Burgers have the reputation of being the junkiest of junk food. I disagree. I find that notion incredibly unfair. Sure, burgers from fast food shops are certainly going to be unhealthy, but then again so is everything else being sold at fast food shops. Fast food shops are in no way the be-all-and-end-all of burgers!
I believe that a burger can be as healthy or unhealthy as you want it to be. As with most food, it is about the quality of the ingredients and the choices you make when deciding what to put into it. And while yes, even the healthiest of burgers may not be the lightest of meals, but as I always insist; indulgent food will always have a place in a well balanced diet as far as I’m concerned.
I personally just ADORE a good burger. The satisfaction of holding a nice soft and squishy bun filled with a well seasoned and juicy beef patty and simply stuffing your face, with zero refinement or grace, is pretty hard to beat. Sometimes you just need to ditch the cutlery and fancy plates and unleash you inner caveman/woman, ya know?
Back in Cairo, our favourite burger was at an old American diner in the leafy Maadi district. It is the only American diner I know of in Cairo, and I assume it came to be due to the large percentage of expats residing in Maadi. My husband and I lived all the way on the opposite side of Cairo, but would regularly brave the crippling cross-city traffic for our beloved burger fix. Food is always worth the trek in our books.
The burgers there were just incredible; salty, juicy, and melt-in-your-mouth tender, encased in the squishiest of buns and covered in melty cheese. The perfect burger may mean different things to different people, but for us; this was it. There is nothing fancy or groundbreaking about it, just a delicious no-frills good old burger done right. No matter how hard I tried to figure out what the secret to it was, I just couldn’t put my finger on it.
Then, one afternoon while we were sitting there waiting impatiently for our burgers to arrive, I decided to distract myself by reading one of the magazine articles framed and hanging on the walls all around the place. This one happened to be an interview that was done with one of the founders of the diner a decade or two ago. I skimmed through the questions and responses, till I got to one that grabbed my attention; “what is the secret to your burgers?” And the answer was a surprising one. The response was (I am not quoting word-for-word here) “well, I can’t tell you the secret ingredient, but I will tell you that it has something to do with fish.”
*jaw drops* *look of disbelief*
Fish??? What on earth could fish possibly have to do with burgers? I had no idea (and was slightly grossed out), but the thought stuck with me ever since.
Fast forward a few years, we moved to Sydney and were happily eating our way through the city’s endless delicious offerings. The one exception was burgers: we tried and tried, and had way too many disappointing experiences before we sort of gave up (this was before Neil Perry’s Burger Project had opened).
Of course, my cravings on the other hand did NOT give up…and I knew they simply will not go away. This was when I decided I had to fulfill our burger cravings myself, and the magazine clipping from the wall at our favourite diner instantly jumped to mind.
I thought long and hard, and I googled countless burger recipes and videos, searching for a clue as to how fish will make my burgers better. The equation of a great burger seemed simple enough; you need good quality beef that is not too lean. Fat content is what makes a burger moist and prevents it from drying out…so about 20% fat is the ideal here. The purists (and I tend to be a purist when it comes to food) insist that a burger should contain ZERO fillers. No eggs, breadcrumbs or even spices of any sort. And I agreed. Just well seasoned beef with the right amount of fat, mixed and shaped gently into flat disks without over-mixing or over-packing them into a dense hockey puck.
So where does the fish fit into this equation?
And then one night, as I was obsessing over food during my usual bouts of insomnia, it hit me…fish sauce!
YASSS! That has GOT to be it!! It is the perfect way to season the beef without using salt, which would probably draw out moisture from the meat and cause it to dry out! It made SO much sense…fish sauce has that intense saltiness with a wonderful complexity and depth of flavor. It is one of these weird food hacks that when used, doesn’t really taste like the actual thing it is, but just makes you say “what is IN this??”, similar to how anchovies are used in numerous Italian sauces for that intense complex salty kick that no one can quite detect its source. You don’t have to love anchovies to love these sauces just like you don’t need to love fish to love these burgers, you’ve gotta trust me on this one.
