If there is a meal that sums up New York better than this, I didn’t find it.
While much of the food available in the city reflects the diverse nature of the population – noodle bars next to falafal huts and pizza parlours – this is the all-American meal.
While they may not be able to lay claim to creating the individual components - the burger from Germany and the fries from Belgium - here is where the two were thrust together in a happy and enduring marriage.
There are a number of elements necessary to create the perfect cheeseburger and each must be just right before you can consider the possibility of creating something significantly greater than the sum of its parts. All good burgers are greater than the sum of its parts.
The bun should be soft and yielding and of an absorbent nature to suck up those delicious rich and beefy juices from the patties. The cheese has to be sufficiently melted with a distinct but subtle flavour of its own that doesn’t overpower the taste of the beef. As a result, blue cheese is a no-no for me.
Thinly sliced tomatoes should cut through the whole thing with a sweet freshness and a slick of mayonnaise and a dribble of ketchup must complete the ensemble, ready to squirt out at any moment over a clean shirt. Lettuce is window-dressing.
Whilst a good cheeseburger, when presented, must tower in an intimidating fashion, the first bite should compress the whole thing together into a manageable thickness so that all the components can be taken with every mouthful.
The side order, whilst not as important as the burger itself, needs also to be frighteningly oversized but the individual fries should be no thicker than a plumber’s finger.
And they must not, under any circumstances, be stacked in the manner of a virginal game of Jenga, merely tossed happily into a warm bowl. Melted cheese is optional but highly recommeneded.
According to trusted reports, the ultimate burger experience is to be enjoyed at Shake Shack, a veritable institution at Madison Square Park, within spitting distance of the wonderful Flatiron Building.
It’s not unusual for the queue to snake through the park and out towards Broadway as hungry residents wait patiently for upwards of an hour for a little taste of the city.
We didn’t wait quite that long but the lack of breakfast made the fifteen minutes pass achingly slowly.
But, oh, was it worth it. A truly excellent burger recreated in all its magnificent glory below.
Cheeseburger & Fries
Inside sources have revealed that Shake Shack use a combination of beef cuts (with a ratio of 80:20 meat to fat) in order to create their tasty patties. Budget and practicalities prevented me from taking this Heston Blumenthalian approach to burger making but beef skirt is a great alternative. Tasty, juicy and cheap enough to not feel guilty about forcing it through a mincer.
To make two thick or four thin burgers:
300g beef skirt - Good beef, please (goes without saying, no?)
Salt and pepper.
That’s it. No, really. That’s it. Don’t mess around with egg or breadcrumbs or onions. Leave it pure and let it sing over your tastebuds.
Slice the meat into 2cm pieces and salt generously. Leave, covered, in the fridge for a couple of hours. Rinse the meat under cold water and mince finely. Season with salt and pepper and shape into burgers. Let them come up to room temperature before you fry them.
The buns were made with the exact same recipe as the hot dog buns, just shaped differently and brushed with a little beaten egg before baking. They freeze just fine.
Tip: I used a cutter when making these little fellas but they would have risen better if shaped by hand. As a result instead of slicing one bun in half, I just used two for each burger.
Thinly sliced tomato
A little butter
Get everything ready before you go, that way there is no waiting around and you can assemble and attack as soon as possible.
Get a frying pan nice and hot, dribble in a little cooking oil, season each side of the burgers and fry for about four minutes. Flip them over – the underside should be browned nicely – place a couple of slices of cheese on the cooked side and leave to cook for a further two minutes.
Remove the burgers from the pan and put them on a warm plate to rest. Add a small nugget of butter to the pan, return to the heat and fry the cut side of the buns so they mop up all that lovely beef juice.
Smother one half of the bun with ketchup, the other with mayo and layer up.
Serve with cheesy fries and a hearty appetite.