Beef, Pork Products, Quick Meals, Sandwich

Burgermeister meisterburger.

I have standards, sometimes set by long-ago dining experiences. The patty melt, for example. When I was in high school, I waited tables at the Woolworth’s Coffee Shop in the Brookfield Square Mall, your basic diner with sandwiches, pie, soups and burgers. The best of these was the patty melt. Served in a brown skillet plate, atop a pile of crisp, salty fries, the Woolworth’s patty melt boasted melted American cheese, a tangle of sweet, golden onion, and, most importantly, buttery griddled rye. For me, it was a perfect sandwich, and today, if I order a patty melt, I expect it to taste like that.

The problem with maintaining standards is that, inevitably, someone will disappoint you. Last weekend, in the Los Angeles area, I had a terrible patty melt. Let me count the ways in which the Kobe burger failed to meet my expectations. First of all, no way was that Kobe beef. Second, even if it was Kobe, they killed it, cooking the burger to a charred, dried out puck. Third, I think they cooked it on the flattop right after cooking my mom’s swordfish, because it came with an odd, fishy aroma. Fourth (yes – I have a lot of complaints about this burger), I couldn’t taste the few strings of caramelized onion through the burnt, fishy lump of meat. And finally, the bread. Marble rye could’ve been a cute twist, but patty melts need to be buttered and then griddled on the flattop. What you’re looking for, see, is a grilled cheese on rye, essentially, but with a burger and some caramelized onions in between. What I got was rye bread, too dry to be fresh, not dry enough to have been toasted. And no butter. Expectations not met.

I couldn’t eat it. Once we returned from LA, all I could think about was that total failure burger.

Having read too many gross stories about commercially-available ground beef, I always grind my own meat. As an added bonus, I get to choose the cuts and season them before grinding for perfect salt integration. For the burgers we eat at home, I use a blend of short rib, brisket, and tri-tip (if I can get it – otherwise, I just use any sirloin I can get). It’s kind of a fat bomb, but we only eat burgers at home maybe two or three times a year. If you don’t grind the meat yourself, substitute 1 1/2 lbs of any high quality fresh-ground beef – meaning that the butcher or market grinds the meat from whole cuts in-house. You will notice from the pictures that the burgers are not medium-rare. This is because my husband dislikes the thick medium-rare burger, preferring instead a fully cooked but very thin patty, such as you might get at In ‘N’ Out Burger. You can suit yourself, but if you want to cook the thin patties, each one should be 2 oz, and you can double them up on your burger.

Patty melt

Now and then I encounter attempts to fancy up a perfectly good burger with artisanal cheese. For purposes of the patty melt, that’s wrong. The cheese you want is American, which melts evenly and provides a mildly tangy, salty quality that doesn’t compete with the meat. Blue cheeses take you into Spotted Pig territory, which is great and all, but this is a patty melt. Cheddar just isn’t salty enough and melts into a greasy, sweaty-looking blob. Swiss, even though traditional, poses the same problem. And with the holes in the cheese, you don’t get perfect burger coverage.

1/2 lb beef short rib (boneless)
1/2 lb beef brisket
1/2 lb bottom sirloin (or other sirloin)
kosher salt
12 slices American cheese
2 large red onions, sliced into 1/4″ rings
12 slices rye bread
unsalted butter, softened

Cut the beef into 1″ cubes and spread evenly on a sheet pan. Season with 1/2 tsp kosher salt per pound of meat. If you have to use a table salt, cut this quantity in half. Freeze the meat until firm (about 30 minutes) and pass through a grinder with a medium die.

Butter each slice of bread on one side.

Place a skillet over medium high heat and, when hot, add a knob of butter. Add the onion and cook until translucent and soft with deep golden brown edges. Season with a little salt and set aside.

Form the meat into six patties, 4 oz each. Place a large skillet over medium-high heat and, when hot, film with oil. Fry the burgers on one side until browned, and flip with a spatula. Reduce the heat to medium-low and cook to the desired doneness, topping with a slice of cheese. Alternatively, you can grill the burger, but you usually wouldn’t grill a patty melt.

