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The Best Hamburger in America?

 
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PostPosted: Thu Feb 24, 2011 12:08 am    Post subject: The Best Hamburger in America? Reply with quote

Quote:
Is This the Best Burger in America?

* by GQ Magazine, on Thu Feb 10, 2011

We don't usually name a Burger of the Year. But the Umami Burger from L.A. ain't no ordinary burger. Alan Richman breaks down the secrets of its addictive taste.

It's half beef and half beyond belief.

I arrived in Los Angeles not much taken with umami, at least not the way true believers are. Too much mysticism, not enough science. Nor did I care much for the L.A. burger culture, not like the locals. Too many toppings, not enough meat.

Then I tasted the Umami Burger, Adam Fleischman's cross-cultural merger of Japanese ingenuity and American know-how. And I thought to myself, This is a man among burger men, worthy of our adulation even if he's always wearing a T-shirt with an Umami Burger logo. (These days, even the greats can't resist self-promotion.)

Fleischman, the founder of the modest but ever expanding four-shop Umami Burger chain, has rethought every element of the hamburger experience. The bun. The meat. The ketchup. The toppings. Even valet parking. Yes, at the original Umami Burger joint on La Brea, 900 square feet of utter simplicity across the road from a Goodwill store, every burger comes with parking, the ultimate in West Coast customer service.

Related: The 5 Best Burgers in NYC

Elsewhere in L.A., the burger world is in disarray. So desperate is the situation, so uncertain are the natives, that at least one establishment specializing in burgers is flying in chopped meat from the LaFrieda purveyors in Manhattan. The old L.A. order—In-N-Out Burger, Fatburger, Bob's Big Boy, Tommy's—is in retreat.

Fleischman's savory umami master sauce puts to shame other "secret sauces," which tend to be orange goo. His organic housemade version of MSG might well carry the DNA for umami (assuming you believe umami exists). His umami-loaded ketchup tastes like a purer, fresher, tinglier clone of Heinz. He defines his discoveries as fulfilling a craving for "that which cannot be explained."

His face belongs on the Mount Rushmore of the burger world.

Who is this man? I sat down with him, and he brushed aside his life in a dozen words: Born in New York. Liberal-arts grad. Owned wine bars. Sold them. That's it. (His wife and kids didn't come up until later. She likes her burgers well-done, which doesn't please him. His son calls his father's masterpiece the "mommy burger," which does.) It is as though he lived an inconsequential existence until being reborn as a burger man, fated to do little else, although now he's thinking about an umami pizza chain.

See Also: Burger King's "Secret Weapon"

Umami, heralded by Japanese scientists as the fifth taste (after the basics of sweet, sour, bitter, salty), is voodoo science to me. Others are convinced of its authenticity, based on the alleged discovery of a taste bud for glutamate, the building block of the umami concept.

Fleischman is credible because he has focused on flavor, not chemistry. He studied umami tastes, most of them having to do with aging or fermentation, and made certain they were sprinkled on, poured into, and piled atop his burgers. I tasted his patty the American way, plain, with nothing on it, and it was pure and wonderful. I tasted it the Asian way, served with toppings, rubs, and sauces, and a different sort of brilliance emerged. It was deeper, more sensuous, both head-spinning and mind-expanding.

He's also created a Peking-duck burger with hoisin sauce, a crabmeat burger with lemon-miso dressing, and a Stink Burger incorporating anchovies, onions marinated in fish sauce, and ripe Taleggio cheese. It's clear that he has looked into the heart of the burger and seen what others have not.

Photo Credit: Amanda Marsalis

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PostPosted: Thu Feb 24, 2011 5:57 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Hamburgers have always had the potential for being gourmet. To do so requires only someone with the willingness to use the proper ingredients.

I would be willing to try one of those burgers but I am not going to Los Angeles to do it, though. I'll just make some at the house for myself.


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PostPosted: Tue Mar 01, 2011 3:38 pm    Post subject: Re: The Best Hamburger in America? Reply with quote

Harbinger wrote:
Quote:
Umami, heralded by Japanese scientists as the fifth taste (after the basics of sweet, sour, bitter, salty), is voodoo science to me. Others are convinced of its authenticity, based on the alleged discovery of a taste bud for glutamate, the building block of the umami concept.

Fleischman is credible because he has focused on flavor, not chemistry. He studied umami tastes, most of them having to do with aging or fermentation, ...
Interesting. This term has been popping up in the homebrew and craft beer world for a while. People have been describing it as "meaty."
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PostPosted: Tue Mar 01, 2011 4:44 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Isn't fermentation involved in making soy sauce?
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PostPosted: Tue Mar 01, 2011 4:47 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

aliantha wrote:
Isn't fermentation involved in making soy sauce?


I'd think so. Generally, if anything "turns black" , it's because of fermentation (which is just another word for oxidation Cool )
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PostPosted: Tue Mar 01, 2011 5:09 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Anyhow, forget that umami stuff. These guys make the best burger in America. Mr. Green
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PostPosted: Tue Mar 01, 2011 9:17 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Five guys is good, but not as good as your own backyard burger- and not as good for you, either.

