Thursday, September 8, 2011

Ina Asks The Perennial Question - What Goes Into A Good Hamburger?

Barefoot Contessa with Ina Garten

Ina says she’s making “America’s favorite food” and “everything that goes with it”. Okie dokie, but then why is Seafood Chowder the first thing that she’s making? Not that I don’t love a good chowdah, but with hamburgers? Not the norm.

Oh, perhaps I’m misinformed (not the first time and probably not the last). Ina says chowder is a staple at old fashioned burger joints. Really? I must be really out of touch.

Ina brings out a huge container of juicy, peeled and deveined shrimp. (I just cannot bring myself to buy them that way. They’re SO expensive. But every time I’m standing at the sink with the little paring knife and kitchen scissors, I always think I’ve miscalculated that decision. If I’m buying a few, I think, oh that’s not so bad, it won’t take so long and if I’m buying a lot, I think there’s no way I’m paying that much for deveined shrimp.)

Ina places a ½ lb. of scallops and crab meat on the board and monk fish too. She cuts the monk fish into pieces and the scallops in half. For the base of the chowder, Ina has already cooked carrots, onions, celery, potatoes and corn in a stick of butter. Everything (but the corn, of course) is cut into a MEDIUM dice. That’s bigger than I usually do it, but it’s a good idea. It gives more heft to the finished soup. I also love that Ina cooks the vegetables long and slow. That’s going to bring out the sweetness of the onions and carrots.

Next she adds ¼ cup of flour to the softened vegetables and cooks it for 3 minutes. That’s good that she makes a point of the cooking time. I usually turn on my digital timer and put the burner on the lowest possible heat, stirring often. When I’m adding spices to softened onions, I also turn on the timer and cook the mixture for 3 minutes, or at least 2, to take the raw taste away.

Next Ina adds a quart of seafood stock, which she says you can make yourself from shrimp shells or buy it. Her stock looks gorgeous and rich enough to have on its own. I SHOULD always use shrimp shells to make stock, but I admit I usually use a mix of clam juice, vegetable stock and white wine. She adds the stock and brings it to a boil.

Oh listen to this!!! The Contessa just called me out! She says she’s tried substituting clam juice AND IT JUST DOESN’T WORK! WELL! I’ve used clam juice MANY times in chowder, (not fish soups, I admit, and this has some similarity to that, but I’m sticking with my clam juice).

Ina turns the heat to low and adds all the seafood and cooks the soup for 7 to 10 minutes. She says not to stir it too much. She readies 2 tablespoons of roughly chopped parsley. She adds 2 tablespoons of cream (of course, she does) and lots of salt (of course, she does) and pepper.

This is interesting. Ina is using that same type of big bowled wooden spoon to stir her soup as Pioneer Woman used to mix her sliders. I think Ina made the better choice of implement. Stirring soup is one thing, beating a ground beef mixture to death is another.

Ina serves herself the finished soup with a big sprinkle of parsley. You know what would also be good? Adding fennel. I don’t like licorice usually, but I like that flavor with seafood.

On to the burgers. Ina says she and Jeffrey love LT Burger in Sag Harbor. It’s run by Laurent Tourondel. (I wonder if HE has chowder on his menu. He doesn’t, but just look how yummy this menu looks. There are about a hundred things I would order.)

Ooh! She’s “convinced Laurent to come to the Barn” to show her how to make burgers.

He starts with prime beef which has 20% fat. Ina is amazed at what goes into the hamburger. Guess what Laurent adds to the ground meat. Absolutely nothing. Nothing at all, but excellent ground beef. Laurent says to pat it gently into burgers and not to compress it. He uses 7 oz. of beef per hamburger.

Oh wait, there IS some extra fiddling. Laurent brushes each hamburger liberally with soft butter and then gives it a good dose of salt and pepper. (I have to admit I’m cringing a bit, because of how he’s brushing on the butter. He brushed the butter on the hamburgers from a big piece of butter (in a bowl). Then he does it again and again. Of course, that’s fine if you’re not using the butter for anything else, but then why did he have to start with such a large amount. Plus, I’m looking carefully to see where he puts that brush. Please, oh please, have a little plate to put it on. Don’t put it on the counter where there’s lettuce and tomato. OH and it’s not only the brush I should be worried about! The hamburgers themselves are on Ina’s wooden board just inches from lettuce. Do you know how to say cross-contamination in French?

The hamburgers cook for 2 to 3 minutes on each side on a hot griddle. Then Laurent shows Ina how to make pickle mayonnaise. I like it, although it basically sounds like tartar sauce. We see a video of him making it in his restaurant kitchen. Laurent mixes together mayonnaise and ketchup (oh maybe it’s more like Russian Dressing) with pickle relish and cornichons (bien sur!), Laurent adds some chopped pickled jalapeno and…Cognac! That’s exciting! He seasons it with salt (probably doesn’t need much - or any) and pepper.

Back to the burgers, they turn them and Laurent adds some slices of mecox cheddar on top. Then he makes guacamole.

He’s prepared the rolls by buttering them and then putting them on the grill for just a minute to capture some of the beef juices. BTW, Laurent says you know when they’re done when you press down and some juice comes out on top. (I’m trying not to make a fuss, but he appears to be plating the burgers ON THE VERY SAME BOARD WHERE HE FORMED THE RAW HAMBURGER.)

