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If you just met him/her and need to keep the mood casual but still want to prepare a knock out Valentines Day dinner, I might be able to help. Serious comfort food never fails and when enjoyed away from the hustle and bustle, it tastes even better. And if you’re worried about not impressing enough let me remind you that the old hamburger has had a facelift and can be found boasting its new look at the top of the menu alongside it’s outrageous price tag in some of the most distinguished restaurants in the world. The gourmet burger can cost from £20, proving that the old patty and bun is back in the game.

The greatest part of creating a gourmet burger is that you can paint it like a canvas, whilst remaining true to a few key elements. First off, the ingredients. Use only excellent, fresh ingredients and it will show through in the taste. Particularly the patty, pay a visit to your local butcher or a reputable market and ask for top A grade quality patties without flavour enhancers, colorants and additives. You want to purchase patties that are about 2 1/2 cm or 1 inch thick made from a *marbled piece of beef. Don’t look for lean meat, the fat is essential to keep the burger from drying out. This will make all the difference and it won’t matter whether you’re cooking them on a stove top or on coals, you will without doubt smell the smokey meatiness wafting through the air once that fat starts to sizzle.

Remember, next to the patty, the bun is a major contributor in creating the ultimate gourmet burger. If you can’t get your hands on freshly baked, hamburger buns that have not been packaged and lying on a shelf for days, then you are going to have to bake them yourself. Not as difficult as you might think it is and the overall result will keep you baking these buns every single time.

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The additions! This is completely up to you and depends on what appeals to your taste buds. Here I’ve gone for a burger with Italian flair. For the cheese, because I believe burgers need cheese and love cheese and since it’s Valentines day, get these two lovebirds together.  I’ve used fresh mozzarella, made from cows milk. Mozzarella di Bufala is a very popular mozzarella made from buffalo milk but is richer and fattier than that made from cows milk. So whilst it’s usually the preferred type, I don’t think it is the best option for burgers. A prime burger should have twenty percent of fat in the meat so cows milk mozzarella works great for burgers because it’s less fatty but equally gooey. A burger should have a fresh element, whether it’s through fresh tomatoes, or lettuce, or like in this dish, baby spinach leaves, roquette and red lettuce creates a nice zing. In a typical burger there will always be an element of tang from pickles or relishes but for my taste, vegetables that’s been soaking in vinegar can be a little overpowering where burgers are concerned. Often you’ll find people removing them before taking that first bite. The sharpness however is needed so what I’ve done here is sautéed chestnut mushrooms and caramelised onions and finished it off with balsamic glaze which has just the right amount of tartness when combined with the sweetness from the onions. Usually bacon or some form of smoked element goes well with burgers. Smoked cheese is great, if you’re not a fan of bacon. Here I flash fried slices of smoked prosciutto crudo which is a famous Italian cured meat that’s cut thinly and air dried and typically enjoyed at room temperature. Being so thin and especially dry I knew that flash frying will add not only flavour but texture from the crispy crunch I was hoping for.

Whether you’re serving your burgers with a side of chips or modish chips like sautéed potatoes or wedges, tossing them in finely grated parmesan and rosemary salt once they’re cooked, will simply elevate those potatoes to a stunning new level. It’s as easy as grinding equal amounts of dried rosemary that’s been pulled away from the stalk, with coarse sea salt until fine. Add to a small glass jar, poke a few holes in the lid and that’s it, salt with the fragrance and flavour of rosemary to sprinkle on just about anything.

For the drinks it’s safe to say that burgers and beer were made for each other so keep the beers ice-cold and choose one that’s special to mark the evening. A great choice is this one that’s paired with notes of single malt whiskey and toasted oak from Tennent Caledonian, Scotland’s oldest brewery, established in 1556. It is a smoky ale, with a beautifully smooth and woody finish, perfect for those meaty burgers. All that’s left to do now is read over the notes to ensure every item will be cooked to perfection and you’re ready to knock the socks off someone. Cheers!

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 For The Buns
Ingredients (makes 8)
  • 400g bread flour
  • 14g dry yeast
  • 30g sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 160ml water (tepid)
  • 30ml olive oil
  • 20ml melted butter
  • 2tsp salt
  • egg wash (room temperature)
  • Sesame, sunflower and poppy seeds
Preparation
  1. Mix oil, water, butter and eggs together until eggs are well beaten and transfer to the bowl of a stand mixer attached with dough hook.
  2. In a separate dry bowl, combine flour, sugar and yeast,
  3. Add flour mix to the liquid and mix on low-speed for two minutes.
  4. After two minutes turn up the speed to medium and mix for seven minutes.
  5. At this point the dough should come clean off the bowl.
  6. With the mixer running add salt and beat for one minute only.
  7. Remove the dough ball and transfer into a large greased bowl, cover with cling film and leave to proof in a warm place for 60 minutes.
  8. After an hour the dough would have tripled in volume, turn out the dough onto a worktop.
  9. Using a scale and bench scraper divide the 660g of dough into 8 pieces of 82g each.
  10. Roll each piece into a *boule and place on a flat work surface. Cover with cling film and leave to proof 15 minutes more.
  11. After proofing time, sprinkle the boules lightly with flour and reshape again into boules and place them onto a lined baking sheet. If using pastry rings, they must be greased well and the boules placed in the centre of each ring onto the lined baking sheet. If not, place the boules onto the lined baking sheet ensuring there is sufficient space for them to rise and expand without touching each other.
  12. Using a pastry brush and a little olive oil, brush each boule well before proofing again in a warm place for 60 minutes.
  13. After proofing time, gently brush the top of each bun with egg wash taking care not to puncture the bun and let out any gas.
  14. Lightly sprinkle the tops with seeds and bake in a preheated oven at 200°C gas fan / 220°C electric fan /240° conventional for 12 – 15 minutes until golden brown.
  15. Remove from the oven and transfer onto a cool surface. Wait 15 minutes before turning out from the pastry rings by gently pushing them out from the bottom.