In a second skillet, place the bread, butter side down, topped with a slice of cheese. Place the cooked burgers on top of the cheese, top with a generous quantity of onion, and top with the second slice of buttered rye, butter side-up. Press down with the spatula. When the bread is golden brown on the skillet side, flip the sandwich over and cook until the other slice of bread is golden brown. Slice in half and serve.

Patty melt.

Korean BBQ burger

There’s nothing like the savory, mildly sweet, smoky taste of galbi, the Korean dish of beef short ribs, marinated and grilled. It’s often served as ssam – a wrapped food – with a lettuce leaf and a smear of gochujang, the spicy red pepper bean paste, and assorted side dishes like kimchi. I thought it might be delicious to incorporate these flavors into a burger, especially one using ground short rib.

Instead of a big dab of gochujang, this burger features a spicy mayonnaise. I make my own, but you can substitute a good quality jarred mayonnaise, such as Hellman’s or Duke’s.

1/2 lb beef short rib (boneless)
1/2 lb beef brisket
1/2 lb bottom sirloin (or other sirloin)
kosher salt
1 tsp sesame oil
1 tsp soy sauce
clove garlic
1/8 tsp ground white pepper
large pinch sugar
butter lettuce or crisphead lettuce (like iceberg)
1 c baechu kimchi (cabbage kimchi), chopped coarsely
1/2 c mayonnaise
1 tbsp gochujang (Korean hot pepper paste)
6 burger buns

Combine the mayonnaise and gochujang in a small bowl. Cover and keep refrigerated. Rub a separate small bowl with the garlic clove and, in the bowl, combine the soy, sesame oil, white pepper, and sugar.

Cut the beef into 1″ cubes and spread evenly on a sheet pan. Season with 1/2 tsp kosher salt per pound of meat. If you have to use a table salt, cut this quantity in half. Freeze the meat until firm (about 30 minutes) and pass through a grinder with a medium die.

Split the buns and place, cut side up, on a baking sheet. Place under a hot broiler until lightly toasted on the cut side. Remove and set aside.

Form the meat into six patties, 4 oz each. Brush each very lightly with the sesame-soy mixture. Sesame oil has a strong taste, so more is not better in this situation. When I say lightly, I mean lightly. Place a large skillet over medium-high heat and, when hot, film with oil. Fry the burgers on one side until browned, and flip with a spatula. Reduce the heat to medium-low and cook to the desired doneness. Alternatively, you can grill the burger.

Spread gochujang mayonnaise on the cut side of each bun. Top the bottom halves with lettuce. Place the burger on top and top with kimchi. Serve immediately.

Korean BBQ burger

Sausage burger

While I’ve got you here, let me share another burger favorite. This one features pork, the king of meats, and Italian flavors. The bitterness of the radicchio cuts right through the fattiness of the sausage, and the mushrooms and Parmigiano cheese turn this sandwich into an umami festival. Combine caramelized onion for sweetness and pickled onion for acidity and you’ve got a perfect bite.

1 1/2 lbs sausage, from this recipe
10 oz white button mushrooms, sliced thinly (1/8″ or so)
unsalted butter
salt (truffle salt is especially good) and pepper
1/4 c dry white wine
radicchio leaves, washed and dried
12 paper-thin slices Parmigiano-Reggiano
4 oz Fontina Val d’Aosta, in 12 slices
Pickled onion, from this recipe
Dijon mustard
6 burger buns

Split the buns and place, cut side up, on a baking sheet. Place under a hot broiler until lightly toasted on the cut side. Remove and set aside.

Place skillet on high heat and, when hot, add about 2 tbsp butter. Add mushrooms and saute until they have given up their liquid and reabsorbed it; add wine. Cook, stirring from time to time, until all liquid is absorbed. Once liquid is absorbed, cook, stirring infrequently, until mushrooms are golden brown. Season with salt and pepper.

