Tuesday, July 12, 2011

On Salting the Pan for Hamburger Patties

Recently, Eater.com featured Dean Martin's recipe for hamburgers. The graphic displays a beautiful, typed note that calls for ground beef and two ounces of bourbon (the bourbon is for drinking while you cook the beef). Reasons I love this recipe: 1) It's typed with a typewriter. 2) It lists "bourbon" as an ingredient so you can enjoy it while you cook. 3) It calls for you to cook the hamburger patties in a very particular manner: "Preheat a heavy frying pan and sprinkle bottom lightly with table salt."

Which is just exactly how Matty's grandmother used to make them.

Thus, how his parents made them and how I make them now. Was this a generational thing? Even Julia Child had some recipes that called for salting the pan. Did everybody in that era cook their ground beef in this manner? I choose to believe that is the case because I rarely see modern recipes that call for this particular trick. For pan-frying, it's always "season meat, then fry in pan," never "season pan, then fry meat."

If you are not cooking your hamburger patties this way then allow me to show you the light. Don't fret, brothers and sisters; the Kool-Aid tastes amazing. There is something magical about the way this works. My theory is two-fold and likely total bullshit. First, salt is a rock, so by heating it in a pan it gets super-heated and cooks the beef differently than if you just salted the meat alone. Second, by seasoning the outside of the patty, you only give the outside a chance to lose its juices. Juices that, incidentally, mingle with the salt and form the most amazing meaty crust. If you've never done this before, you must do it soon. Promise me.
This is kosher salt only because that's what I usually use to cook with. Seriously, it doesn't matter. It will be amazing with kosher or table salt.

First, salt the pan. Try to use the same sprinkle density that you would have used if you were salting a piece of meat. (For some reason that line seems very inappropriate.) But don't worry too much about being exact or getting too much or too little. How does Matty describe this step? "She'd salt the crap out of it." And he thinks the hamburger patties she used to make were the best he'd ever tasted. So relax! Just salt the pan and have faith.
Heat the pan. Once the pan is very hot, lay in your hamburger patties. You can make them fancy if you like, but I think they're very nice with the only seasoning being the salt in the pan.
Am I the only idiot that has to wash the grease off her lens after this sort of photo?
Cook on one side until a good crust forms, then turn over onto a different part of the pan to cook the other side. This way both sides of the patty get the hot salt treatment.
When you're ready to serve, it is imperative that you get a metal spoon or spatula and scrape up all the lovely salty browned bits. This beef candy may not look like much on a plate, but it is worth fighting over at the table. Or you could be a jerk and call them your reward for cooking dinner. (I am that jerk.)

And don't think you have to serve these with hamburger buns and pickles. Whenever I need an easy and soul-warming meal I usually have ground beef and a potato or two in the house. Hamburger patties and roasted potatoes, anybody? (Mashed potatoes are also dynamite for this meal.) And don't judge; I have to believe that our grandmothers would have thought nothing of serving fresh-from-the-oven bread with dinner. I only wish I'd thought to serve this meal on the Grandma plates. Dumb, dumb, dumb.

Yes, yes, I broke the patty. Damnit Jim, I'm a bad cook, not a food stylist!
As for the bourbon?
Vodka and Triple Sec and a splash of soda isn't a very manly drink. But then again, I'm just not the man Dean Martin was.

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