The Best Burger a Farm-Raised Midwesterner Has Ever Had
On his birthday, what do you make for a man who was raised on a Midwestern farm, spent time in the Navy, and now writes poetry and runs ultra-marathons in Alaska? You dig the grill out from under the snow, fill up your propane tank, and make him a cheeseburger with local grass-fed beef, that’s what. Then you watch an episode of the Sopranos while you eat this messy, beautiful monster. Cheeseburger recipes are a dime-a-dozen, and it’s not like you don’t know how to grill your own. But this recipe isn’t about the whole cheeseburger itself, it’s about some of the specific ingredients I used: the locally raised, grass-fed beef and the mushroom and garlic onion jam topping. I know, right? Jam? Seriously? I’ll get to that in a minute.
Part I: Locally raised, grass-fed beef has a radically different flavor than the prepackaged, commercially raised, imported beef you find in the grocery. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of books, blogs, newsletters, and podcasts dedicated to the concept of locavore eating, the “slow food” movement as it’s sometimes called. It’s one of the few places where I see local bipartisan politics disappear in favor of a unified front… where else will you see Tree Hugging Environmentalist Liberals and Made-In-The-USA Blue Collar Farming Conservatives gather in peaceful agrarian harmony? Ok, maybe the whole Justin Bieber thing brings people together, but other than that?
Alaskans know, more than any other state, that hunting your own meat, gathering berries and mushrooms, and raising your own vegetables is a sensible thing to do. We have land to raise our own vegetables, more than enough sun in the summer, and the patience and know how to can what we grow for the winter. We’re surrounded by moose and caribou and we have guns to hunt them with. We use our boats for fishing, not just recreation.
But the fact is, I don’t hunt or fish much anymore. I’m a single mom now and I live in a condo. I shop where it’s inexpensive and convenient for the most part. However, if I can find locally raised meat and vegetables, I will try to buy it as often as I can. There is no comparison between commercial beef and local, grass-fed beef. Grass-fed beef tastes clean. It tastes, well, like it comes from a happy cow. In Fairbanks you can get locally raised meat from the Home Grown Market (located here). It’s a small store-front and the selection is limited. The guys behind the counter are always helpful and they will do their darndest to give you what you want. When I was trying to get ground ham for the Danish Grandmother’s Super Secret Hamballs, Fred’s couldn’t (or wouldn’t) grind anything for me. Home Grown Market did. (I should note that I don’t know anyone at Home Grown and this post wasn’t encouraged or sponsored by them in any way). In conclusion, if you want to make a drool-worthy burger, use grass-fed. Nothing else. And don’t overcook it. Think medium to medium-well.
Part II: Some people are Cheeseburger Purists—if you are one of these people, skip this part. Four words: Roasted Garlic Onion Jam. This stuff is… well, you just have to try it. Apparently, according to the ladies over at Country Kitchen (not the restaurant, the kitchenware store, and again, I’m not affiliated or sponsored by them) this jam is Stonewall Kitchen‘s best seller (nope. not affiliated. my unbiased opinion.) and for good reason. I sauteed 8-10 sliced white mushrooms and 1/3rd of a sweet onion in olive oil. After the mushrooms and onions were sauteed, I added about a tablespoon of jam and 2 teaspoons of a good Modena balsamic vinegar. Once the burgers were done, I topped them with this concoction. Compote? Relish? I don’t know what you call savory ingredients mixed with jam.
The Hot Boyfriend, raised on a daily diet of grass-fed steaks and burgers, claims that this is the best burger he’s ever eaten. I thought at the time that he was just looking for a Birthday Romp in the Hay, but he still insists this morning that it was, indeed, the best burger he’s ever had.
If you want to make the same burger pictured here, these are the exact ingredients I used. The amounts will vary based on the number of burgers you’re making. This list is for two burgers:
- 1/2 lb of grass-fed beef, mix in a large pinch or two of Alessi Coarse, Kosher Sea Salt
- 1 tablespoon of Roasted Garlic Onion Jam from Stonewall Kitchen
- 3 campari tomatoes
- 2 slices of American cheese
- Butter-leaf lettuce (use the dark green part of the leaves, the yellow pieces are bitter)
- Kosher dill hamburger pickles
- 8-10 sliced white button mushrooms
- 1/3 of a Maya sweet onion
- Mayo, ketchup, and stoneground mustard
- Whole wheat buns
Layering order is important in my opinion: bottom bun, ketchup, mustard, pickles, burger cheese, lettuce, tomato, mushroom-onion relish, mayo, top bun. Dig your grill out from under the snow, fill up your propane tank, and ignore the fact that it’s below freezing. Grill up a burger. Spring is coming.