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For the Burgers
Ingredients (medium-well)
  • 2 patties (1 inch thick)
  • 6 small chestnut mushrooms
  • 1 medium red onion
  • drizzle of olive oil
  • salt and cracked black pepper to taste
  • 3tbs balsamic vinegar
  • salad greens (roquette, red lettuce and baby spinach)
  • 50g mozzarella cheese (sliced into rounds)
  • 2 slices of prosciutto
  • 250 canola oil
Preparation
  1. Brush mushrooms, trim and rinse lightly under cold running water before thinly slicing.
  2. Peel onion and slice into thin rounds.
  3. In a shallow pan add oil on medium heat for 3 minutes until hot. Add mushrooms on one side of the pan and onions on the other. Season with salt and pepper, and sauté for 3-4 minutes. Deglaze with balsamic vinegar, cook for a one minute more or until vinegar has reduced to a thick cream and switch off the heat.
  4. Cut buns in half, and brush lightly with olive oil.
  5. Heat a griddle pan on medium heat for four to five minutes and toast the buns until golden. Set aside.
  6. Start to heat canola oil in a small pot on low to medium heat.
  7. Before placing the patties on the hot griddle, use your fingers to divit the patties in the centre, pressing down so that when they cook they will not plump up and will stay flat. Doing this on only a side and not the other is enough. Once the patties have been pressed down in the centre, brush the griddle pan with olive oil and place them divit side down. Grill for 4 minutes without lifting them or pressing them, before turning over. Once they are turned over, top the patties with cheese slices and continue to grill for three minutes. In the fourth minute cover with lid to ensure that the steam melts the cheese completely.
  8. Remove patties from the pan and leave to rest for 2 minutes.
  9. Meanwhile drop prosciutto into hot canola oil and fry for under thirty seconds or just until the fat start to curl. Remove and drain on paper towel.
Assembly
  1. Place dry salad greens on the bottom half of the buns to ensure that they protect the bun from any juices that may seep out of the patties and cause the buns to become soggy.
  2. Place patties on top of greens, cheese side facing up.
  3. Top with onions and mushrooms and drizzle over the balsamic glaze which will act as a sauce.
  4. Snap prosciutto slices in half and place two pieces on over each patty.
  5. Close with the top half of the bun.
  6. Keep the burger in place by pushing a wooden skewer or a strong steak knife all the way through from the centre downward.
Maestros Need to Know

*A boule is a French term used to describe the shape of dough when it is moulded into balls. To create a boule that is free of creases, wrinkles and rough edges, you must first place a piece of dough on smooth work surface and roll it into a ball between the work surface and the palm of your hand. Once the ball has roughly formed, use the sides of both of your palms to tuck the rough edges to the under side of the ball, rotating while you tuck to create a perfectly round, plump and smooth boule.

*It is important to remember that the addition of salt tends to toughen the dough so for soft bread recipes like dinner rolls and buns it is best to add the salt at the last-minute of kneading. I also find that salt causes the dough to lose its structure and become soggy, sticky and difficult to manipulate. I find that even if the dough ball has come clean off the bowl during the kneading process, the addition of salt will cause the dough to once again stick to the bowl. To avoid this from happening it is advisable to keep the mixer running for no more than a minute after the salt has been added and immediately turn the dough out into a greased bowl.

*The temperature when proofing dough is a key factor in getting your dough to rise sufficiently. Yeast doughs tend to rise beautifully in warmth. Therefore it is my best advice to always brush the unbaked buns with egg wash that has reached room temperature. After the final proofing you should yield buns that are smooth, and puffed. At this point right before baking they will need to be brushed with egg wash. If the egg wash has been freshly made with a cold egg or has been sitting in the fridge it will ruin the beautiful lift of the unbaked buns and they will start to shrink. It can be a catastrophe especially since all that effort and patience has gone into making the perfect buns, so always ensure to use room temperature egg wash for all yeast risen doughs before baking.

*Too keep the burger moist, refrain from pressing it down with your spatula. By using the divit method the burger will keep its shape and not plump up so there is no need to press it down. Pressing burgers down while grilling, cause them to lose moisture and dry out.

*Marbling or marbled meat refers to the streaks of fat found within meat opposed to the fat found around cuts of meat. With regards to patty making, marbled meat is the best to use, because it's this fat that keeps the meat tender and succulent.
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