Quote:
Men's Health magazine claims that Five Guys' meals are unhealthy. A standard double patty burger, for example, contains 700 calories and 19.5 grams of saturated fat. Men's Health also rated Five Guys' french fries as the 4th most unhealthy food in America, noting that a standard large order of fries contains almost 1,500 calories (but is said to feed 3-4 people). The Center for Science in the Public Interest placed Five Guys's bacon cheeseburger, which contains 920 calories, among its 2010 list of most unhealthy meals available at U.S. chain restaurants.

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PostPosted: Tue Mar 01, 2011 9:50 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

An order of fries that's said to feed 3-4 people has 1500 calories. Imagine that. Razz

I always get the "little hamburger" (one patty, no cheese -- which is what I'd make for myself at home). And I get a small order of fries -- which still isn't small by any stretch of the imagination, as they overfill the cup. But I only go about once a month. So I'm not too worried about my Five Guys "habit". Wink
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PostPosted: Tue Mar 01, 2011 10:22 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

aliantha wrote:
...I'm not too worried about my Five Guys "habit". Wink

Interesting that you should phrase it that way. While I am a big fan of In and Out burgers (and wish they would expand northward!), a few years ago when I was spending a lot of time working in Southern CA, I found a small chain there called The Habit that really did have a better burger.

Their fries were also far better than In and Out...but I really don't care for In and Out fries to begin with.

Harbinger, you are correct about home-prepared burgers...especially when I get out the Kitchenaid food mill attachment and grind my own!
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PostPosted: Tue Mar 01, 2011 11:02 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Savor Dam, what cut of meat do you grind? I've thought about doing this, but never seriously enough to look it up and see how it's done.

I prefer Angus ground chuck, 80/20 for my home burgers. Season with only salt and fresh ground pepper. Don't overcook, and you're golden. I like to put my burgers off to the side of the charcoal to prevent flare-ups and char, but I'll put them over the coals for about a minute per side just to make sure they sear a little bit on the outside.

A great bun is essential. The toppings are up to you, but I'm a sucker for the classics: pickles, onion, tomato, catsup, mustard, mayo. No cheese, unless it's a double. Cheese can be too overpowering.
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PostPosted: Wed Mar 02, 2011 12:09 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Z, what I use varies quite a bit depending on what I can get a good deal on. If prices are level, the core mix is roughly equal parts chuck, sirloin and either untrimmed brisket or short ribs. These add a bit more fat, so as to hit (unscientifically) the proportions you mentioned.

Sometimes I will throw in some lamb for a more game-like flavor that appeals to certain folks who frequent my table. Smile

Whatever the mix of meats, I chunk the meat in about 1" cubes and put both the food mill and the meat in the freezer for about 90 minutes before grinding. One pass through the grinder on coarse setting, then lightly form the patties with a little S&P, seldom anything else.

(Now counting the minutes before Menolly shows up and tells us how Kenji Lopez-Alt of Serious Eats does it...)
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PostPosted: Wed Mar 02, 2011 2:15 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Zarathustra wrote:
No cheese, unless it's a double. Cheese can be too overpowering.


I feel the same way. I love cheese. And by love, I mean LOVE. But I feel it should be the main event in most meals.

I've experimented a lot with putting things in burgers, but some good salt and freshly ground pepper is just the best.
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PostPosted: Wed Mar 02, 2011 6:39 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Savor Dam wrote:
(Now counting the minutes before Menolly shows up and tells us how Kenji Lopez-Alt of Serious Eats does it...)

heh.

IIRC, I told you how to use a KA attachment for grinding meat long before I discovered Kenji and his The Food Lab. But he definitely is a young AB on the rise...

Your mix of cuts is your own, but I am pretty sure I stressed the keeping everything ice cold before you ever ground your first chuck. And the lamb is an awesome touch. Yum!
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PostPosted: Wed Mar 02, 2011 6:51 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Never would I deny that I have learned much from you...but I did not lack for knowledge and skill prior to meeting you. We each have our own masteries; neither is padawan to the other.

Looking forward to more kitchen adventures...
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PostPosted: Thu Mar 03, 2011 8:05 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Savor Dam wrote:
Z, what I use varies quite a bit depending on what I can get a good deal on. If prices are level, the core mix is roughly equal parts chuck, sirloin and either untrimmed brisket or short ribs. These add a bit more fat, so as to hit (unscientifically) the proportions you mentioned.

Sometimes I will throw in some lamb for a more game-like flavor that appeals to certain folks who frequent my table. Smile
That sounds fantastic. I think you've sold me on this idea. I've got to get a grinder. I love the gaminess of lamb. A touch added to beef sounds nice. Maybe even a little ground pork? It would be fun to experiment.

Come to think of it, it would be nice to have a grinder to make some sausages, too. In my town there's a local authentic German restaurant that makes sausages unlike anything I can buy anywhere--and I've tried over a dozen different kinds. I can make the sauerkraut and the hot German potato salad, but it's just not the same without those sausages. Hmmm ....
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Remain faithful to the earth, my brothers, with the power of your virtue. Let your gift-giving love and your knowledge serve the meaning of the earth ... Do not let them fly away from earthly things and beat with their wings against eternal walls. Alas, there has always been so much virtue that has flown away. Lead back to the earth the virtue that flew away, as I do-back to the body, back to life, that it may give the earth a meaning, a human meaning. -Nietzsche
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