There’s something about a starting point, a foundation…the first step into a planned journey. An event, or occasion that maybe didn’t seem significant at the time but, now you can see it clearly; this was where it all began…
I finally got around to catching up on some Marvel films I had missed in the theatre, Thor Ragnarok and Black Panther, and thoroughly enjoyed both of them. Having recently seen Infinity War, this all got me thinking about where the whole MCU phenomenon started. First, I thought of the awful Hulk movie…but then I came to my senses and thought of the first RDJ Iron Man film. I remember the skepticism about the casting, the fears by fans that it would destroy the character, the fears from the general public that it would be another crappy comic book movie. I also remember repeatedly telling my skeptical friends on both sides; “They hired a rich alcoholic pretty-boy to play Marvel’s quintessential rich alcoholic pretty-boy, I think we’ll be alright.”
I wasn’t disappointed, and the MCU has (in general) continued to deliver for the last ten years running. One of the best scenes in the movie is the press conference Tony Stark holds after he returns from captivity, it’s funny, it’s humanizing, it asks still relevant questions about society. I won’t belabor the scene, since you can watch it here.
Just before the conference, Stark is picked up by his driver Hogan (played by director Jon Favreau) and asks for two things; that press conference and a cheeseburger, which brings up to our other foundational thing for today…the (sometimes-not-so-) humble cheeseburger. In the movie, Tony is eating some fast food product placement, but we all know that we can do better than that. A good cheeseburger can be built at home, with easy-to-find ingredients and can be the foundation for a wide variety of preferences and expressions. However, like Tony, I got a little self-righteous and decided to go back to the roots, determine what I liked, and build something that was true to the ideal while still being modern. I went super simple and traditional with toppings, and while I encourage you to try the classics, I won’t be prescriptive about it. Use whatever specific cheese or toppings you like and have fun with it. The important thing to keep in mind is that you’re adding things that improve the burger, not turning the burger into a vessel for the toppings.
I went SUPER from scratch on this one and ground my own meat and baked my own buns; neither is strictly necessary, but both will give you more control over the process and end result. If you have the time, I encourage you to give it a shot, but this recipe can also be whipped up in an hour or so with pre-ground meat and bake shop buns. I paired the burgers with potato salad, another old-fashioned classic and literally my favorite cook-out/potluck/BBQ food ever. (Seriously, ask my family, they had to keep it hidden or I’d eat it ALL.) My current favorite recipe is red potatoes with some aromatics and herbs, held together with vinegar and a little mayo, but you can modify the ingredients to suit your preferences. It’s also fair to note that even though I cooked the burgers in a pan because I forgot to buy propane, but these grill perfectly well with similar cooking times.
So check your pantry for the ingredients you’ve probably already got around the house, grab the rest at the grocery store, invite your own team of heroes over for dinner, and enjoy some of the classics that got us where we are today. (Super suit optional, NO CAPES!)
I can’t give you the recipe for my pickles, but I can give you 20% off on my online store if you’d like to buy some for yourself. Just use the promo code IMALURKER at checkout.
Old-School Cheeseburgers, Whole Wheat Buns, and Red Potato Salad
or the burgers (Makes ten 3.5oz, or eight 4oz patties):
- 2 ½ lbs. Beef Shoulder (aka chuck), or 80/20 ground beef
- 1 large egg
- ½ TBS Paprika
- 1tsp Cumin
- 1tsp Onion Powder
- 1tsp Garlic Powder
- 1TBS Salt
- ½ TBS Pepper
- 1TBS Soy Sauce
Toppings (modify to your preference)
- Witt’s Pickles Dill Cucumbers
- Cheddar Chees
- Coarsely grind the meat (if applicable, and if so, I am trusting you to do a little research on meat grinding),
and add the other ingredients to it in a large bowl and mix by hand until thoroughly combined. You want the spices evenly distributed, but you don’t want to overwork the meat.
- Tightly cover and chill the mixture in the fridge for at least 30 minutes, or up to overnight.