Form the meat into six patties. Place a large skillet over medium-high heat and, when hot, film with oil. Fry the burgers on one side until browned, and flip with a spatula. Reduce the heat to medium-low and cook through completely, topping with a slice of cheese. Don’t overcook them, though – they need to be moist.

Spread the bottom halves of each bun with mustard and top with radicchio. Place the burger on top and top with sauteed mushrooms and pickled onion. Serve immediately.

Sausage burger

East Asian, Random Thoughts, Vegetables


If you live in a cave, you haven’t heard that the Eastern Seaboard is being buried by an historic snowstorm right now. As of noon Saturday, we’ve received 25 inches (!) in Baltimore, and the snow continues to fall thick and fast.

I’m from the Midwest and know better than to go out in these conditions, especially because Marylanders don’t know how to drive in the snow. We have plenty of food at home, anyway. In times past, you had to plan for the winter – you couldn’t buy hydroponic tomatoes and arugula year-round, or find blueberries grown in Peru in December. You kept apples and potatoes and rutabagas in a root cellar, and, in the summer, you put up jars of fruit preserves and pickles to eat once the ground froze.

Without romanticizing that era – which sounds artisanal and quaint from a twenty-first century perspective mostly because we’ve forgotten the many hardships – I do appreciate a good pickle. These days, the only pickles available in most grocery stores are pickled cucumbers and peppers, even though the term “pickle” means any vegetables (or fruit) preserved in brine or vinegar. That’s a shame, because the world of pickles extends far beyond sweet cucumber slices, banana peppers, and zesty dills. In fact, if you travel the world, you’ll find that pickle and preserve appreciation continues unabated, even in these days of refrigeration and out-of-season produce.

Korea may be ground zero for vegetable preservation. The mainstays of Korean cuisine are rice and kimchi 김치, which includes brine-pickled cabbage, radish, and cucumber. Kimchi usually is fermented as well as pickled. In addition, Korean cuisine features numerous other types of pickles – some vinegar-based, others soy sauce-based.

Kimchi fermentation is the same type of lactic acid fermentation that occurs in yoghurt, which makes kimchi pungent and tart as well as salty. The most common types are baechu 배추, or napa cabbage, kimchi and kkakdugi 깍두기, or mu radish 무, kimchi; oi오이, or cucumber, kimchi also is popular in the summer. Although kimchi owes its pungent tang to the fermentation process – often helped along by saeujeot 새우젓 (salted shrimp), briny fish, or oysters – most varieties also are spicy due to the use of kochukaru (Korean red chile powder) or gochujang 고추장 (red chile paste). Fall and winter kimchi preserve baechu or napa cabbage for the cold months; as it is high in vitamin C and fiber, it provides an excellent source of nourishment.

Refrigerator garlic dill pickles

I confess that this cucumber pickling is all happening out of season. I came upon a huge display of Kirby cucumbers at the H Mart before the storm. My husband has a colleague whose sister makes amazing garlic dills down in Texas, hands them out as holiday gifts, and refuses to share the recipe. Leaving aside my feelings about people who don’t share (what, is she planning to become the next Vlasic? I’m not going to steal her freaking recipe and open a pickle factory), dill pickles are my favorite, they’re easy, and there’s no reason not to do this at home.

I have given two options – the first is for refrigerator pickles, not canning pickles, which must be stored in the refrigerator and eaten relatively soon – within a month. The second method is for canning pickles, which may be processed and stored on the shelf.

2 lbs Kirby cucumbers, sliced vertically into spears
2/3 c distilled white vinegar
3 c filtered water
1 tsp sugar
1/2 c kosher salt or pickling salt (do not substitute table salt)
8 cloves garlic, halved
1 tsp crushed red chiles
2 tsp dill seed
2 tbsp pickling spice

Combine liquids, sugar, and salt, and heat to boiling.

If using the refrigerator method, place the cucumbers, garlic, and spices into a container with a lid and pour the hot liquid over the ingredients. Allow to cool at room temperature, seal, and store in the refrigerator.

