy it.
Hiding behind poor ingredients, disguising the essence, the meat is just a big no! How can people add seasoning beyond the point of recognising that it is beef, adding egg and binders to try and fix the bad quality is just so wrong on so many levels.
Or am I being over critical.
I am still upset, this would never have happened if all my plans worked out!
It is essential to have a little bit of smoke on the beef patty when grilling, this is why it is essential to use a charcoal grill with open flames, the juices and fat run off onto the exposed coals causing puffs of smoke that is essential in creating a taste profile that is true. So, is it all about baste? Or can we leave it off completely? In the past we have always added a little basting. Our thinking was based on trying add an extra dimension and the rest based on nostalgia of when we were young and we frequented our favourite burger shop. What we were ultimately after was an umami burst to lift everything. What we ended up with, was a dirty grill!
We found that the basting we used, almost like a monkey gland sauce would burn almost caramelise slightly which in its own is pleasant…..but to sweet.
We have always said that we do not garnish imperfection, putting a basting on the patty is in a way hiding perfection. We need to steer clear of adding sugar, it messes with the brain. The tomato chutney is sweet, caramelised onion is sweet and so is the basting.
So just like that, it was gone. But it has still left a void. So now Sven is working on a more savoury approach juts short of emptying a bottle of soya over the burger. Perhaps the answer lies with caramelised onions.
I will be patient and experiment until we get this right. So after the last episode in making meatballs and using MSG. The words of my good friend Russel continuous to haunt me, “a true burger can only be judged if it has a bun(no sesame), well made patty, some lettuce and tomato with pickles served on the side” You see he is a bit of a purist when it comes to burgers. I understand his point, but for me there is more. Pickle and chutney needs form part of the layers of goodness. In my own personal case some chili will not hurt. It is also important to note that making it to complicated does mean that more variables are at stake.
In the next experiment we have broken down from the Beast from Ernest Hemmingway, as India Relish was used we experimented with a couple of different recipes found. Some had thickening agents others relied on the onion and tomato to aid with the thickening. All of the recipes that were made tasted similar, we enjoyed the spice elements, cinnamon, clove and mustard.
We made a burger replacing the tomato chutney and cucumber pickle with a combo recipe making our own India Relish. It tasted great on its own, but how would it taste on the Burger?
We cook the burger to perfection an omit the pickles as well as the chutney. With the first bite, some similarities….it does not taste that different from our own burger. As the Relish contains cucumber and tomato, sugar and vinegar, it was almost the same. On the second bite perhaps the vinegar taste is slightly over powering. But it is still damn good.
Sven will now start working a recipe based on the India Relish, using tomato, peppers, cucumber with the addition of brinjal.
Note to self: go hungry until after burger is tastings.
I do not think we will truly be happy, we can always find something in our burger that can be better. The last couple of months we have left the beast to be, not changing anything. It has not been because we have become complacent. It is more about the repeat experience, the set expectation. We want guest to return and have the same experience with every mouthful. So now we keep the experiments to the kitchen. This way I can eat a lot more burgers.
The only big change has been with the beef, as we try and stay true with grass fed beef, only this time we are adding Dexter, a smaller breed of cattle from Ireland. Nicole from Terra Madre brought us a sample, at first I was very sceptical as it was very lean. The colour dark and it reminded me of venison. In addition to trying different breeds we are also investigating adding a third cut to the mix, as the chuck and brisket are becoming increasingly popular in demand and in price. We have had some mixed results with the third and fourth additions. This might sound trivial, but in the end it does make difference to the end product, the texture, the mouth feel and the way it cooks.
As for the price of beef, I believe we will be in for a huge surprise later this year. The margins will get smaller and tighter. To make a good burger that one prides on self in is not a cheap trick, good quality ingredients come at a premium. The good thing about us is that we will not compromise.
I have been mulling with a new idea for some time now, after reading the article in SAVEUR- Magazine(July 2015), I saw a beautiful beast displayed on page 17, Ernest Hemingways wild-west burger. Many have written about this legendary recipe, it almost reminds me of a frikadelle. I wanted to understand it, a far cry from the burger I have been trying to perfect. I was surprised at the amount of ingredients in the patty, from India Relish to apple, cheese, MSG, celery salt to name a few. It made me think though, perhaps the answer lies in these individual seasonings and flavourings that can be used to enhance the bling.
As it is we are looking for the right pickle/chutney, the right balance of sweet, sour and spice so we are recreating our own India Relish to understand the balance, if my thought process is correct it could open the door to our chutney and pickles we are using. Then the MSG in the Mei Yen Powder, this is something I will need to look at not because of the MSG, but rather the umami it brings together. But where? Perhaps we could recreate a basting with some much umami it will drive us to edge of insanity.
Next spice used was called Beau Monde Seasoning this would also add to the more umami and savoury, unfortunately not available anywhere. We made our own, made up of celery, onion and salt with some sweetness. Other ingredients used in making the patty was ham, wine, cheddar, capers, apple, sage, garlic, egg, carrot and tomato. Sounds more like a drunk chef after a long day coming home very hungry and then squashing the pantry together as if a balanced meal between two buns was being created.
I want to create a burger based on the wild west beast but with all the ingredients stacked on top and not as part of the patty. I would probably not be the first to think of this, but we are still going to stack it up.
So how does it taste? Honestly….I do not know, slightly confusing. I like the balance of the sweet, sour and savoury all the flavours were amplified. If I was making a meatball I would most likely say it was great. As a semi purist I will stick to the pure beef patty.
Up to now I have only focused on beef burgers, currently I am working on my personal top 10 burgers, seeing that I am eating so many. But while this is happening I decided to include something different. I did this recipe with Crush online last year.
A couple of years ago I was asked to come up with a fish cake recipe, I kind of forgot about it at the time, until I had to present my dish, so as one does, at the last minute we scrambled through our mise en place and just added things as we went along. (see we make it sound easy) problem is, that when it came to putting the recipe on paper it meant that it was almost the whole mise en place list.
Everyone loved it, it was a hit! This recipe for the actual burger patty is loosely based on that original recipe. The influence is a little all over, but it works. All sub recipes not included.
60-80g Japanese mayonnaise
80g fresh bean sprout and spring onion salad
4 fish burgers (recipe below)
30g dressed mustard leaves
80g avocado mashed with lime and salt
4 steamed buns
sriracha sauce as needed
Steam buns and cut in half
At base decorate with avocado, followed by mustard leaves
Place fish burger on top of leaves followed by kimchi, sprout salad and mayonnaise
SEAFOOD BURGER PATTY (Makes 4x160g fish burgers)
140g raw tuna cut into pieces
140g raw salmon
200g raw prawn meat
80g cooked crab meat
2 egg whites
1 tsp chopped coriander root
1 tsp chopped garlic
1 tsp chopped ginger
1 tsp chopped lemon grass
1 tsp fresh chopped coriander
1 tsp chopped chilli
Few drops fish sauce (to taste)
Few drop sesame oil
¼ tsp lime zest
½ tsp lime juice
50g roasted butternut cubes
10g rough chopped spring onion
Once again keep the mixture as cold as possible at all times
In blender blitz raw fish or chop roughly by hand and add all spices, do not blend to a fine paste, must be alike a rough mince
Add fish sauce to taste
Add sesame oil to taste, add lime juice
Add roasted butternut and spring onions
Split the mix into 4 and shape into round cakes approximately 8-9cm wide
Pan fry until just cooked, be gentle when turning