I don’t know what it is about this city, but it seems like ever since we moved to Chicago, I can’t eat enough burgers. There are incredible burger restaurants everywhere around here, and I think Ben and I have tried most of them. Lord knows we’re trying. And we cook burgers all the time at home too. Not to sound braggy, but I really, really love my own homemade burgers, maybe even more than all the rest. And I wouldn’t be so boastful as to say this about most foods, but honestly, I think I’m a little bit gifted at burgers ;).
Truly though, it’s easy for anyone to be gifted at burgers. You just need to use great ingredients (perfectly ripe tomatoes, wonderfully fatty beef, fresh-baked buns, sharp cheeses, crisp lettuce) and follow a few simple tricks (always butter and toast your buns, never over-handle the ground beef, make sure to generously season the burgers with salt and pepper, and don’t ever over-cook them). Seriously, follow these few easy rules (and a few more you’ll find in this week’s and last week’s recipes) and you too will be a burger genius.
This week we had our neighbors, Freddie and Marshall, over for dinner. Marshall is a chef too, and so of course I felt a little extra pressure this week to make something extra fabulous. The most fabulous thing I could think of were these Pork-Chorizo-Bacon Burgers. It’s a recipe of one of my favorite chefs, Suzanne Goin. I’ve already shared a few recipes from her cookbook, Sunday Suppers at Lucques, which is definitely in my ‘top five favorite cookbooks’ list. And this great twist-of-a-burger recipe is definitely one of my favorites too. But I’m getting ahead of myself. I’ll get back to these amazing sounding pork burgers in a minute, but first let me tell you about this way-more-amazing-than-it-sounds fish hash.
My friend Ralph dictated this recipe to me over the phone a little while ago. It seems every time we talk, I end up scrambling for the nearest pen and piece of scrap paper, wedging the phone between my left shoulder and ear, and hurriedly scribbling down some great new recipe. I’ve got a stash of these Ralph-recipes, all in messy handwriting on post-its and envelops and backs of receipts. It’s a messy collection, but a priceless one. Now that I think about it, I’m going to put my phone conversations with Ralph in my ‘top five cookbook’ list too. Anyways, back to this hash. Oh my gosh, this is nothing but delicious! It isn’t delicious sounding. And it isn’t delicious looking. But it beyond a doubt, it’s delicious tasting.
The main ingredients – onions, celery, garlic, sardines, anchovies, black pepper. I know that sounds scary to some of you. Anchovies and especially sardines have a very bad reputation. But listen. Forget everything you’ve heard. These little fish are nothing to be afraid of. They aren’t slimy or scaly or fishy tasting. They’re tender and subtly sweet and beautifully fresh tasting. And they’re absolutely sublime in this fantastic hash. The onions and celery and garlic are slowly sautéed in a little bit of olive oil, cooked long and slow over a low flame until they’re meltingly tender. Then the canned fish is added and cooked again in the same patient way, until it too just melts into the tender vegetables. And then, lots of freshly cracked black pepper, and I mean lots. It’s all too easy, and the end result is all too good. On salty rounds of crisp toasted bread, or with crunchy fresh radishes and bell peppers, this delicious conglomeration makes a perfect start to the meal. This fish has is one of my newest favorites, and I guarantee, it will be one of yours too.
With the fish hash I served some beautiful cocktails of rosemary-infused sparkling lemonade, spiked with ice cold vodka. Another recipe I jotted down during another phone call with Ralph (who himself found it on Epicurious), this beverage was really lovely. So refreshing. And refreshingly light on the liquor. It’s a perfect cocktail for a hot summer night, or even afternoon. Even without the vodka, this drink would be wonderful, a sparkling, sophisticated twist on lemonade.
Back to these burgers. Where do I start? With the burger itself, a flavorful mix of ground pork, chorizo sausage, chopped bacon, and aromatic seasonings of shallot, garlic, thyme, cumin and chile, charcoal grilled, incredibly juicy and filled with huge flavor? Or with the bun, brushed with extra-virgin olive oil then grilled, so that’s it’s warm crispness comes through with every bite? Or the fantastically nutty Manchego cheese, oozing into all the nooks and crannies of the burgers? Or the peppery green arugula, one of the greatest flavors ever? Or the garlicky aioli, all creamy and smooth? Or maybe I should start with the romesco sauce, a rustic Spanish sauce of caramelized tomatoes, smoky peppers, sweet garlic, toasty hazelnuts and almonds. Mellow, sweet, pungent and smoky, this sauce is amazing all on its own, but it's beyond incredible on these burgers. The whole of this burger is even more awesome than the sum of its already awesome parts. Really, next time you think about grilling up some regular old beef burgers, think about these guys instead. You’ll be hooked.
So much is going on already in these burgers, I needed some simple sides. I’d made the mistake before of serving these hugely flavorful burgers with other hugely flavorful sides, but it all turned out to be just way too much. All the flavors ended up competing for the spotlight, shoving each other out of its beam, trying to hog it all for themselves. These burgers deserve to be the star of their own show, and really should be served with some humble, non-flashy supporting sides. Grilled corn on the cob and this simple but tasty creamy coleslaw fit the bill.
This coleslaw too came from Suzanne Goin’s cookbook. It’s my official go-to coleslaw recipe, definitely un-flashy, but truly delicious. As pretty as can be, it nearly spans the rainbow - red and green cabbage, shredded carrots, sliced red onions and giant handfuls of parsley and chives. Cloaked in a creamy sauce of red wine vinegar, mayonnaise and honey, this gorgeous slaw is good to the very last bite. Flashy no, but delicious, definitely. And the corn too. How can grilled corn on the cob be anything but incredible? Cooked over hot coals until the husks are charred and the corn itself is sweet and tender and perfectly blistered, rolled in butter, with salt and pepper to taste, this grilled corn on the cob is simply heaven.
For dessert, another one of my favorite summer recipes, triple layer raspberry pie. I’m a bit upset, because I was having just the worst time with my camera the other day, and couldn’t get a good picture of this pie to save my life. The picture below shows you more or less what the end result looks like, but it doesn’t nearly do justice to this beautiful triple-tiered confection. The buttery shortbread-like crust with its pretty fluted edges is gorgeous in itself. But the three layers of filling are just unbelievably stunning – the deep pink bottom layer of sweet and tart jam, studded with fresh raspberries, the middle layer of light pink creamy chiffon, and the cloudlike top layer of fresh whipped cream. I really wish I’d gotten a better picture, to really show off the prettiness of this pie. And listen to me go on and on about its looks, as if that were all-important. If I learned anything from the fish has, it’s that looks don’t count for anything. Only taste matters. Well, needless to say, this pie tastes beautiful too. Ridiculously beautiful. Won’t-believe-your-taste-buds beautiful. Try-it-for-yourself-and-soon beautiful!