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Debate ranges widely about how to produce hamburgers, but most meat specialists recommend using medium ground beef rather than lean. The new little cookbook Beef It Up! (Storey/Thomas Allen, $22.95) suggests 80 per cent lean ground beef, ideally a blend made with short rib or sirloin cuts.
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Author Jessica Formicola, an American family cook and blogger, warns against “overworking” the meat, which can make it tough and dry. To avoid the meat mounding up in the centre of the hamburger, make a well in the patty, she suggests.
She likes to freeze her patties for an hour before cooking, so you get a charred exterior and a medium-done centre. Formicola advises seasoning the meat just before cooking; otherwise, the salt will draw moisture from the meat. Finally, cook quickly over high heat and do not press down with a spatula, or you might lose juices.
Formicola’s 50 beef recipes are well written and broad in scope. But the most valuable sections of her well-illustrated book are the instructions. Cuts are “demystified,” each with recommended cooking methods. Shopping tips include a warning against buying meat with juice in the package, which indicates it has been sitting around for a while. Freeze within five days of it being packaged and store in a regular freezer for up to 12 months, or longer in a chest freezer. Throw out meat with freezer burn.
Defrosting frozen beef is best done slowly in the refrigerator; when in a hurry, enclose the meat in an airtight plastic bag and immerse it in cold water. The microwave method, which cooks the meat a little, is best done on 50 per cent power, and you should turn the meat each minute until it thaws.
The doneness temperatures and close-up photographs in Beef It Up! are also helpful. This is a valuable little book.
The Perfect Hamburger
1 pound (500 g) 80 per cent lean ground beef
Fine sea salt
Freshly ground pepper
4 hamburger buns (the size of your meat patties), toasted
Toppings to suit
Divide the meat into four equal amounts and form gently into patties.
Freeze patties for one hour before cooking, or reduce cooking times by one minute per side.
Just before cooking, season with salt and pepper, pressing seasonings lightly onto the meat.
If grilling: Heat grill to medium-high heat and oil grates. Place patties over direct heat. Grill 3 to 4 minutes a side.
If using the stovetop: Lightly oil heavy frying pan or spray with cooking spray. Heat over medium-high heat. Sear patties 3 to 4 minutes a side.
Place patties on toasted buns and top with choice of trimmings.