As part two of a three-part series of columns on perfecting homemade burgers, this one will focus on ingredients to add to the hamburger mix, and the next column will be on burger toppings and bread selection.
There are literally countless ingredients one can add to their hamburger mix to create a flavourful burger patty, and trying to cover all of them in a single food column would be next to impossible. Therefore, I will focus on some general tips and a handful of unique ideas for you.
First, please understand that the burger patty itself should be flavourful; don't rely on just the toppings to make it taste good. If it doesn't taste good on its own, you are not done making the burger patty yet.
Let your pantry and spice rack be your guide. Think of the type of burger you would like to create based on what you have on hand. Maybe you would like to create an Italian burger? Then use herbs such as basil and oregano and add lots of garlic. An Asian type burger would be better suited with sesame oil, sesame seeds and maybe some Chinese five-spice powder. A Southern Louisiana type burger may come together with some cayenne pepper, onion, garlic and a flavourful paprika. A Greek burger could be made with oregano, rosemary, tons of garlic and maybe some crumbled feta cheese.
Cheeses are a great way to not only introduce flavour but also to add moisture. A dry burger patty is not very palatable. Sometimes I will also include a chunk of meltable cheese in the middle of each patty, like mozzarella, for a hidden cheesy centre. Also, keep in mind the salt content of the cheeses you select; salt and pepper in your burger mix is crucial, but you don't want it to be overly salty.
Bread crumbs are not always necessary to make a good burger, and with the number of gluten-intolerant people seemingly on the rise, this is more important to know than ever. Bread crumbs act as a good binder to help hold the burger together by giving it some stability, but bread crumbs also tend to dry out the burger as well.
Some of my best burger creations were created without any bread crumbs at all - just eggs to hold the patties together when cooking. Keep in mind that the number of wet ingredients added to the mix must then be kept to a minimum, as there will be no crumbs to soak up the excess moisture. Celiacs can then enjoy their burger patty served in a lettuce cup, which I also find is a refreshing change from the regular burger bun.
Probably the best tip I can share when cooking red meat is to add a small amount of dark berry jam, such as blueberry or blackberry, to your raw hamburger mix.
The dark full-bodied flavour of the jam compliments the full-bodied flavour of red meat very well. This is a trick I have used many times when creating such dishes as meat loaf, tomato meat sauce and burgers. Approximately two measured tablespoons of dark berry jam to each pound of red meat should result in a complimentary effect.
Simply be resourceful. A look in the refrigerator may uncover such hidden gems to add to the mix, such as pickles, hot peppers, capers, anchovies, olives, sundried tomatoes, celery and bell peppers.
When creating a burger patty from scratch it is always good to taste it before all the patties are formed and cooked off. This way you have a chance to adjust the seasonings before they are served. I am not suggesting you eat the raw meat. Instead, take a small meatball-sized amount of the raw mixture, flatten it into a miniature patty and cook it thoroughly in a small pan. This will give you an opportunity to taste, and adjust any ingredients and seasonings before proceeding to the grill.