Burgers

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My husband cooks one thing – burgers. And I happily let him because they’re that good. In fact, people come from miles away to eat his burgers.

I didn’t grow up eating burgers and I’ve never cooked them myself. Even though I was born and raised in the U.S., I don’t crave hamburgers and fries like most. But when it comes to my husband’s burgers, I’m first in line.

We planned to have them on Memorial Day recently. Then I got the brilliant idea to document what he does in order to share his recipe. He said he didn’t mind if I followed him around with my camera, but that “there’s really no recipe.” But there is.

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Here’s what he does.

Before the burger-making process begins, he adds hot water to a 32-ounce cup filled with hickory chips.

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The ground beef he uses is grass fed, 80% lean, 20% fat.

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He makes the burgers all 8 ounces each, and 1″ thick.

The patties are formed by gently pressing the meat into shape. He presses a “well” on the tops of the patties.

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A generous amount of Worcestershire sauce and coarsely ground pepper are added. Let them sit at room temperature until it’s time to begin grilling.

Then he starts the fire. He will only use charcoal for grilling, and he’s patient with the fire. Neither of us like “charred” or “flame-kissed” burgers.

Only after all of the charcoal is grey, after about 45 minutes, he spreads out the coals and sprinkles on the soaked hickory.

The patties are placed on the grill carefully and cooked for 7 1/2 minutes on that side.

The lid is propped open so that the fire doesn’t get too hot, yet the hickory smoke stays inside the grill.

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After the burgers are turned over, more Worcestershire sauce and pepper are added.

After another 7 1/2 minutes, the burgers are ready to eat.

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I like mine with lettuce, tomato, onion, cheese, ketchup and yellow mustard, but they would be fantastic any which way!

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So, I don’t really know what makes these burgers so delicious. I think the hickory smoke is part of it, the Worcestershire sauce and pepper are part of it, using real charcoal, plus cooking only to medium-rare is also part of what makes these so good.

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Venison Short Loin

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I don’t remember ordering a venison short loin when I placed my last meat order with D’Artagnan, but obviously I did because I discovered it in the freezer last week. Perhaps it was one of those many mysterious orders I placed in late evening after a bottle glass of wine?

I have no issue with venison at all, but I had no idea what a short loin was. So I googled.

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Surprisingly, I came up empty handed, except for the fact that the short loin is also known as backstrap. Since googling didn’t provide much information, I turned to my encyclopedic friend Stefan, from Stefan Gourmet. He was able to tell me that this was part of the tenderloin of the deer, which really excited me. As part of the tenderloin, I could prepare this piece of meat just as I would a chunk of tenderloin.

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I decided to make an Asian marinade for the meat, utilizing soy sauce, fish sauce, and a sweet soy sauce. Plus, the marinade would make a good reduction to serve with the cooked venison.

There are so many options when you choose ingredients for an Asian-inspired marinade. The fish sauce and sweet soy sauce are both Thai in origin. But I could have chosen oyster sauce, hoisin sauce, shrimp paste, sesame oil, or mirin just as easily. Play around with all of your favorite Asian ingredients and figure out what you like.

To complete the marinade, I added some fresh garlic. Fresh ginger plus cilantro leaves would also be wonderful blended in, but I decided to keep it simple. Plus, I wanted to serve these venison steaks with a spring pilaf I’d made, so I wanted all flavors to compliment each other.

Here’s what I did:

Asian-Inspired Marinade

2 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup fish sauce
2 tablespoons sweet soy sauce
4 cloves garlic
Sambal Oelek, to taste

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Place the olive oil, soy sauce, fish, and sweet soy sauce in a blender jar. Add the garlic cloves and blend until the marinade is smooth.

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Place the short loin in a sealable plastic bag, and pour the marinade into the bag.
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Seal the bag, and refrigerate the meat for 24 hours.

The next day, at least 1 1/2 hours from serving time, remove the bag from the refrigerator and let the meat warm up a little. Before cooking, grab the meat, using tongs, out of the marinade and place it on paper towels. Pat it dry on all sides.

Pour the remaining marinade from the bag into a small saucepan. At this point, add a teaspoon of sambal oelek, or the amount to your liking.
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Place the saucepan on the stove over the lowest heat, stirring occasionally, and reduce the marinade mixture to thicken it.

Meanwhile, add a couple tablespoons of olive oil to a large skillet or grill. Heat the oil over high heat until the oil begins smoking. Have your ventilation system on as well. Place the meat in the grill. Add some freshly ground black pepper, but stay away from salt. Sear the meat on one side. This will take about 5 minutes.

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Turn the meat over and sear it on the other side for another 5 minutes.

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Turn down the heat under the grill but keep the meat in the grill. This will allow the meat to cook through to the center, without over-browning the outside. This will take another 5 minutes total. If you prefer to use a thermometer, without too much poking, get the meat to an inside temperature of 125 degrees for rare, if that’s the way you like it. That’s how we prefer it. Then remove it to a cutting board, cover loosely with foil, and let it rest for about 15 minutes.

Once the marinade has thickened, remove it from the stove. This isn’t a necessary step, but I put it through a strainer before serving because I don’t like chewing on chile pepper seeds.
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When you’re ready to serve, slice the venison short loin crosswise, in 1/3″ wide slices or thinner, if preferred.

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If you like the sauce, pour a little over the meat. It definitely has a fish sauce flavor, so make sure you like that taste before you slather it on the meat.
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I served the asian-flavored venison with an orangey leek and pea pilaf. It was a delightful combination.

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verdict: I will continue to order venison short loin from D’Artagnan when I place meat orders. The meat was so tender, and I didn’t find it at all gamey, which is what most people don’t like about venison. Of course, the Asian marinade was pretty strong flavored. This cut of meat would really lend itself to some serious Southwestern flavors as well. I’ll keep you posted!