Monday, July 21, 2014
Medium-rare Burgers (Video)
YouTube Link: Medium-rare Burgers (grilled or seared)
More Videos: Helen's Kitchen Channel
Burgers in the oven? Don't knock it till you try it. I wish I could take credit for this brilliant method, but it was inspired by Kenji Alt's slow roasted steak method that was published in Cook's Illustrated in 2007. It became a master technique for how I cook all meat to medium-rare.
How does this weird method work?
For even doneness, we want to do most of our cooking with air and not with metal or flame. Metal is a great conductor of energy and air is not. By transferring the energy to the burgers slowly using air, we ensure perfectly even cooking. If we put the burgers directly on a baking dish, they'll be in touch with a metal object which will cook the bottom faster than the top. It will also make the bottom surface damp since the moisture won't have a chance to evaporate and this will inhibit browning during the grilling or searing stage. Since the burgers are thinner than the steak Kenji's recipe was optimized for (1 inch vs. 1.5 inches), I drop the oven temperature from 275F to 200F to ensure even cooking.
What's the fat percentage of the ground beef?
In the video, I am working with 85/15 from Whole Foods. Ideally, it would be 80/20, but my health obsessed Whole Foods in MA doesn't carry it. I've seen in at Whole Foods in other states. Of course, I can stop by a regular supermarket and pick up 80/20 beef, but for medium-rare burgers, I choose my source of beef very carefully. To tell you the truth, I think I got cheated out of some fat by Whole Foods this time. 85/15 means that it's at most 15% fat, so the actual percentage will vary batch to batch. I could barely feel any fat on my hands as I was shaping. Not a good sign. But this method is so forgiving, even lean ground beef will taste good.
July 22 update on safety
Ever since this post, I've been getting a lot of e-mail about the terrible danger of my burgers, so here is the scoop on safety.
There is a difference between a med-rare burger and a med-rare steak. Bacteria is only found on the outside of the muscle and when a steak is seared, they die instantly. So if you like your meat cold inside, you are not taking any risk eating it that way. However, after you grind the meat, some of that bacteria ends on the inside, so an under-cooked burger is a tad risky. The question is how big is this "tad." You take plenty of risks every day. Driving is probably one of the biggest for an average civilian. How many people do you know who were injured in a car accident? How many people do you know that were injured with a med-rare burger? Of course, you could argue that you drive more often than you eat a burger. But let's look at some numbers. An average annual death toll from E. Coli is in the low 20s. An average annual death toll from automobile related accidents is more than 30,000. So in the grand scheme of things, that burger is unlikely to significantly change your risk of getting hurt.
To reduce the risk further, you could grind your own meat. This way, the grinder touches only a few pounds instead of a few hundred pounds of meat, which will reduce the risk of cross-contamination. You could take it even further and briefly sear the meat on the outside before grinding thus killing most of the bacteria.
Besides e coli, there are other, not so dangerous bacteria that grow on meat when it decomposes. My conclusion is to buy meat at a reputable place, keep everything (meat, grinder, bowls) extremely cold, and stop worrying.
Posted by Helen Rennie at 9:30 PM