- Form the mixture into even balls, then press flat into 1/2” thick patties leaving a bit of a divot in the middle to allow for shrinkage during cooking.
- Season both sides with salt and pepper, then cook on high heat for 2-4 minutes before flipping it and cooking on high heat for another 2-3 minutes.
- Cover the cooked side with the cheese, reduce the heat to medium-low (or move to a cooler part of the grill) and cover for 1-2 minutes to melt the cheese.
- Remove the patty from the heat while you build the burger. Here’s my advice/method: mayo on each bun to keep them from getting soggy, then stacking from the bottom bun, add the patty, mustard, onions, lettuce, pickles, and the top bun. The goal is to keep the wet ingredients from sogging out the buns, and the hot patty from wilting the crispy toppings.
For the whole wheat hamburger buns
(metric is more precise, but I guess you can use Siri to covert to imperial and round a little):
- 200g Warm Water
- 30g Butter, Melted
- 10g Active Dry (or instant) Yeast (One packet)
- 325g All Purpose Flour
- 100g Whole Wheat Flour
- 50g Granulated Sugar
- 15g Kosher Salt
- Butter and spices for topping (details below)
- Melt the butter in the warm water and set aside.
- Combine the dry ingredients in a large bowl, stand mixer, or food processor and mix thoroughly.
- Add the butter and water and mix until the dough forms a cohesive ball, them continue kneading until the dough is glossy and springy. Once the gluten has developed enough, you should be able to do a “window pane test” and pull a small ball of dough thin enough to see the light through it.
- Form the dough in to a single ball by rolling it in on itself, grease a large bowl with some butter or oil and roll the dough around to grease it. Then set the dough seam side down in the bowl and cover loosely. Leave this in a warm place for 2-3 hours until the dough has doubled in volume (I left mine on a table in front of a sunny window for 2.5 hours).
- Flour a board or counter and gently tip the dough out of the bowl. Gently portion it into 8 or 10 equal pieces, then form them into small balls similar to the original large ball. Place these balls on a parchment lined baking sheet and allow to rise again for 30-60 minutes. There are two ways to do this, depending on whether you want a firmer or softer crust. You can leave 2-3 inches between each bun-to-be and they will have space to rise and bake. Alternately, you can “batch bake” them by placing them in a 9”x13” baking dish about 1-inch apart and the buns will rise into each other and can then be pulled apart. The batch bake will have softer results because they will cook more slowly and moistly.
- Just before baking, brush the buns with melted butter and (optionally) sprinkle lightly with some toasted ground spices, I used some cumin and fennel but you could customize that to fit your topping theme.
- Bake for 14-18 minutes, rotating them half way through. Then cool on a rack at room temperature until ready to serve. These can be cut in half and toasted on a grill or in a hot pan as they are needed.
For the potato salad
- 2 lbs Red Potatoes, washed and quartered
- 2oz Apple Cider Vinegar
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 3 stalks Celery, sliced thin
- ½ a White Onion, diced fine
- 3 Green Onions, sliced thin
- 1oz Fresh Parsley, chopped
- 1oz Fresh Dill, chopped
- 1/4cup Mayonnaise
- Cook the potatoes in heavily salted water until they can be pierced easily with a knife, 25-35 minutes, starting in tap cold water. Drain them and move to a large bowl.
- Break-up/stab the potatoes with your knife or a fork, then add the garlic and vinegar and cover until they cool to room temperature.
- Add the remaining ingredients and mix until well combined.
- Chill in the fridge for at least 30 minutes, or literally days…or until I come over and eat all of it.
My workflow for the relaxed day I spent making these from dead scratch was as follows: Cut meat, freeze lightly while I prep dough and get it rising. While the dough rises, grind and prep burger meat and chill it, start potatoes, take a 30-minute break; drain taters and cover. Once the dough had risen; form buns and set aside for second rise, form patties and chill them again, make the salad and chill it, take a 30-minute break; bake buns, let cool while I while away the later afternoon. Then when my friends came over in the evening, I could toss a fresh burger on as they showed up.
Enjoy your new role as a classic genius.
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