For the canning method, tightly pack cucumbers into hot, clean quart jars. Add to each jar equal quantities of garlic and spices. Fill the jars with the hot liquid up to about 1/2″ from the top of the jar. Screw the lids onto the jars. Process in a boiling water bath for 20 minutes, making sure the water in the bath covers the tops of the jars. When the jars cool, check the seals. The pickles should age for at least a month before eating but will keep much longer.

Oi kimchi 오이 김치(fermented cucumber pickle)

This pickle, based on David Chang’s technique in Momofuku , doesn’t keep as long as the other kinds of kimchi as it uses somewhat less salt. You can enjoy it for up to about two weeks, at which time it will become too pungent to eat. Again, I’m making this out of season – it’s really a summer pickle, to be enjoyed shortly after preparation, rather than a preservation method to store cabbage for the winter.

Galbi (marinated grilled short rib) with oi kimchi and vinegar pickled mu radish

1 tsp salt
1 tbsp sugar
1 lb Kirby cucumbers, cut into 6 spears each
1 tbsp soy sauce (preferably white soy, usukuchi)
2 tsp fish sauce (preferably Korean, but any fish sauce will do)
1 tbsp kochukaru (Korean red chile powder) or 2 tsp gochujang (red chile paste)
scant 1 tsp saeujeot (salted shrimp), optional
6 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
1 carrot, julienne
1 scallion, julienne
1/2 onion, sliced thinly pole to pole

Salt the cucumbers in a colander. Allow to drain for about fifteen minutes.

Meanwhile, combine all the other ingredients. Once the cucumbers have drained, add them to the mixture. Toss well and allow to combine for at least an hour. This kimchi is best within the first couple of days; it becomes increasingly pungent, which is not such a problem, but the cucumbers become soggy after a few days.

Vinegar pickled mu radish

I have no idea what this is called, but on a number of occasions, I’ve encountered this pickle at Korean barbecue joints, sliced thinly and served apparently as a wrapper for a type of ssam 쌈, wrapped foods. I can’t be sure this is how it’s made, but it tastes exactly like the radish pickle I’ve eaten. It is absolutely delicious with barbecued short rib, ssamjang 쌈장, and scallions.

Mu radishes

If you can’t find mu radish (and you probably won’t unless you live in an area with a Korean market), daikon will work just fine, as will any other large, solid radish. In the summer, if you grow watermelon radish, you can enjoy a spectacular version of this pickle, which is ready to eat within an hour.

1 pound mu radish, peeled and sliced thinly (less than 1/16″) on a mandoline. The slices should be thin enough to be totally flexible
1 c hot water (about 150F)
1/2 c rice wine vinegar
1/4 c sugar
1 tbsp kosher salt

Place the radish slices in a container with a lid. Combine the water, vinegar, sugar, and salt, ensuring that the sugar and salt have dissolved completely. Pour the liquid over the radish slices and seal the lid. Allow to stand for at least an hour before eating. The radish pickle will be ready to eat after an hour; try to eat it all within a few days for optimum flavor.

Kimchi bokumbap 김치 볶음밥

Who doesn’t like egg-topped dishes? And who doesn’t like fried rice? This dish, which translates literally as “kimchi mixed rice,” combines the two – a spicy fried rice that uses up bits of kimchi before they become too pungent to eat, leftover rice, and the runny yolk of a fried egg. Or a poached egg, which I prefer.

2 c cooked short-grain rice
1/2 onion, diced 1/4″
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 scallions, minced
1/2 c (or so) baechu kimchi, diced, with any liquid
1 1/2 tsp soy sauce (preferably usukuchi, white soy)
vegetable oil
4 eggs

Place a large skillet over medium high heat and, when hot, add about 1 tbsp oil. Add the onion, garlic, and scallions, and sauté until tender and barely golden. Add the kimchi and saute a minute more.

Add the rice and sauté, breaking up the rice, adding any remaining kimchi liquid and the soy sauce.

Poach the eggs or pan-fry them, sunny-side up. Serve the rice in individual serving bowls, each with an egg, with a generous quantity of gochujang mixed in.

Kimchi bokumbap