burgers & salad: milking it big time!


When is a good burger not a burger?
The recipe I'm gonna share is not really a burger - it's a slightly different animal, better defined as a Japanese-style burger or really good homemade German frikadelle (meatball) perhaps. It is not grilled - but what it lacks in smokey, BBQ vibe it makes up for in juiciness, texture and general meat perfection.

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I was reading an article by Matt Lee and Ted Lee in the New York Times (whence the above image came), and after a few drearily fancy descriptions of meatballs made with foie gras or veal and stuffed with ricotta (etc), they wrote about a key burger/meatball truth which I'd inadvertently discovered when experimenting with Japanese-style burgers. It seems to be the key to a dream burger. Quite simply, the wetter the better. This may not be anything new to you chef types, but to me it's like a breakthrough: milky meatballs!

"On the vital issue of meatball texture, all the chefs we interviewed had good tips and pointers, most of which spoke to the same issue: water. For Mr. Campanaro, the key is simple. “Just like in Italian sausage, the filling is very wet when it goes into the casing,” he said. “So when it cooks, it’s juicy. That liquid that comes out when you cut it? That’s pork stock!”"

Another chef interviewed, Mr Psilakis, was fond of the same trick I had discovered in my trusty Orange Page japanese food periodical: using breadcrumbs soaked in milk. Except that in his recipe he squeezes out the excess milk, whilst the Orange Page recipe just dumps the milk in with the mince.

Orange Page took it another wet step further: not only do you include milk but after sealing the big, fat burger balls in the pan you steam them at a low heat for 10 minutes, upping the moisture value and creating an incredible burger! (or however you want to call it).

So I shall now share this recipe with you, dear reader, along with a similarly genius milk-based salad dressing which is SO awesome I urge you to try it today. Milk is the new maldon sea salt.

PS: For the vegetarians, here is a link to a very easy vege burger
demo by the New York Times popular food writer 'The Minimalist' - and here is his good tofu burger recipe

(I am curious to read The Minimalist's meat-based burger piece. It's not free to view anymore - only available to purchase... how elitist...but nevermind... I am sure the following recipe easily matches or outdoes his recipe. Yes I am that confident.)

Note: this Japanese-style burger has a very simple yet perfect flavour. That's sort of the point. If you require a more macho burger try Jamie Oliver's milk-free roasted Botham Burger
which can also be successfully grilled if formed in smaller patties.

(serves two)

Beef mince - 300-400g
1/2 an onion diced finely
1 egg
a slice of bread (white or brown)
2-4 generous tablespoons of milk
Salt & pepper

Crumble, finely chop or pulse the bread so that you have 1/4 cup of breadcrumbs. How fine they are is not too important. (I generally just roughly chop some medium-coarse brown bread but most Japanese cooks use fine white panko crumbs).
Cover the breadcrumbs with milk (I don't measure but I think I use a fair bit more than 2 tbsp - really just enough milk so all breadcrumbs are soggy and soaking but not swimming in milk. As we have heard, 'the wetter the better').

Mix all the above ingredients (with about 1/2 tsp salt and as much ground pepper as you like) in a bowl, gently crumbling the mince and blending into a mush so that the white fatty flecks in the mince largely disappear and it is a mostly-uniform pinkish shade.

Make two large patties by dividing the mixture and palming each mass back and forth gently between your hands a few times. If you need to redistribute some meat, glue it onto the other ball as gently as possible. The aim is not to compact the meat too much.

Heat 1 tbsp oil at medium heat and cook the patties for about 1 minute on one side. When superficially browned, flip them over, reduce the heat to low, cover with a well fitting lid and steam the burgers for 10-12 minutes. When you are satisfied the burgers are done (most Japanese cooks wouldn't want them to be pink in the middle) and the juices don't run pink when a fork or chopstick is inserted, remove lid, turn the heat up to high and cook for another 30 seconds to one minute.

Serve topped with one of the following:

- KIMCHEESE: finely chop 40 g white kimchi and mix with 30 g grated cheese and 2 tsp sake. Add a-top the burgers before the final one minute of cooking with lid ON.

- ONE SCRAMBLED EGG AND KETCHUP: just what it says, artfully squiggling the ketchup. Egg should be plain egg, no milk added.

- CLASSIC STYLE: make a glaze using 2 tbsp ketchup and chinese-style sauce (or try Korean BBQ sauce, ketchup, salt, pepper and a tiny bit of powdered vege stock). A mostarda glaze could also be good! Or some kind of premade beef demiglace.

