Good Burgers and the Art of the Barbecue (and the Super Fun Summertime Shooters Eating Lottery Game)
Since we’re having the worst summer in living memory here in Ireland this year, for today, whilst I listen to the wind howl through my house and the pitter-patter of the unceasing rain ricocheting against my window. I thought that I’d cast my mind back to happier sunny times when the odd ray of sunshine occasionally peaked out from behind those ominous grey clouds that us Irish have become so accustomed to, and oh so sparingly, blessed me with the opportunity to stoke up a barbecue.
There are few culinary delights more satisfying than barbecued meat on a sunny day coupled with an ice cold bottle of beer, or a glass of chilled white wine to wash all that tastiness down. The reason that barbecued meat is so superior to your run of the day seared animal flesh is the overt presence of a much enjoyed, though little understood cooking proccess called the Maillard reaction.
Whenever I watch cooking programmes on TV (which is admittedly a lot), I’m often unreasonably annoyed by chefs constantly telling people to sear their meat to “seal in the flavours” (I’m the kind of pedant who cares about such things). Searing meat doesn’t actually seal in any flavours whatsoever, instead: (and I’m quoting Heston Blumenthal here)
“When protein-rich foods like meat are exposed to a high heat, amino acids begin to react with other compounds to create a huge range of different flavours. The characteristic roasted flavours of coffee, chocolate, bread crusts and pan-fried meat all come largely from such reactions, which are called Maillard reactions, after the French biochemist who first identified the process in the early part of the twentieth century.”
So there TV chefs! If you’ve gotten the opportunity to cook in front of millions on the telly, the very least that you can do for your viewers is stop misinforming them about the basic processes of cooking, thank you very much.
Alright, now that we’ve got the science and the ranting out of the way, let’s get to the barbecuing….
I’m going to focus on barbecuing burgers today, because it ain’t all that hard, but by jove does it taste good. The tricky thing about barbequing, especially when you spend your time barbecuing on the cheap disposable charcoal barbecues that are all that I can afford, is that it’s so hard to have any idea if your meat is cooking evenly. Therefore, the wisest plan of action is to have your meat as thin, or with a small a surface area as possible, so that you don’t have to worry so much about the unevenness of the heat that’s distributed across your grill.
And so, the smart barbecuer should get thinly sliced or relatively small pieces of meat from their butcher if they want to avoid burnt exterior pieces of meat concealing raw meat within. If I’m doing a steak burger, I personally favour a relatively thinly sliced piece of sirloin (but not too thin if you want it bloody on the inside!) flipped over about every minute or so to keep an eye out for any exterior burning. After a couple of flips your steak such be nicely seared on the outside with nice pink tender meat within. Mmmmm….. taste those amino acids reacting with sugars. Nice.
If I’m doing burgers, after much trial and error, I’ve discovered that the really smart barbequer should make their patties as small as possible in order to get as much exterior meat exposed to that delicous charcoal flavour as possible, without leaving a lot of interior meat for the heat to penetrate. This way you’re not left with raw mince in the middle of your burger. So unless you’re a fan of steak tartare, or you’re the kind of risk taking personality that enjoys dicing with salmonella on a sunny day, then keep those patties small!
Turning your little patties into delicious slider mini burgers is guaranteed (not an actual guarantee (I’m not here to vouch for your culinary skills)) to turn out delicious for everyone involved. I bought my mini burger buns in Marks and Sparks, and encased each of my mouth-watering pieces of meat within, alongside a selection of complimentary condiments.
This method of eating burgers also allows you to experience the excitement of playing the Super Fun Summertime Shooters Eating Lottery Game (the title may need some work). To play, simply add a different sample of each of your favourite condiments to each mini-burger and then carefully conceal your mischief by placing a bun atop. Do this with a different condiment to each of your mouthful sized morsels and ask a good friend to mix up the arrangement of the burgers on the plate whilst your back is turned. Then do the same for your friend while his back is turned. When you are both facing the burgers once again with your eyes wide open in anticipation of the feast that lays before you, it’s time for the fun to begin! Pick up a random burger and prepare for your taste buds to be tantalised by the delicousness of that tasty meat coupled with the mystery of an unexpected condiment within. You can literally spend minutes enjoying yourself in this manner. However, keep a keen eye out for the kind of joker who thinks it’s funny to put strawberry yoghurt on top of a perfectly good burger in pursuit of tomfoolery. Such renegade jokers should be banned from partaking in all future Super Fun Summertime Shooters Eating Lottery Games. Their loss. Some people….
Alright, I seem to have wandered slightly off track from my recipe and my humble celebration of the barbecued burger, so I’ll leave you all to get out into the sunshine and get cooking and tasting. Let me know how things turn out!
And also click here to be taken to my photo store where you can buy these and many other stupendous examples of my food photography.
Today I thought that I’d mix up my photography a bit by including some of my photos of food alongside two delicious seafood recipes that I prepared last night to no small amount of acclaim from my fellow diner (if I do say so myself).
