Monday, 28 April 2014

Recipe: The Manchester Foodies' Big Mac

They don't look that pretty, but they taste damn good

At work the other day, I found myself listening to the dulcet tones of Aaron Lewis, morosely intoning Staind's “smash” hit It's Been Awhile, and I thought: yes it has Aaron, yes it has.

Given that over two months have passed since my last blog post, it's been a while (correct spelling) is a constant refrain in my head. Don’t worry I'm not going to start busy-bragging. As writers of any creed will know, the desire to pen your thoughts inevitably waxes and wanes. It’s just been one of those waning periods.

But here I am. Writing once again. Wax on, as it were.

So, let’s get back to the task in hand.

Burgers. Most of us eat them. Most of like them. But not many of us go to much effort with them. Pre-ground meat from the supermarket or butcher, store-bought buns, the only creative spark reserved firmly for the toppings. For our American supperclub (read Food Geek’s kind review here) I wanted to go a bit further.

The Burger

As always my research started with Serious Eats, Modernist Cuisine and Heston. It would be fair to say that, like some sort of culinary plagiarist, most of my knowledge is culled from these guys. But testing out their processes often leads to new discoveries and slight variations.

Here’s what I learned about burgers:

- If you’re really serious about burger making then you should definitely be making your own mince. Franco Sotgiu was kind enough to donate us a mincer for the supperclub - you can find a good one for around £60 or ask your butcher to do it for you. If you’re not gonna make burgers very often, don’t buy one I guess. But they are useful for making sausages and pasta too.

- The type of cuts you use do matter. You need to find a good balance of fat-content and nicely textured meat. The most common ingredients seem to be chuck, sirloin and rib-eye, which are often augmented by richer, beefier additions: Kenji from Serious Eats uses a bit of oxtail, Modernist Cuisine uses hanger, Heston likes dry-aged shortrib. But no matter what anyone says, I don’t think a burger mince mix should contain expensive, dry-aged meat. Reserve that stuff for steaks and roasts. The cheapest option for a decent burger is to find a well-marbled piece of chuck and dry age it in the fridge for a couple of days. I settled on 50% chuck, 25% sirloin and 25% hanger, but I suggest looking at the Serious Eats guide to the burger blends as a start. We tend to get our meat from Farmer’s Choice, and can vouch for the quality of their steaks in particular. 

Freshly ground mince

- I have made the granulated-style burger a la Heston (laying the strands of mince parallel to each other, shaping into a log, then cutting into patties) but I’m not convinced the mouthfeel is that much better than in loosely hand-formed patties. Using a chefs ring or other type of mould will work fine for shaping, just remember not to work or compress the mix too much.

- Chilling your mincer parts as well as your meat makes the whole process much easier, especially when it comes to grinding the fat. Warm fat plus a warm mincer equals smeared greasy bits that will clog the machine. For the meat, fridge cold is fine but 20 mins in the freezer won’t do it any harm. Put the mincer parts in for as long as you want.

- When it comes to the cooking, Heston is a big advocate of regular flipping. If you have a loosely-formed patty, this can prove difficult. So you’re probably going to have to resort to a few minutes on each side tactics or a normal amount of flips. Sous-vide your burgers to 55 degrees c and pan sear if you’ve got the requisite equipment.

The Bun

New York Cult Recipes Bun

And what about the bun? There’s not time to go into the intricacies of making bread but here’s the upshot of all my googling and recipe testing:

- The three best burger bun recipes I’ve tried so far are Modernist Cuisine’s (which, like Heston’s uses a pre-ferment), the one from New York Cult Recipes, and America’s Test Kitchen’s Potato Burger Buns. The last two are by far the most manageable; Heston overcomplicates things in my view.

- Buns shouldn’t have too much flavour on their own, but like pizza dough should have enough about them to stand up to intense flavours. They need to have sufficient integrity to prevent them falling apart but not enough that they’re dense and chewy. Brioche ticks most of the boxes, and is wonderfully light, but it’s very difficult to work with. Something like a demi-brioche, which will be less rich in flavour, or the above recipes will work well.

- Shaping the buns is the hardest task. Rolling into balls and flattening gives good results but using a ring mould is the best option. Craft your own out of foil for budget-friendly cooking.

- We failed to apply sesame seeds (I know, it's not a real Big Mac without them). To ensure you don't get burnt sesame seeds, apply a little egg white wash to the buns once they've been baked, then sprinkle the seeds atop and grill until set (it won't take very long).

The Sauce

It should look something like this

The Big Mac sauce recipe is no secret: not that long ago, McDonald’s Canada released a load of YouTube videos, designed to answer FAQs. One of these questions was “What is in the sauce that is in the Big Mac”? Dan Coudreaut, McDonald’s Executive Chef, gave viewers and approximation of the restaurant’s sauce, but doesn’t give you the exact ingredients.

Based on the video and a bit of playing around I came up with this recipe:

- 50g Mayonnaise
- 25g Branston’s Sweet Relish
- 10g American (French’s) mustard
- ½ tsp of sweet paprika, onion powder, and garlic powder
- enough pickling liquid from a jar of gherkins to loosen the mixture and to taste

Add all ingredients, except pickling liquid, to a bowl set on scales. Add liquid until you achieve the desired consistency (slightly looser than the mayonnaise). 

Pickles, Cheese etc.

Giant homemade cheese slice 

After trying a couple of gherkins/dill pickles, we settled on the Beit Hashita brand. They were closest we found to the kind you'll find in an original Big Mac. For the garnishes, finely mince the onion and leave it in the fridge for a few hours or soak in iced water to diminish the pungency, and shred some iceberg lettuce. Keep it in iced-water if you're bothered about crispness; McDonald's wouldn't bother. 

It's not essential but you can make your own melting cheese slice with practically any cheese by using an emuslifying agent like sodium citrate. The Modernist Cuisine method has been reproduced on the Saveur website. We used mostly cheddar and a little emmental for ours, but the McDonald's site lists vegetarian cheddar as the only cheese in its cheese slices. The cheesy goo needs to be formed into one thin layer before being cut into slices

Well that's about it. If you have any questions leave a comment and if you want to see someone more anal than me try to replicate a Big Mac, try Kenji's post at Serious Eats.