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Back to Basics: A nice complement
The key to a better burger is making the supporting players from scratch
May. 14, 2023 6:00 am
The burger is arguably the most American of foods. It can be found almost anywhere in the States — fast food restaurants, sit-down restaurants (even non-American restaurants like Chinese and Mexican), sporting events, movie theaters, gas stations, schools, and of course, in most people’s backyards during the summer.
As it is one of the most common meals, most people have their own way of preparing, grilling, and serving a burger no matter if it’s a traditional beef burger or a turkey or veggie burger. Sometimes when a meal becomes routine, it makes it hard to come up with creative and new ways to prepare it. Even when you have a tried-and-true version of a meal, it still is rewarding to discover new flavors and ways to prepare it. So, if you are looking for a way to change things up a bit, here are a few basic tips on how to make your homemade burger just a little bit more special.
- Spread a thin layer of butter and lightly salt each half your burger bun and toast on a medium grill or pan — the crispy center will significantly elevate not just the burger flavor but also the texture.
- Use good quality sauces (or even homemade) and make sure to spread them in thinner layers rather than glob on one thick layer. More layers provide a more balanced flavor since the real task of the sauce is to bring all flavors of the burger together.
- Experiment with add-ons — traditional bacon, cheddar/American cheese, and onion are great, but consider giving a shot to uncommon cheeses like goat or Brie cheese and use all kinds of roasted mushrooms or other vegetables, such as peppers, eggplants, or even avocados. Or elevate it even further with one of my favorite burger additions — a fried egg.
- Make your burger bun totally from scratch — it is not as hard as you think, and after you try it once, the difference between eating a processed bun and a homemade bun will be undeniable.
- And finally, add delicious sides made from scratch. These additions are fantastic complements to your burger and turn it into an extraordinary and complete meal.
In this article, I’ll share a simple and delicious way to prepare potato wedges, which is so easy to make that you'll be able to prepare them with your little ones. Then, I will introduce you to a delicious and summery Mediterranean aioli, which is not just a perfect dipping sauce for your potato wedges, but also a great alternative to traditional burger sauces and has minimal preparation time. And finally, I’ll take you through how to prepare fluffy, to-die-for burger buns. These three additions are sure to elevate your burger menu to the next level.
What is a burger without fries? Burgers and fries complement each other perfectly, but making a good fry at home is tricky. First, hassling with a deep fryer creates a lot of dishes and takes a lot of time, and deep fryers are not one of the more common kitchen tools. Additionally, deep frying is not ideal if you’re trying to make healthier food, and fries from the air fryer are just not the same. For all these reasons, oven-baked potato wedges are our go-to potato side when it’s burger night in our family.
Oven baked potato wedges are healthier and are super easy — all you need is a baking sheet, oven and a couple of tools. The outcome easily matches or exceeds fries from your favorite restaurant, but in a more dietary-friendly way.
First, select about six medium potatoes and then thoroughly rinse them, making sure no dirt is present because you will not peel your wedges as they are prepared with the skin left on. Cut the potatoes into eight even wedges and place them into a large mixing bowl.
Next, prepare a coating mixture by placing olive oil, roughly chopped onion, whole garlic cloves, paprika, cayenne pepper, regular pepper, and salt into a small kitchen food processor and process until smooth. Yes, you read that correctly, use real onion and garlic instead of a powdered version to get a better flavor and avoid processed ingredients.
Next, pour the coating mixture over the potatoes in a bowl and thoroughly stir until coated. Then place the potatoes one by one on a baking sheet, skin side down. Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese, and in about 30 minutes, your delicious fries are ready to be served. I usually do the potato wedges first, to make sure that I will be able to comfortably prepare everything else by the time the wedges are done.
Garlic aioli is a popular and delicious sauce, and my Mediterranean version offers a lighter and refreshing version that is a perfect addition for many summery meals. It can be used as a dipping sauce for wedges, as a sauce for burgers, and as a spread for sandwiches — its use is endless. Compared to a regular garlic aioli, I substitute half the mayonnaise with yogurt, and enhance the flavor significantly by adding fresh mint, basil and chives.
To prepare the sauce, you simply place the fresh herbs along with the mayo, yogurt, olive oil, lemon juice, garlic, salt and pepper into a small food processor and process until fully combined and smooth. With these few easy steps, you have a sauce full of flavor, which is better than any store-bought version.
