Best of Westchester Party Alert! Don’t get voted off the island on July 18! We’re already sold out of VIP passes (unless you’re a 2012 BOW winner), and general admission badges are going fast on our sales site. You don’t want to miss 2012’s party of the year, your last chance to enjoy a summer gala that gathers the best of Westchester’s food, drink, and services under one roof for one night only. And, Party People, the Best of Westchester Party on Facebook for weekly ticket giveaways, BOW news, prizes, and more—good luck!
Bad Burger/Good Burger
I’ll gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today.”
Here’s how to make a bad burger. Go down to the hippie store and get the lean, grass-fed beef that’s crammed into those bullet-shaped plastic packages cinched with metal clips on both ends. And then freeze it. Or worse, get those dense, pre-frozen stamped discs from Costco and let them get all snowy with frost on the way home. Then stick those partially melted discs back in the freezer and give them a few months to really cure. Broil/grill/fry to order, then gag down your grey, grisly hockey puck—preferably on a too large, too dense whole-wheat bun. Gah.
Or, you can make a good burger. Here’s how.
Go to a reputable butcher and explain to the person behind the counter that you’d like to make really great burgers—not lean burgers, not diet burgers, just really great burgers. If you’re feeling adventurous, you can swing by Eataly and get Pat Lafreida’s brisket or short-rib mix—both are delicious, super-juicy, and beefy, but steeply priced ($21 per pound). If you’re sticking local, drop into Crisfield’s Market in Rye for either a chuck/sirloin blend (8.99) or the Super Blend (9.99), which is a sort Robo-burger of rib-eye, short rib, skirt steak, flank steak, and filet mignon. But you don’t even need to get that fancy. You’re just looking for a beefy-tasting cut (or cuts) ground to about an 80 percent lean/20 percent fat ratio (you could also do 75/25). It’s important that the beef is freshly ground and has never been frozen. Why? Because when ice crystals form, they break the cell walls in the meat. When those crystals melt, that flavorful juice runs out, and that makes for dry, flavorless burgers. The best burger chains—like the hallowed In-N-Out and Five Guys—never freeze their meat. I like the ground chuck available at Fresh Market.
Meat bullet = bad.
And here’s another thing. Don’t buy ground beef in the bullet-packs favored by natural markets. While you’re at it, don’t buy pre-made patties, either. Both packing methods compress the meat to eliminate gaps. This means that, during cooking, there is nowhere for melted fat and juice to go except out. Good burgers are not firm, coin-like discs—they’re loose and sloppy, and perpetually at risk of crumbling through your grill bars. For this reason, many argue that griddles are superior to grills for cooking burgers.
Then, there’s the shaping. Do not mess this up. According to Chef Peter X. Kelly (whose French Cowboy Slider—with foie gras, truffle, and a touch of tomato and mustard-seed compote—swept Westchester Magazine’s Wine & Food Weekend Beer and Burger Bash), the “biggest mistake in burger construction is making them toooo big!! Somewhere between four and six ounces is ideal and they should be molded flat to fit the size of the bun.” Don’t go with the sphere: According to Chef Kelly, “they’re too hard to cook to temperature. The burger should be formed about one to one and a half inches in thickness. This will allow you to have the burger hit the grill, char, flip, char, and off in about three minutes. This leaves the burger medium rare with a nice char.”
There are pros and cons to every method of cooking. Wood fires add a delicious campfire note, but griddles make for juicier burgers, because, to be blunt, you’re caramelizing those suckers in their own fat. The big cooking no-no is the spatula squoosh—I’m looking at you, ansty, aproned, cookout dad with a trigger fist on an outsized spatula. Don’t compulsively use that tennis racket to squeeze the life out of his burgers. (Chief! Have a beer! Re-friggin’-lax!) Also, salt is nice…I salt each side of the burger as I cook it, but not before – it’ll draw out moisture that you want to remain in.
Bun. Here’s the thing: Any respectable baker’s bread, artisanal bread, real bread, is way too much of a presence to wrap around your burger. It’s competition. It’s filler. It’s a distraction from the main event. That’s why I’m an advocate of spongy, insubstantial buns that merely keep your fingers dry until your burger disintegrates. And here’s one crazy thing to keep in mind about your topping mania: balance. If your meat is as fatty as I hope (and you’re adding still more fat with cheese, bacon, mayonnaise, etc.), you need to think about some watery sharpness to counteract the gutbomb danger: Onion, pickle, and tomato slices are classics—but Chef Peter Kelly’s tomato/whole-grain mustard compote also did nicely.
But enough about me—what are your bad vs. good burgers? Drop me a line in the comments section below.
HotFlash: Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s new venture at the Inn at Pound Ridge rumored to mimic Spice Market!
Bad news: This thing is not happening in any rush. Apparently, the small Alsatian is taking its sweet time with remodleing. But the good news is that we’ve heard through the rumor mill that the new place will not be like ABC Kitchen, as was once reported. In fact, Vongerichten’s first Westchester restaurant will be more in tune with Spice Market! For one, I’m ecstatic: Pound Ridge is in serious need of a chili-lemongrass injection.
Happy Hour at MP Taverna
Here’s even more reason to run, don’t walk, to MP Taverna (of, course, that is other than because you’ve seen Michael Psilakis standing in a swamp, spearing dinosaur-looking gars with a giant fork on BBCAmerica’s No Kitchen Required). Every day, from 4:30 to 6pm, this newcomer is serving:
· $1.50 oysters and gyro beef sliders
· Draught beers including Sam Adams Summer Ale and Goose Island IPA ($4.50).
· Glasses of Pinot Grigio and Montepulciano ($5).
· Various cocktails ($6).
Sweet and Saucy Slices at Blackboard Pizza in New Rochelle
Isn’t food fashion funny? Pizza is now all about the oven. I mean, you can’t even get in the conversation unless you’ve got some kind of archaic, wood-fueled behemoth that you need to painstakingly stoke like it’s 1827. But, every once in a while, the new-fashioned/old-fashioned pizza pantheon needs to respect some left-field entries—like this spare, sweetly saucy slice slung by New Rochelle’s Blackboard Pizza Shop. True, this thin-crusted slice is cooked in an unfashionable gas-fueled deck oven, but there’s something about the clean, bright flavors of its un-commercial-tasting dough, fresh tomatoes, and fragrant basil that make this corner pizza shop a contender.