Annie and I stood in line at Ralph's as the checker scanned the 3 shrink-wrapped packages of ground pork that we were purchasing. We were forced to swing by Ralph's because Pavilions had but one lowly package of ground pork, and wouldn't be getting any more until Monday. We needed 4 pounds. "What are you making with all this pork?" the blank-faced young woman asked, in a vaguely disinterested tone. "Pork burgers," I explained. "Never heard of a pork burger," she replied flatly. "You make that up?" Annie and I shook our heads no. "It's from a cookbook." The cookbook in question? Why Sunday Suppers at Lucques, of course.
Okay, I know I just wrote that I was completely over summer and all the food that goes along with it. And here I am, writing about the quintessential summer food. Here's the thing. Annie and I haven't really been able to cook together for what seemed like months, due to various trips she and I (but mostly she) have been going on. So early last week we made plans to get together for another one of our cocktail-fueled cooking adventures. Originally we were going to do something from the new Michael Chiarello cook book Annie bought at Mr. Chiarello's restaurant when she and her parents were up in Napa.
Come Thursday or so, Annie phoned me. "So we might have a few more people than the four of us on Saturday." It seems Pierson was taking park in a little sailboat race down in Marina Del Rey and afterward, his crew and a few of their loved ones were probably going to be joining us. "How many people?" I asked. "Maybe ten," she winced. That changes things. Not that dinner was going to be formal, but now it seemed that whatever it was that we made, would need to be served buffet style, rather than plated and presented by the two of us.
Saturday I went down to Annie's place early and the two of us looked through various cookbooks in search of something that could feed a small crowd and didn't require lots of prep or cooking time. These burgers with a sophisticated twist seemed perfect.
(For the burger mixture - Note: although we doubled the recipe, the amounts listed below yeilds 6 burgers)
1 1/2 teaspoons cumin seeds, toasted and crushed
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive, plus more for grilling
1/2 cup diced shallots
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves
2 chiles de arbol, thinly sliced on the bias (we used about a teaspoon of chile de arbol powder)
2 pounds ground pork
1/4 pound fresh Mexican Chorizo, casing removed
3 ounces bacon (preferably applewood smoked), finely diced
2 tablespoons flat leaf parsley, finely chopped
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
(For the burgers)
6 slices Manchego cheese
6 brioche or other good, soft hamburger buns
sliced tomato, preferably heirloom
aioli (see the recipe below)
2 ounces arugula
(For the aioli)
1 cup mayonnaise
1 clove garlic
1/2 lemon, for juicing
a pinch of cayenne pepper
First the aioli. Place the clove of garlic on your chopping board and crush with the side of your knife. Sprinkle a little salt over the crushed garlic and proceed to smash the garlic and salt into the board, until it has formed into a paste. Add the garlic paste into a small bowl along with the mayonnaise and whisk to combine. Season with another pinch of salt, a squeeze of the lemon juice and the cayenne and give it another whisk. Taste for balance and seasoning. Cover and refrigerate until needed.
Next, make the burgers.Heat a medium skillet over high heat for 1 minute. Add the olive oil and shallots. Turn the heat down to medium-low and cook for several minutes, stirring every once in a while, until the shallots start to soften. Add the garlic, thyme, cumin, and chile de arbol. Season with 1/4 teaspoon of salt and a few grindings of black pepper and cook for 3 to 4 minutes, until the shallots become translucent. Set aside to cool.
In a large bowl, use your hands to combine the ground pork, chorizo, bacon, shallot mixture and parsley, being careful not to overwork the meat. Season with 1 1/4 teaspoons salt and lots of freshly ground black pepper. The meat mixture will probably feel pretty loose. Shape the meat into six 6-ounce pattys. Since I was making so many burgers, I found that using a kitchen scale was extremely helpful in getting them all the same size. Although we doubled the recipe, I was able to get 14 burgers.
Refrigerate the pattys for an hour or so. This lets the flavors meld and makes the burgers easier to handle.
Preheat your grill for several minutes on medium-high. Brush the burgers with olive oil and place oil side down on the grill and cook turn the heat down to medium. Cover and cook for 3 to 5 minutes for the first side. Once the burgers are on the grill, don't touch them and definitely don't smoosh them with the spatula. That causes all the juices to run out and then you wind up with dry burgers.
Open the lid and quickly brush the top with a little more olive oil before flipping them over. Cook, covered, for 3 to 5 more minutes.
According to Ms. Goin, you shouldn't be afraid to cook the burgers only until they are pink in the middle. That way, she insists, they will still be juicy and delicious. As she explains in the book, "Not only are all the dangerous pork parasites killed at 137 degrees F (long before the last pink disappears), but those organisms have been nearly eliminated from modern pork farming, so the risk is extremely low ever from completely raw pork."
So back to the burgers. Place a piece of cheese on each burger and cover again, cooking for another two to three minutes.
Remove the burgers from the grill and cover with foil until serving time. Meanwhile place the split burger buns on the grill, cut side down and toast for a minute or two, until they are lightly browned.
To serve place the burgers on a platter, the toasted buns in a basket, the aioli in a small bowl, and the tomato and arugula on a plate and let your hungry guests go at it. To go with our burgers we also served garlic oven fries (we did a combination of russet and sweet potatoes) with a spicy ketchup and a simple salad with roasted garlic vinaigrette.
The big thing in burgers right now, it seems, is premium kobe beef and high-end accoutrement like artisinal cheeses, prosciutto, caramelized onions, et al. I've been trying various grown-up burgers around Los Angeles, and as much as I like them, they seem kind of samey. This burger, however, really is unique and it needs almost no adornment. The mixture of the meats is brilliant and yields such fantastic and complex flavor - smoky, spicy, slightly woodsy - and if cooked properly the texture of the burger is soft, moist and juicy. Complimenting the flavors is the tangy, garlic-tinged aioli, the rich, melted manchego, the sunny, summery heirloom tomatoes, and the peppery arugula.
Our guests loved them and more than a few went back for seconds. I sort of wish I'd made this recipe earlier in the summer, rather than at the end. Although I guess it does give me something to look forward to next year.