As far as bread goes, nothing beats fresh, homemade bread and burger buns are no exception. Even though it is more time-consuming than the previous two recipes, this burger bun recipe is manageable and the results are more than worth the effort.
For this recipe, you need a powerful self-standing stand mixer with a hook attachment to allow for the extensive kneading time and high speed. First, place all your dry ingredients into the stand mixer bowl (flour, active dry yeast, sugar, and salt) and briefly hand stir with a whisk or wooden spoon.
Then add all the wet ingredients (lukewarm milk, olive oil and eggs) and process on high speed until the dough is formed and no longer sticks to the bowl. This part is crucial because after all ingredients are fully combined, the dough always seems sticky. At this point, it is important not to add any more flour and instead knead the dough until it stops sticking to the bowl and becomes compact and flexible (this can sometimes take up to 10 minutes).
Once ready, let the dough rise until it has doubled to tripled in size. This step can take anywhere from one to three hours. This step can be sped up in the oven using a bread-proofing program or in a slightly preheated oven that is turned off (the perfect temperature is about 90 degrees).
After the dough has risen, split it into 12 even portions (each about 3.8 ounces) and then form each piece of dough into a compact dough ball that will, in the final proofing and subsequent baking, turn into a bun.
To form each ball, use a bowl scraper (further details of this method are provided in the recipe). Once formed, place each ball on a baking sheet and brush with a brushing mixture (milk and egg).
Let proof at room temperature (or in a warmed oven) until all have doubled in size (usually 30 minutes to one hour). Optionally, you can proof each ball until the size more than doubles to get even fluffier burger buns, but in this case, watch the proofing closely because if they overproof, the structure may collapse, and you may end up with too flat buns.
When doubled, brush with the remaining brushing mixture, and optionally, sprinkle with sesame seeds and bake in a preheated oven until done. The buns are done when the surface of the buns reaches an appetizing golden color, usually about 12 to 15 minutes.
Even though this may seem like a lot of steps, you get used to it and through practice, you will be able to perform them in no time and on a regular basis.
You can find more of my recipes at www.cookinghub.com. Enjoy your meal!
Good to know
Active dry yeasts start losing their strength after opening, when the packaging is compromised or after the expiration date. Ensure that air is not present in the packaging and, after opening, store the yeast in a sealed container in the refrigerator. Even while stored properly in the refrigerator after opening, after a few months, the yeasts may start losing strength. The usage of yeast with reduced strength will result in more dense baked goods.
The term rising is usually used for increasing the volume of the yeasty dough that wasn’t formed (shaped) into the final product (bun, roll, loaf, etc.). On the other hand, the term proofing also describes increasing the volume of an already shaped product, which will not be further formed and will be baked right after proofing.
Keep in mind that baked goods get more volume, not just in the final proofing but also during baking.
Oven-Baked Potato Wedges
Servings: 4 to 5
Active Time: 40 min./Total Time: 40 min.
1/3 cup of olive oil
1/4 medium onion, peeled and roughly chopped
4 cloves of garlic, peeled
1 teaspoon paprika
1/2 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper (optionally substitute with 1/2 teaspoon paprika for a less spicy alternative)
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground pepper, ideally freshly ground
6 medium potatoes, rinsed well, skin on
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 cup of chives, chopped (or substitute with finely chopped scallion or parsley)
Set oven to preheat to 400 degrees.
For potato preparation: Thoroughly wash the potatoes under cold water to make sure that they will be perfectly cleaned before the next step. Then, dry them with a kitchen towel.
Cut each potato in half and then each half into 4 wedges, to make 8 wedges from each potato (do not peel potatoes, they will be baked and served with the skin).
For the coating mixture: Place into a small food processor: 1/3 cup of olive oil, 1/4 cup chopped onion, 4 garlic cloves, 1 teaspoon paprika, 1/2 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper, 1 teaspoon salt, 1/2 teaspoon ground pepper. Process until fully combined and smooth.
Baking preparation: Place into a large mixing bowl the potato wedges and then pour over the coating mixture. Thoroughly stir until potatoes are nicely coated (some mixture will still be present in the bottom of the mixing bowl).
Next, place the potatoes on a baking sheet with parchment paper — one-by-one and always place the skin-side down. Make sure that they are not touching each other.
Sprinkle with grated Parmesan cheese and then bake for 35 minutes.
Remove from the oven, taste, and add salt or pepper if needed. Serve sprinkled with chopped chives.
