Cookbook Tester: ‘Burger Bar’ by Hubert Keller


The problem with Burger Bar by Hubert Keller is that it is full of extremely fussy burgers–and the rare recipe that doesn’t call for two dozen ingredients is so simple that you really don’t need a recipe. You know how to make a burger out of ground chuck and then top it with cheese, lettuce, and tomato. On the other hand, you will probably not want to attempt the burger that is meant to be topped with asparagus spears, pineapple, lobster tail, homemade green peppercorn and lemon mayo, fleur de sel, and baby greens.

Keller has been in the news lately for being a finalist on Top Chef Masters, but the French-born chef is famous for his work as chef/owner at Fleur de Lys in San Francisco.

This book is a spin-off of his chi-chi Vegas burger restaurant. There are very few recipes in the book that don’t make you want to throw up your hands, but the buffalo burger looked like a good one to test. It’s simple, but not overly so. Basically, you make classic caramelized onions with red wine, and mix them into the lean meat to add flavor and moistness. Then you caramelize apple slices, and construct the sandwich with the apple, watercress, and the burger, topped with gruyere. Sounds pretty good. But it turns out that the apples tasted totally out of place, and onions added surprisingly little to the burger. Still, buffalo is delicious (just be careful not to cook it more than medium-rare, as it will dry out) and the watercress and gruyere were nice. Overall, though, the book is not recommended–unless that burger with the asparagus, pineapple, and lobster sounded good to you, in which case go for it. Different strokes…

Buffalo Burger
Yield: 4 Servings
From Burger Bar by Hubert Keller

2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 medium red onion, finely chopped
1/2 cup dry red wine
1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme
2 pounds ground buffalo
freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large, unpeeled tart apple, cored, and cut into 1/4-inch thick rounds
about 2 tablespoons brown sugar for sprinkling
4 focaccia buns
4 slices gruyere cheese
2 large handfuls watercress
1 large, ripe tomato, thinly sliced (optional)

In a medium saute pan, melt 1 tablespoon of the butter over medium heat. Add the onion and stir, and cook until translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the wine and thyme, bring to a boil, and cook until the pan is nearly dry, about 10 minutes. Let the onion cool to at least room temperature. The onion can be cooked a day ahead, covered, and refrigerated.

Using your hands, gently knead the meat in a large bowl together with the onion, and 1 1/2 teaspoons pepper. Handling lightly to keep the texture light and juicy, divide the meat into 4 evenly sized patties, about 1 inch thick. The burgers can be shaped and refrigerated, covered, for several hours or overnight.

When ready to cook, heat the olive oil in a large skillet or grill pan over medium-high heat until very hot, or build a medium-hot fire in a grill. Season the meat on all sides with salt and pepper.

Cook the burgers in the skillet, turning once, for 7 to 10 minutes for medium-rare. Do not press down on the patties. With a large spoon, baste the burgers several times with the fat in the pan. To grill the burgers, oil the grate, arrange the patties on it, and cover. Cook as above.

While the burgers cook, melt the remaining 1 tablespoon butter, and brush the apple slices on both sides. Place them in a saute pan or on the perimeter of the grill to cook slowly. You want them to get tender, but not fall apart. After about 1 minute, turn the slices and sprinkle them lightly with brown sugar. Cook for another minute, turn, and sprinkle with sugar again. Turn, cook for another minute, and then immediately remove the slices to a plate. Cut the slices in half.

When the burgers are about half cooked, toast the buns in a toaster oven or under the broiler, about 5 inches from the heat, until lightly toasted. Or toast them on the grill.

For the last minute or two of cooking, drape a slice of cheese over each burger to melt. Then remove them to a warm platter, sprinkle with pepper, keep warm, and let rest for several minutes before serving.

To build the burgers, fan apple slices on the bun bottoms, and top with watercress, tomato, if using, burgers, and then the bun tops. Serve immediately.

This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on August 7, 2009


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