- MILD FRESH SALSA: very finely chop a de-seeded tomato, a quarter cucumber, and a quarter red onion. To let the meat flavour shine you might like to tone down the onion by salting it and letting it sit for a minute or two, and then rinse. Mix together with 1/2 tbsp rice vinegar and generous salt & pepper. This salsa is also improved with some capers and/or chopped anchovy, but again this may overwhelm the burger... try to think in the Japanese way where the dish shouldn't be overwhelmed by crazy sauces. Maybe it's better to just have some nice crunchy cornichon pickles on the side!

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Serve with the following kick ass salad (adapted from the recipe book '15分らくうまおかず', or 'easy main dishes to go with rice prepared within 15 minutes'). Original recipe asks for watercress which would be great (watercress rules) but I replaced with rocket and it was also excellent with the soy-ish lime-spiked light creamy dressing.
Who knew a dressing without pepper could be so beguiling?

(serves 2 people) (307 kcal per person)

2 eggs boiled 6-7 minutes, peeled and chopped in large non-uniform chunks.
1 avocado peeled and chopped in chunks (original recipe asks for 2cm cubes but that sounds too fussy)
4 handfuls of rocket/rucola/arugula or watercress
Lime or lemon
1 tsp soy sauce
2 tbsp milk
2 tbsp japanese kyupi mayo

Arrange the greens in 2 bowls and scatter the avocado over top. Squeeze lime or lemon juice generously over the avocado pieces.

Mix together the mayo, milk and soy (we use a handheld milk frothing device to get it blended well and ever-so-slightly foamy, but a fork should be fine!).
Scatter the egg pieces over the salad and pour the milky soy mayo dressing over top of everything.

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Typical Japanese-style hamburger presentations:

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Burger in a box?

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spew-like kinoko sauce (that's kiNOko as in mushroom):

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from one extreme:

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to the next:

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this looks delicious to me - does that make me a pervert?

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This Mosburger hybrid also looks damn good:

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Horror burger:

MySpace Codes


    I'm a huge fan of soaking the breadcrumbs in stock - but I'll have to give milk a try. I'm convinced that the key to awesome burgers (if you don't have a broiler/smoker), is steaming then charring on the grill.

    If you really want to up the fat ante, stuff the burgers with a mix of butter and blue cheese.


    excellent burger post, I've been making the same burgers for ages now....not that I eat them...they are strictly boy food I make for skinny wee Hock....I usually just throw a felafel inside a burger and add tahini and salad for me. We're a bit like fatty and skinny these days....I'm on a perpetual diet, I cook fatty food so that I may live vicariously through watching Hock eat it....sad huh......also I find as I get older that I am more disposed towards a vegetarian diet....mainly...I would never go vego though, but I do think we all probably need to eat less meat than we do, so I'm down to once or twice a week now.

    but my god, blue cheese and butter sounds fantastic...my mouth is watering and I think I will have to allow myself this indulgence

    plus the salad looks insanely good


    butter, and blue cheese, wow!
    will try out that and the stock version and the steaming-before-grilling method. Coming soon to my grill in a Cologne park near you.

    I guess the mix should be a bit less wet if one is going to grill?
    possibly the milk thing might not have enough kick for you if stock is your usual way,
    that's why i recommend to enjoy this recipe in the japanese style... uniformity, mildness and singularity ...a nice dish for ladies who lunch, but also pump iron!

    Maylee that's funny, I have the same disposition lately to eat a lot less meat... it seems way more appealing most of the time to just have veges/ rice/ noodles/ tofu/ salad combos. not sure if it's healthier (for me). but generally it's healthful to follow one's instincts when it comes to food, right? except when the instinct is to eat brownies from Gustavson's or the baked cheesecake littering the front benches of every bakery in town.

    PS the salad IS insanely good.! with a small bowl of white rice: total satisfaction, oh la la.


    I forgot to mention that if that is tinned spaghetti next to the hamburger, then yes, you are a pervert. The only place for tinned spaghetti is in jaffles. Or whatever New Zealanders call those...toasties? jandals?




    The spaghetti might not be tinned but it probably should be locked up inside a can forever.
    then again it might be good inside some absurdly sweet white roll with some extra ketchup and potato salad.
    I am a sick & twisted individual.


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