We practically drool as he assembles his hamburgers. The hamburgers go on the bottom bun. Laurent tops them with lettuce (which was inches from the raw meat), tomato (that was too). Laurent spreads some of his fabulous pickle mayonnaise on the inside of the top bun and THEN he adds some guacamole. AND there’s a pickle on top too. He closes the whole thing up and cuts it half to help Ina eat it. She’s says it’s amazing.

Ina moves on to side dishes. She wants to show us how to make real buttermilk ranch dressing, without the packet. She processes together scallions, fresh basil, lemon juice, Dijon, “good” olive oil, chopped garlic and lots of salt and pepper until really smooth. She adds one cup of “good” mayonnaise, Greek yogurt and buttermilk. She purées it all in the food processor.

I find that when adding a lot of puréed things to yogurt, it’s better to stir them in rather than processing the mixture, because the whole thing can get too runny. The fact that Ina is using GREEK yogurt makes that less likely, but I would still purée all those other ingredients with the mayo and then stir THAT into the yogurt and buttermilk by hand. Hers does look quite liquid-y.

To go with the dressing, which Ina likes to make it at least an hour in advance, she makes a salad with big wedges of Boston lettuce which she had plated with tomato wedges and few rings of red onion, (which could have been sliced thinner). She spoons over the ranch dressing. It looks fab. She adds (more) salt and pepper.

Next Ina is making sweet potato fries. She cuts halved and peeled sweet potatoes into long spears and places them onto a baking sheet. She drizzles them first with olive oil and then sprinkles over a mixture of brown sugar, salt and pepper. She bakes them at 450°F for 20 to 25 minutes, turning them once. Ina says they don’t hold as long as white potatoes do. She adds more salt. They look gorgeous.

Ask Ina is next. John wants a “sauce” for a hamburger to give it some “punch” Ina suggests balsamic onions and blue cheese. Sounds fantastic, but I wouldn’t characterize it as a sauce.

Daniel has the next question and wants to know why hamburgers are called hamburgers if they have no ham. Pardon my language, but REALLY! (Ina is so patient.)

The next questioner wants to know how to get soft, gooey brownies and how to store them. What in the blinkin’ world does that have to do with hamburgers?!!

Saint Ina calmly explains to underbake them just a bit to keep the center soft. She adds that when you fold semisweet chocolate chips into the batter, THAT makes them gooey. Huh? It does? How? I add chocolate chips to the best brownies ever made, but they don’t melt into the batter, so why would those make it gooier? It’s a Barefoot mystery, I guess.

Ina gives us an extra tip about storing brownies. She wraps the entire (uncut) pan of brownies (on the top and bottom) with plastic wrap. She says that keeps all the moisture out. Then she refrigerates them.

She wraps individual brownies in plastic wrap. Listen to this next tip, which is the single most useful thing I’ve heard in YEARS! Place the brownie on a diagonal on the piece of plastic wrap. Then pull the corners taut. By doing it on the diagonal, the plastic stretches more and you get a more airtight seal. OMG, I tried it and it’s true! And I consider myself something of a plastic wrap queen. I love making it so tight that a quarter could bounce of it. (Okay, that’s for sheets, but you get the idea.) I’ve been testing it on EVERYTHING I wrap with plastic – covering bowls, ears of corn, the end of a cucumber and it’s amazing! Thank you, Ina, for changing my life. (Doesn’t Oprah say that one of the secrets to a happy life is to be grateful for small things?)

The last question in Ask Ina is how to get a really crispy baked potato. She says not to wrap it in foil. Sorry, but duh, is there anyone who would do that and not understand that that would steam the potato?!! (That question was a real let-down after the previous one resulted in such astounding advice.)

Anyway, the Contessa method for a crisp baked potato - Use Idaho russets, scrub the outside well and bake at 350°F right on the baking rack in the over for 45 to 60 minutes. And, look! There happens to be a cooked one sitting in the oven. Ina makes a slit in the top, squeezes it open a bit and adds some butter with “lots of salt and pepper”. She eats it at her computer. Just what I love to snack on…


Abandoned By Wolves said...

That plastic wrap tip is worth its weight in gold (or depleted uranium for all you youngsters out there who think gold is "so 80s".

As usual, excellent commentary and updates that make this episode far more useful (and applicable) for a every day "working" cook like me.

Looking forward to your next one.

The Short (dis)Order Cook said...

Did you know your PW post made it into the comments section at the Pioneer Woman Sux site? You're making yourself known on the 'net!

I almost always spend the money to buy pre-peeled shrimp. Much of that is just my general revulstion at the site and scent of shrimp that I don't like to touch it more than necessary. When I do bother to do it though, my husband does a really good impersonation of me. I like to be the reuse and recycle type, so I don't know why I don't buy shrimp unpeeled and then make stock from the shells.

Butter on the bugers and the buns and then add mayo? It was low-cal burger day huh?

Sue said...

Thanks, James.
I've been gleefully covering things with plastic wrap ever since...only when they need it, of course. That stuff is expensive.

Is that a good thing or bad thing?

I wish MY husband made fun of me while I was peeling shrimp, so I could justify buying it peeled. He mocked my driving 15 years ago and guess who gets to drive 10 hours straight now?!!

Butter on the burger buns was overkill enough and then pairing it with the mayo made me want to rush to LT Burgers...and then stop over at the hospital on the way home for a little artery unclogging.

Emily said...

Hahaha you made me laugh. I love that you're the plastic wrap queen. I'm getting better with plastic wrap now that I have this new job. I have to wrap a lot of cheese.

Those questions were pretty lame at the end. And now I'm craving brownies. Mmm. Maybe with some salted caramel sauce on top?