Here is my first course, which unfortunately due to extreme pangs of hunger, I didn’t have the time to photograph before demolishing. However, I did take a few moments to photograph the unfortunate crustacean before preparing and devouring it, and I can confirm that it was just as delicious as it was photogenic.
Galway Bay Prawns in a Creamy White Wine Sauce served with Irish Soda Bread. (serves 2)
12 Galway Bay Prawns (They don’t have to be Galway Bay Prawns but they should be nice fresh prawns of a decent size, uncooked, and still in their shells)
One small tub of Double Cream
A cup of good quality stock (I personally used a muscat and saffron wine reduction that I got in the deli cause I’m a very lazy man)
A good splash of decent white wine
A small onion, or a couple of shallots finely chopped
A finely chopped clove or two of garlic according to your own personal taste
A teaspoon of mustard
Juice of a lemon
A good knob of butter
A bunch of parsley finely chopped
1. Fry off the onions gently in the butter until they are soft and beginning to colour.
2. Add the Garlic and fry for a minute or so.
3. Add the white wine to deglaze the pan and bring down its temperature.
4. Add the double cream and warm it on a gentle heat.
5. (top tip) At this stage I took the legs off of my prawns and added them to the double cream while it warmed up and the alcohol was burning off the wine in order to increase the fishy flavour of my sauce as I wasn’t using fish stock.
6. Add the prawns to the creamy sauce and leave to cook for about 5 mins.
7. Finally add the chopped parsley and squeeze in the lemon juice, salt, and pepper, to season the sauce to your own personal tastes.
8. Serve topped with lemon and a sprig of parsley alongside a couple of slices of good quality bread such as Irish brown soda bread to mop up all that lovely creamy sauce.
Some people may find it a bit fiddly taking the shells of the prawn at the table and getting their hands dirty (not me I love getting stuck in). In such cases you can simply remove the prawns from their shells before adding them to the sauce to cook, though you might also like to add the flavour of the discarded shells to the sauce by wrapping them in a j-cloth (a clean one mind) and adding them to the sauce to infuse whilst the prawns are cooking.
And voila, you should have a deliciously creamy and decadent start to your seafood supper. Be sure to retain some of that velvety flavoursome sauce for the next course because it lends itself perfectly as a deliciously fishy accompaniment for the following sea trout recipe.
Pan Fried Sea Trout on a Fricassee of Pancetta, Peas, and Potatoes.
I have to give credit to Gordon Ramsay and his own recipe for Pan-fried sea trout, peas & chorizo fricassee for inspiring this dish. He uses chorizo instead of pancetta and doesn’t add any sauce to his dish, though I always love a nice rich gravy and it seems a shame to waste all that creamy white wine sauce from those prawns.
2 good sized fillets of fresh Sea Trout
A few slices of good quality pancetta
4 peeled and diced floury potatoes
A cup of frozen peas (optional)
A couple of cloves of garlic chopped finely
A cupful of good quality chicken stock
A knob of butter for frying
1. For the fricassee, add the pancetta to a hot pan (there’s no need for oil as the ham should emit more than enough oil to cook with) fry until the fat starts to render and then add the potatoes and fry off for about 5 mins until the potatoes start to brown a little.
2. Next add the chicken stock and allow to simmer away until all of the liquid has evaporated from the potatoes which should take about 10 minutes. (if you decided to add the frozen peas for some colour and vitamins, which I do recommend, then add them about 2 mins before the end of cooking your potatoes.
3. Season the potatoes with salt and pepper to taste (remember that the pancetta and stock may already have made your potatoes salty enough though.)
4. After adding the stock to the potatoes, it is a good time to start frying off your fillets of sea-trout. First place your pan over a medium heat and add the butter when it’s hot.
5. Then add the sea-trout skin side down and leave it like that for about 5 mins until you can see the flesh beginning to turn from pink to opaque on the top of the fish.
6. Turn over the fish quickly just to finish off the pink area and and squeeze a lemon on top and then remove from the pan immediately.
7. Plate up the fish by laying it beside or on top of the potatoes and then pour over some of that rich creamy sauce that you reserved from the starter.
You should now have prepared two simple yet delicious seafood courses, which I’m sure any fish loving diner should enjoy immensely. As you may be able to see from my photos, I forgot to buy the bloody peas! As a result, my dish was a bit lacking in greenery. Although I tried to gloss over this by serving my fish with a sprig of parsley and slice of lemon, though next time I’ll certainly remember to add some veg.
At this stage I was far too lazy to start cooking a desert, so I bought some fresh Irish Strawberries that have just come into season and served them with a couple of scoops of ice-cream. Some fresh zesty seasonal fruit really finishes off such a rich meal quite nicely.
If anybody tries these recipes then please do let me know, cause food is a new passion of mine and this is my first food related post and I’d love to know if I should try making it a regular occurrence.
“There is no love sincerer than the love of food”. ~George Bernard Shaw