In the Burger Lab

I like entering contests of skill. I won a big Le Creuset dutch oven recently in a contest where I had to write a semi-autobiographical essay about my childhood memories and how Le Creuset fit warmly into them. (There must’ve been one somewhere in my childhood, right? Anyway…) A recent item caught my eye in the Los Angeles Times food section: Best Burger Contest.

My entry in the Best Burger Contest — the Chorizo burger with Manchego, caramelized fennel and spicy sweet pimenton aioli

My go-to burger is sort of a knock-off of the now-famous burger from my old neighborhood dive bar, Father’s Office: thick medium-rare burgers, blue cheese, caramelized onions, bacon and arugula. I figured two thirds of the recipes submitted to the contest were going to be some variation on that theme, so I decided to enter the Burger Lab (my kitchen) and get to work on coming up with something utterly original, and unbeatably delicious. Of course the way these contests work — with people lobbying their friends for votes on Facebook and a panel of judges with their own tastes selecting from the most-vote getters — there was no way to know whether I would win or not, even if I did come up with what was objectively the best burger ever created. But it would be a fun challenge, anyway.

I dreamed up all sorts of ideas of what could be a great burger: Asian-inspired with Kobe beef, sesame cole slaw and wasabi mayonnaise; down-homey versions with gravy and pickles; even a tribute to the fast-food burger’s Southern California origins with American cheese, shredded iceberg lettuce and a special house ketchup. Most of them never made it past the conceptual phase to actual prototype production. A few key insights did emerge, however. I did want some kind of fatty, crispy pork product in place of bacon. I also wanted a contrast of sweet and sour to off-balance the richness of the meats. And I wanted a vegetal freshness and crunch.

I decided I would base my recipe on fennel, either caramelized or pickled (and ultimately, a sort of combination of the two). From there, for some reason, my mind wandered to the flavors Spain. Crisped chorizo would fill in for the bacon, combined with a smoky, garlicky pimenton aioli and perky Manchego cheese. And I was home clear…

So now, without further ado, I present the World’s Best Hamburger. Oh, and uh… don’t forget to VOTE NOW!  ; )

Chorizo burger with Manchego, caramelized fennel and spicy sweet pimenton aioli
serves 2

1 lb ground Angus chuck steak (or other good quality hamburger meat)
2 crusty rolls
1 2.5 oz Spanish chorizo sausage, cut lengthwise into 6 thin strips
2 tbsp. olive oil
4 oz. Manchego cheese, thinly sliced
1 medium bulb fennel, shaved on a mandoline or thinly sliced
3 tbsp. grapeseed oil
1 heaping tsp. sugar
2 tbsp. rice wine vinegar
8-10 leaves oak leaf lettuce

Fennel rub:

2 tbsp. ground fennel
1 tbsp. garlic powder
1 tsp. salt

Spicy sweet pimenton aioli:

3 tbsp. mayonnaise
1 tbsp. ketchup
1 tbsp. olive oil
1 tsp. sweet Spanish pimenton
1 garlic clove, grated on a Microplane grater or finely minced

Make the fennel rub and the aioli. Combine the ground fennel, garlic powder and salt. Set aside. In a small bowl, combine mayonnaise, ketchup, olive oil, pimenton and garlic. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate.

Caramelize the fennel. Heat grapeseed oil over medium heat in a skillet. Add fennel and cook for 10 minutes, stirring frequently, until translucent and golden. Add ¼ cup water and teaspoon of sugar. Cook another 10 minutes or so, until most of the water has cooked away. Add vinegar, reduce heat to low, and cook, stirring occasionally, for 30 minutes until caramelized.

Drizzle two tablespoons olive oil in another pan, and fry chorizo strips over medium heat until browned. Remove, and save residual oil.

Form the ground beef into two hamburger patties. Dust with fennel rub on each side. Cook on a hot grill or in a pan until browned on each side and medium-rare. Remove and rest for 5 minutes.

While the burgers are resting, slice your rolls in half and dredge each half lightly in reserved olive oil you cooked the chorizo in. Then toast lightly until just crisp.

Compose the burger: slather some aioli on top and bottoms of buns. Place a burger on the bottom of each bun, then top each with a small heap of caramelized fennel, three chorizo slices, a few slices of Manchego and a few oak leaf lettuce. Add more aioli, if you’d like, and finish with top bun. Enjoy.

7 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Lisa Gaskin
    Jun 07, 2011 @ 01:38:39

    VOTED…LOVE FENNEL…make it for me 😉


  2. heather
    Jun 07, 2011 @ 05:44:39

    Bravo!! Best Lab-Assistant ever!! 🙂


  3. paul
    Jun 07, 2011 @ 16:22:57

    Winner, winner! Hamburger dinner. Nice touch with the Stella . . .
    Can I get some fresh made potato chips dusted with Hot Paprika to go with it? 8^)’


  4. Ben
    Jun 07, 2011 @ 16:54:08

    My favorite, hardly original:

    Ground chuck, loosely formed, seared hard and and fast to MR. (I do not buy pre-ground meat.)

    Deeply caramelized onions with fresh thyme

    Brie, preferably Cheateau Affinoix

    Buttered, grilled English muffin with aioli

    Nothing else.


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