Source: Tom Slepicka
Makes about 2 cups
Active Time: 10 min./Total Time: 10 min.
3/4 cup of mayonnaise
3/4 cup of plain white yogurt (preferably regular whole yogurt or whole Greek yogurt)
1/4 cup of Extra-Virgin Olive Oil
Juice from 1 lemon
2 cloves of garlic, peeled
1/2 cup of chives, roughly chopped (or substitute with roughly chopped scallion)
1/4 cup basil, roughly chopped (or 1 tablespoon dried basil)
1/4 cup of mint leaves, roughly chopped (or 1 tablespoon dried mint)
1/4 teaspoon of ground pepper, ideally freshly ground
1/2 teaspoon of salt
Place all ingredients into a measuring pitcher and process on high speed until smooth using an immersion blender (about 2 to 3 minutes).
Taste and add salt and/or pepper if needed.
Source: Tom Slepicka
Makes 12 servings (12, 3.8 ounce buns)
Active Time: 30 mins/Total Time: 3 hours +
4 cups bread flour
5 teaspoon of active dry yeasts
1/4 cup sugar
2 teaspoons salt
1 1/2 cups milk, lukewarm, about 90 to 100 degrees (preheat in microwave or on the stove)
3 large eggs
1/4 cup of Extra-Virgin Olive Oil
1/4 cup milk
Optionally: Sprinkle with either black and/or white sesame seeds; crushed pepper flakes; poppy seeds; sunflower seeds or any other kind of seeds; sea salt (do not use if you are going to freeze or refrigerate the buns because it would make them soggy).
Note: A common problem is that the dough always seems sticky, especially during the final kneading process. This is why some bakers often panic and add extra flour. This is not a good way to go since the final baked product will end up denser than it should. It is important to not add any more flour and instead knead until the dough stops sticking to the bowl and becomes compact and flexible.
For the dough: Place into a stand mixer with a hook attachment: 4 cups of bread flour, 5 teaspoons active dry yeast, 1/4 cup sugar, and 2 teaspoons salt. Briefly stir with a whisk just enough to combine all ingredients (about 1 minute).
Next, add: 1 1/2 cups lukewarm milk, 3 large eggs, and 1/4 cup Extra-Virgin Olive Oil. Knead on low speed until all ingredients are partially incorporated, about 1 to 2 minutes.
Then increase speed to medium-high and knead until the dough is compact and stops sticking to the bowl, about 6 to 9 minutes.
For rising the dough: Remove the bowl from the mixer and cover with plastic wrap. Let rise in a warm place until dough has doubled to tripled in size, about 1 to 3 hours.
For shaping the buns: Work on a surface (countertop) that has no flour on it. Place the dough on a work surface and separate the dough into 12 even pieces, about 3.8 ounces each, using a bowl scraper and scale.
Form each piece of dough into a compact dough ball by stretching it. To stretch the dough, place the bowl scraper at a slight angle against the bottom part of the dough (between the dough and the table). Then, keeping one hand on the top of the dough, push the scraper, so it slightly moves the dough on the surface. The dough will slightly roll and stretch at the same time. Repeat this step, and each time rotate the bun about 90 degrees until the compact dough ball is shaped (about 2 to 3 times from each of the four sides). The proofing process will turn it into a burger bun.
Place each ball on a baking sheet with parchment paper (6 of them on each).
For proofing: Prepare a brushing mixture by briefly hand whisking 1 egg with 1/4 cup milk in a small mixing bowl, and then brush all the balls (keep the rest for a second brushing). Then let it proof in a warm place until they have doubled in size (usually about 30 minutes to 1 hour, but it can take longer if your dough ends up denser). Watch carefully in order to prevent overproofing.
Baking preparation: Set oven to 400 degrees. Gently brush again all the dough balls which have turned into bun shapes. Optionally, sprinkle with sesame seeds, crushed pepper flakes, or other ingredients of your choice.
For Baking: Bake in a preheated oven until done (about 12 to 15 minutes). Rotate the baking sheets in the middle of baking. Test one bun with a toothpick.
Cool on a cooling grate.
Tips: You can increase the rising time for up to four hours based on your convenience. You can bake more buns than you need and freeze them for later usage (they stay great in the freezer for up to a half year). Defrost in only two hours.
Source: Tom Slepicka
Tom Slepicka is the founder of www.cookinghub.com, and is a recipe creator, culinary instructor, chef, and a consultant. You can reach him at email@example.com.