Fast Food?

It’s always struck me that the most common “fast” foods are neither easy nor quick to prepare at home – I mean prepare properly, not take out of the freezer.

Take fish and chips. Deep frying is an art and a dangerous art at that especially when, like me, you use a wok as a deep fryer and wear flip-flops while you are cooking. This combined with the fact that split second timing is required to get everything on the table in perfect condition makes for a fairly fraught experience. Sue has an unerring instinct for this and inevitably comes into the kitchen when I’m deep frying and starts discussing the nature of life. Not just that, but requiring answers.

On Sunday I cooked a burger meal that was the closest to perfection I have ever achieved. But it took time – I started midday Saturday with the buns and the chile jam. You remember a few posts back I did brioche burger buns – an idea I stole from a restaurant in France last year? Here

The point about them is they are light but they hold together so you can stuff them full of burger and fillings and pick them up and manage to eat the whole thing with gagging on crap stodgy bread.

Got it right this time. Scaled them at 120g, rolled them out to about 3.5 inches diameter. If you want to try it use the brioche recipe in the book with the figs and goat cheese omitted. I fermented it in the fridge overnight. Scale and roll out as above (don’t be worried about how thin they are – they bounce back in the oven), brush with egg wash and press down into a bowl of sesame seed. Prove on baking sheets for about three hours – don’t worry if they don’t seem to have risen much. Bake at about 220C for 20 minutes.

The art of the burger is getting the stack right. We’ve got the bun sorted now, capacious but light – this has to be filled with ingredients, under and over the patty, which contrast with and complement the meat. It has to be sumptuous but not overwhelming. Bit like the art of pizza toppings. It’s easy (or should be) for a restaurant to get right because they experiment until they get what they want, set up a little production line and repeat – they have the volume and it is food that favours repetition. I think if you are American the knack comes in your genes but it’s hard to get right for a Brit who maybe makes a burger every three months.

I should have pointed out from the start that on this occasion I’m talking chicken burger. It was a sad day when Richard Erhlich stopped writing for the Guardian. I have a yellowed cutting of his chicken burger recipe, with accompaniments, dated July 30 1994 that lives inside the cover of his book, The Lazy Cook.

One of these accompaniments is chile jam. So, back to Saturday lunchtime, I make my brioche dough and my chile jam. When we were in Dublin a couple of weeks ago, amongst the other delights we bought at that fantastic food shop, Fallon & Byrne, was a big bag of jalapenos (We always buy our jalapenos in Dublin, Darling). Make a sugar syrup at a ratio of about 3:1 water/sugar. Slice the chiles (he warns you to remove the seeds and veins but I never bother) plus a couple of cloves of garlic. Add to the syrup and simmer for about half an hour. That was Saturday’s work done so we went to an afternoon party after which Sue cooked a pretty neat garlic chicken with one half of the bird.

Sunday. Took the dough out of the fridge – scaled, shaped, proved.

Made a roast tomato sauce. Roughly chop a couple of onions, put in a cazuela, sprinkle with olive oil and roast in a hot oven until the edges start to blacken. Scrape to one side and add a few peeled cloves of garlic. When they start to soften scrape to one (another) side and add some cherry tomatoes so they all have there own little sectors in the casserole. When everything has blackened somewhat, mix them together and continue roasting until you have a thick, chunky sauce. (You could add chiles but this time I have my chile jam for heat).

I use half a chicken to make two generous sized burgers. Dark meat is best so I had already swapped the breast of my half of the chicken with Sue for the leg of hers. I skinned and boned the chicken, blasted the meat in the food processor, made stock (or improved an existing stock) with the remains.

Made some bread crumbs, added them to the meat. Chopped some parsley, threw it in.

I finely chopped a couple of small onions and sautéed them in a little butter with some chopped ginger and celery (you can add your own flavourings of choice to this). When the mixture was soft I added a couple of tablespoons of crème fraiche and cooked it down to a goo. As well as flavour the point of this is to add a little fat to the chicken meat which is lean and prone to dry out.

When this was cool I mixed it in with the meat, spiced it up with salt and pepper made to thick patties and put them in the fridge.

Baked the buns.

Cut the chips. Heated the oil in the wok. First fry – about ten minutes. Removed to a baking tray and placed in the cooling oven to keep warm.

Mr Ehrlich suggests bacon, onions and mushrooms. Bacon cut into matchsticks and fried, followed by the onions cut reasonably thickly, followed by the mushrooms cooked whole but then sliced when cool. All three to be included in the bun with the burger.

This time I give the onions a miss because there’s plenty in the roasted tomato sauce and decide to serve the mushrooms whole on the side. So I fried the bacon and mushrooms and put them in the oven to keep warm along with plates and serving dishes.

This is where the pace quickens. Sue lays the table with absolutely every condiment that might be needed. I wash and chop a little lettuce and recover the wallies (gerkins) from the table because they’re needed in the kitchen.

(I neglected to say the pre-aperitifs and aperitifs have been taken and the wine is on the go because I was sure you would have assumed this.)

Reheated the oil in the wok, heated  a ridged grill-pan, recovered the burgers from the fridge. Split the buns, toasted them on the cut side. Second fry for the chips in the wok, drained and back into the oven.

Burgers went into the grill pan, timer started. Unlike beef they need to be well-cooked so, for once, mine can go in at the same time as Sue’s. 7.5 minutes each side, turning through an angle of about 70 degrees once each side to burn a professional looking grid on the surface. All the time keeping the wok noodling along on the back burner.

Party time. Remove the burgers, put the wok on high heat. Out with the warm plates, each with the bottom half of the bun. Layer of wally, layer of lettuce, pop on the burger. Top with roast tomato sauce, sprinkle of bacon, replace the lid, spike with a toothpick.

While these are on their way to the table, a final eruption of chips in the hot oil. A quick blot with kitchen towel and the feast is on.

The fast part of the food was the eating of it, i.e. no photos. But it was pretty good.

You also have to admit, that’s a lot of work.


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