Continuing the New York theme from my last post (well, from the photo that accompanied it), today’s blog (read this Sesame Street style) is brought to you by Miles Davis’ On The Corner, LCD Soundsystem, CSI:New York, and the delectable Shackburger.
Let’s start at the beginning. My favourite burger has always been the cheeseburger. There’s something Platonic about a wedge of grilled minced beef covered in melted cheese and sandwiched in a bun. My brother worked at the Wimpy in Dawlish in the mid 80s, and I imagine I first experienced a cheeseburger there. I have unsurprisingly sampled many since. Sometimes nothing can beat a bog-standard McDonald’s Quarter Pounder With Cheese, especially if you get one fresh off the production line, hot, still a touch greasy but in a fresh way, the gherkin and mustard and onion just the right accompaniment. But those sometimeses are getting further and further apart.
Exeter has a few good burgers to offer beyond the usual high street franchises and Wetherspoons. Oddfellows does a very good example indeed, simple but sophisticated; the ‘slaw on the side can be outstanding. Amazingly though you can nip across the road to The Old Firehouse and get something that might be even better; rougher and readier, but a touch meatier, and with a slice of really mature cheese that adds a satisfyingly salty sideways bite to the flavour. I’ve not sampled it yet, but people tell me that Boston Tea Party have just started doing a burger which is verging on excellent.
We stayed a literal stone’s throw from Danny Meyer’s “modern day ‘roadside’ burger stand” in Madison Square Park when we honeymooned in NYC back in April/May last year. We hadn’t heard of it, or Flatiron district restauranteur Danny Meyer, before we went to NYC, but an evening meal (from the far cheaper, but still amazingly cultured, bar menu) at Gramercy Tavern convinced us he was a serious man who was serious about food. His restaurants are all based around the greenmarket in Union Square. Shake Shack was amazingly tempting but the queues were always dishearteningly long, and we only had a few days at our disposal, so it wasn’t until our final day in Manhattan that we finally got around to it. If I regret anything from our trip (not buying a dozen iPads and eBaying them for massive profit pre-UK release notwithstanding) it’s not going there on our first day. And our second day. And our third day.
Don’t get me wrong; we ate some amazing meals in NYC. An awesome pizza in an Italian place near our hotel the first night, while The Bee Gees played quietly on a projector screen at the back of the room, the maître de tempting us in by saying “come in, eat pizza, listen to The Bee Gees, relax a little” in a thick New York accent; how could you refuse? A terrific burger at Old Town Bar with our friends Scott and Michelle and their daughter. We ate at an awesome Thai place that had just opened and got a glowing review in the Village Voice. Em had a whole-fish dish that was mind-blowing. We ate at a terrific Turkish place with a glowing Zagat write-up. The Gramercy Tavern was wonderful.
But that Shackburger, oh boy. And that Vanilla Frozen Custard, oh boy.
I raved at anyone who would listen about how I’d move to NYC to eat there every week. On our first Saturday night back we watched CSI:NY and felt wistful for the enormous all-day shadows cast by skyscrapers, for the dog parks and iron statues and the cheesecake brownies for breakfast from little coffee shops. Oh boy. And that episode of CSI:NY opened with Flack and Stella at a suicide scene, Stella arguing that it had to be murder because who would have a burger as their last meal, and Flack, the wise-ass, pointing out that it wasn’t just any burger, it was from “the Shake Shack”. I nearly died at the beautiful timing of it. A week before that reference would have been lost on me. Now I had eaten the Shackburger and no other burger would be good enough ever again.
I’ve been thinking about trying to recreate the Shackburger for a while; I made the awesome burgers Jamie Oliver did on his Christmas Lock-In. They were really, really nice. But they were lacking something.
Em mentioned the other day, in yet another conversation about Shake Shack, that she thought the secret was the sauce, which had gherkins in it. I’d been so overcome by the Shackburger that I’d not noticed. So I turned to Google and discovered, very quickly, that I was not alone in wanting to recreate the Shackburger. Of course not.
Perusing the search results revealed that I needed a mix of ground chuck, sirloin, and brisket as well as Martin’s Potato Rolls for the squishy bun and some American yellow cheese slices. I’m in Exeter, not the East Coast, so the bun was going to have to be different, and I was buggered if I was going to the trouble of a 50:25:25 mix of three different types of steak. So I got some Sainsburys Taste The Difference steak mince, some Kingsmill Everyday white baps, some pre-sliced Monterey Jack cheese, and decided to do my best.
The key, arguably, is the Shack Sauce. This had to be right. I looked at several different recipes and decided that this one seemed to be the most authoritative. Mayo, French’s yellow burger mustard, ketchup, diced pickled gherkin, paprika, cayenne pepper, garlic. That’s it. Add a slice of tomato, a slice of soft lettuce, the cheese, the bun, and you’re done. Oh, and the burger too. That helps.
For the burger patties I mixed that minced beef up by hand with salt & pepper, an egg, a spoon of plain flour, and some breadcrumbs. Some people think the egg, flour, and breadcrumbs are a crime but I find it binds your beef into a much better, more usable pattie.
So how do you put it all together? When you’re ready, smash & scrape your burger on a HOT frying pan. By smash & scrape I mean drop it on the hot pan, press it down, let it cook until the bottom is crispy and gnarly, and then flip it over. At this point, put your cheese on top on the cooked side, slice your bun and put it sliced-sides-down in the frying pan too, at the dry side. Then put the lid on the pan – this will keep the steam in, and that moisture will melt your cheese and give your bun that amazing appetising glisten. When the burger’s nearly ready (you want the outside crispy, the inside juicy, the cheese melted into it) take your bun bottom off; add a tiny spread of butter, and put it down ready for the burger. Then burger, tomato, lettuce, and the top of the bun, a generous slap of the sauce walloped onto it. It should look something like that picture at the top of this post. I suggest wrapping it in grease-proof paper just for an extra frisson of authenticity. It should taste absolutely mind-blowing.
I’ve just written 1,200 words about a burger. Oh boy.