Food & Wine (June 2011)
We were frankly a little surprised by how many readers picked the June Food & Wine cover as their favorite in our most recent gallery. It's not that it's not a lovely cover -- it certainly is! -- but it was so different compared to all the other, more summery images.
But it was obvious that you guys were craving a burger, so we knew we had to make that cover recipe the first chance we had.
This is anything but a standard summer burger. It's not just the port and the Stilton cheese that make this burger so unique and drool-worthy. It's the inclusion of three other ingredients we bet you've never had in a burger before: dried mushrooms, seaweed and fish flakes!
See, these burgers are topped with something called "umami dust" (which sort of sounds like something Japanese fairies would sprinkle on you to make your food wishes come true).
The notes of the recipe explain that you can make umami dust with a combination of bonito flakes, dried kombu and dried shiitake mushrooms. We're familiar with shiitakes, but bonito and kombu were completely foreign to us.
We suspected that we'd need to visit an Asian specialty store to buy these ingredients, but it turns out that we found them (or perfectly fine substitutes) at Whole Foods. We thought that dried shiitakes would be the easiest of these ingredients to purchase, but we couldn't find any. Instead, we bought a dried mushroom medley that included shiitakes.
Dried bonito flakes were right there with the other Asian spices in the International aisle. They're little pieces of dried fish. According to other sources, they can also be referred to as katsuobushi.
And lastly, we needed dried kombu, which we learned is a form of kelp or seaweed. There was nothing specifically marked "kombu" at Whole Foods, but we did find this Pacific Arame and on the back of the package it said it was a substitute for kombu.
If you're turned off by mushrooms, dried fish, or seaweed, never fear. All these ingredients get ground up into a fine dust that looks really lovely once it's all in a bowl together .
Other than that, the only change we made to this recipe is that we were unable to find brioche buns at Whole Foods, and hunger prevented us for trekking to a bakery to try to find some. Instead, we purchased high-quality whole wheat buns.
We won't go into the specifics of making these burgers, other than to say that it's extremely easy and takes very little time. The recipe recommends cooking them on a griddle -- we don't have one, so we cooked them in a cast iron pan, which works quite well.
So what about the flavor?
Well ... first, let acknowledge that we had super-high expectations. We've been salivating over these burgers since we got this Food & Wine more than a month ago. And knowing so many of you were also drawn to them made us crave them even more. And including the word "umami" in the title made us expect to just be blown away by sharp, savory flavors.
We weren't. Don't get us wrong: This is a really tasty burger. But we found that we wanted a bit more of everything. We wanted more kick out of the Stilton, which was very mild on our burgers. And we really wanted more of the reduced port sauce. It's delicious, but the recipe boils the port down to 2 tablespoons, meaning that each burger gets a half tablespoon. We wanted more -- a lot more -- of the delicious, syrupy port.
And for all the exotic flavors of the umami dust, we hate to say we just weren't that wowed by it. We ended up sprinkling about twice as much as the recipe calls for, and we still could have used more of a punch.
So they were good. But with some more potent Stilton and double the amount of port sauce, they'd be great.
There is one warning that we should share -- these burgers are not an inexpensive endeavor. As we mentioned, we purchased all of our ingredients at Whole Foods. The bill was nearly $50 by the time we bought the meat, buns, cheese and the ingredients for the umami powder (we already had port on hand). So if you're looking for a splurge, you've found it.
This burger recipe has us excited to try others this summer. Do you have a favorite? Tell us about it in the comments.
- TOTAL TIME: 40 MIN
- SERVINGS: MAKES 4 BURGERS
- 1 cup ruby port
- 2 pounds mixed ground beef brisket, skirt steak and sirloin steak (20 percent fat)
- Salt and freshly ground pepper
- 1/2 cup Stilton cheese (3 ounces), softened
- Umami dust, for sprinkling (optional, see Note)
- 4 brioche hamburger buns, buttered and toasted
In a small saucepan, cook the port over moderate heat until reduced to 2 tablespoons, about 15 minutes.
Heat a cast-iron griddle until very hot. Form the meat into four 4-by-1-inch patties without packing too tightly. Season generously with salt and pepper. Add the patties to the griddle, cover with a roasting pan and cook over moderately high heat for 4 minutes, until very crusty. Flip the patties and cook, covered, for 2 minutes longer; top with the Stilton and cook uncovered for 1 minute. Transfer the patties to a plate and sprinkle with the umami dust, let rest for 2 minutes and set on the buns. Drizzle with the reduced port, top with the buns and serve.
NOTES The Secret Seasoning To make simplified umami dust, use a spice grinder to pulse 3 tablespoons bonito flakes, 1/2 ounce crumbled dried kombu, and 1/2 ounce dried shiitake mushrooms into a powder. Umami dust will soon be available at umamiburger.com.