For those of you who are unfamiliar with Fish Sauce, it is an asian sauce that looks similar to Soy Sauce but lighter and can be found in most supermarkets in the Asian section. For more information about it and to see what it looks like, click here.
So I tried it. I used wonderful Tasmanian grass-fed beef chuck and I added the secret ingredient along with a bit of Worcestershire sauce as well for some extra beefiness. I shaped them into nice large patties.
Top tip: you know how burgers tend to shrink and form a raised “dome” in the center while cooking? The brilliant yet simple solution is to form a slight dent in the center of each patty when raw like this, so that when it expands in the center it will be the same thickness all round.
You then chill the patties for a while just so they hold their shape well while cooking. My second tip when cooking burgers indoors (that is, not on a proper grill) is cooking them in a bit of butter. The butter browns and even burns slightly, giving the burgers the most AMAZING flavourful brown crust. It makes up for the lack of smoky barbeque/coal flavour of cooking on an actual grill to the extent that I actually PREFER this method.
I must say, I CANNOT believe how good they turned out!! It was one of those serious life-changing moments (yes I take food this seriously) filled with pride and happy dances and bags of excess excitement.
(P.S: thank you obsessive insomniac gluttonous self who has a weird habit of reading anything and everything in sight when bored <3)
You guys, you HAVE to make these. It’s not even a joke how delicious they are. Serious secret ingredient magic that you will be tempted to keep for yourself for all eternity and be known as the REAL burger king/queen of your group.
…But then you will feel sorry for all the other people eating inferior, dry, tasteless sad little homemade burgers and you will find it in your heart to share it with them, just like I did. I am terrible at keeping food secrets.
Serve them with your choice of toppings in a nice soft bun (I used brioche buns here, but often use good-quality whole-wheat buns. As long as they are soft and squishy and not crusty, they will work well) with a generous side of my Ultimate roast Potato Wedges, which I love even more than regular French fries. Yes honestly.
- • 600-700g best quality beef mince with 15-20% fat content (such as chuck)
- • 2 tbsp. fish sauce
- • 2 tbsp. Worcestershire sauce
- • 2 tbsp. butter for cooking (or oil of choice)
- FOR ASSEMBLY:
- • 4 soft round buns
- • 4 slices of good quality melting tasty cheese like cheddar
- • Tomato slices
- • Lettuce leaves
- • Pickles
- • Ketchup
- In a large bowl, place the beef, fish sauce and Worcestershire sauce. Using a fork or your hands, mix GENTLY until just combined. DO NOT overmix.
- Divide the mixture into 4 and using your hands to apply gentle pressure, form into patties about 2.5cm thick and place them on a tray lined with baking paper/foil. DO NOT pack the beef too tightly or compact it; this will result in dense, tough burgers. Using your thumb, form a slight indent into the center of each patty (refer to photos). Cover the tray with plastic and refrigerate for at least half an hour, or up to a day. At this point, you could also freeze the burgers for later and just defrost them thoroughly (preferably in the fridge) before cooking.
- When ready to cook, remove the burgers from the fridge. Heat a heavy bottomed skillet or grill-pan over high heat until quite hot (I like to use my cast iron skillet). Add the butter. Season the burgers with a sprinkle of salt (this helps form a nice crust) and place gently in the pan. They should sizzle violently if the pan is hot enough.
- Cook, flipping every couple of minutes until desired doneness. 10-12 minutes for well done, less if you prefer medium/rare. Do not overcook or the burgers will dry out. Also, DO NOT press down on the burgers while cooking or poke them or pierce them in any way, just let them cook in peace until nicely browned all over.
- If you are adding cheese to your burgers, place them on the patties while they are still in the pan for the final minute of cooking so that they melt nicely.
- Remove the patties from the pan to a plate to rest just for a couple of minutes, meanwhile return the pan to the heat and place your sliced buns in (cut side down) to toast for a bit and soak up all the lovely juices left in the pan from the burgers.
- Assemble the burgers with toppings and add-ins of choice. Devour immediately.
• Feel free to add black pepper to the burger mixture if you like black pepper-y burgers!
Get the recipe for my Ultimate Roast Potato Wedges here.