My cousin Holly and her husband Don are cooks. There are few invitations to dinner parties at their friends’ homes. The excuse? Friends say they are intimidated by the luxurious food the couple serves when they are enjoying themselves at home.
To prove a point, they hosted a gathering designed to show that their feasts could be delicious, but in no way fancy. They made crushed cheeseburgers, a kind of culinary performance art. Each two burger patty takes less than two minutes to cook on a super hot plancha (cast iron griddle) set on the grid of a gas or charcoal grill. It goes fast.
Buns are toasted and topped with spices before grilling so the burgers go together quickly, the cheese between the patties melted to perfection.
It’s the crust that forms on each side of the meat that gives the burgers their irresistibility, as well as a welcome texture that contrasts with the soft burger buns. The ground beef is pre-rolled into ready-made balls, 2 ounce balls ready to break.
Seems like a great idea for 4th of July gatherings with four to six guests. The plancha process is fast: smash, sizzle, flip, cheese, sizzle, stack.
At her outdoor party, Holly served store-bought ice cream cones, Drumsticks. With a grin, Holly asked the guests if that was fun enough. Here I offer a recipe for Strawberry Clouds, a delicious aftertaste that can be served on angel food cake or ice cream.
And if you want to serve a delicious side to the burgers, it would be hard to beat delicious orange-scented baked beans. The dish can be prepared and heated in advance. Happy 4th of July.
Yield: 6 servings
24 ounces 80/20 ground beef, preferably freshly ground beef; see chef’s notes
6 soft hamburger buns
Soft butter to spread on sandwiches
Seasoning suggestions: easy burger thousand island dressing (3 parts mayo plus 1 part ketchup), lettuce, thinly sliced red onion, sliced tomato, sliced pickle, mustard
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
6 thin slices of processed cheese, such as American or Jack
Equipment: large firm (rigid) spatula, potato masher, thin flexible spatula such as slotted fish spatula, plancha (cast iron griddle), gas or charcoal grill, optional heat-resistant barbecue gloves, optional smash burger press (when using a press, large firm spatula and potato masher are not necessary)
Cook’s notes: While most burger lovers prefer 80-20 ground beef for its fat content, I’ve successfully used 85-15 lean meats.
1. Divide the ground beef into 2 ounce portions and roll each into a ball and place on a plate. The easiest way to do this is to use a kitchen scale, but if you don’t have one, you can roll the meat into 1 3/4 inch diameter balls, trying to make them the same size.
2. Place the plancha (large cast iron griddle) on the grill grate (charcoal or gas). Start grilling. Cover and heat the plancha until sizzling hot, 550 to 600 degrees. This will take about 10 to 15 minutes. Make sure children are well away from the barbecue.
3. Meanwhile, prepare the sandwiches. Lightly grease the cut side of each bun with softened butter. Place butter side up on a rimmed baking sheet. Roast in the oven about 6 to 8 inches below the grill element. Turn on the oven light and look closely at the grid surface. In my oven it’s 1 1/2 minutes.
4. Because the grilling process is quick, prepare the buns in advance with the desired spices and place them next to the grill. If you’re new to this, make one burger (2 patties) at a time; if you are a pro, make two (4 patties) at a time. For newbies, you can wear heat resistant gloves for protection; place two balls of meat about 10 cm apart on the super hot plancha. With a large firm spatula in one hand and a potato masher in the other, press down balls with a large spatula and use a potato masher on top of the spatula to increase the pressure (flattened burger presses are also sold that can be used in instead of the large firm spatula and potato masher). The meat will form very thin patties. Remove the spatula or press; there may be areas with small holes. Grill for about a minute (top starts to turn pale pinkish gray in places), season with salt and pepper. Use a thin flexible spatula to turn each patty (try to catch all the browned bits with a scraping motion) and immediately cover a patty with cheese. Grill for about 30 seconds and place the patty without cheese on top of the patty with cheese. Transfer to the prepared bun and serve.
Orange Blossom Baked Beans
Yield: About 14 cups, 10 to 12 servings
3 1/2 cups large white Northern beans, picked, rinsed, soaked overnight
Canola oil or vegetable oil for greasing pot
1 large onion, halved, peeled, sliced
1 tablespoon salt, use less if you like, but these beans taste best when well salted
1/2 to 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 1/2 teaspoons dry mustard
3/4 cup orange marmalade
1 teaspoon ground cayenne
2 tablespoons tomato paste
Optional: 1 tablespoon chopped chipotle in adobo
Grated zest of 1 orange (colored zest), save orange
2 tablespoons honey, preferably orange blossom honey
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 pound cured pork, rinsed well, drained, patted dry, diced
1. Drain the beans, rinse and place in a large saucepan or Dutch oven. Cover beans with 2 inches of water and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat and simmer until almost cooked through, about 50 minutes to 1 1/2 hours. Let cool; drain through a colander and reserve the cooking liquid.
2. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Thoroughly grease the inside of a bean pan or 4 1/2- to 5-quart deep roasting pan with a tight-fitting lid. Spread the onion slices over the bottom of the pan or casserole. Spoon the cooked drained beans on top.
3. In a large bowl, pour 1 liter (4 cups) of the bean cooking liquid (if you don’t have enough, add water); whisk in salt, pepper, dry mustard, marmalade, cayenne pepper, tomato paste, chipotle if using, zest, honey, and ginger. Pour mixture over beans until just covered (reserve leftover liquid to add later if needed). Sprinkle salted pork over beans.
4. Lower the oven temperature to 250 degrees. Cover and place in the oven for 7 to 8 hours, adding more liquid as needed — the cooking liquid mixture — to keep the beans from drying out. Remove the lid during the last 1 1/2 hours of cooking to allow for a nice crust. Serve hot. Cut the (grated) orange in half and squeeze a little fresh orange juice over the beans (collecting any pits). I know this sounds a little strange, but it’s a juicy combination.
Source: Adapted from “Bean by Bean” by Crescent Dragonwagon (Workman, $15.95 softcover)
Yield: 6 servings
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into several pieces
24 large fresh strawberries, washed, not peeled
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 cup strawberry vodka or watermelon vodka
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
12 thin slices of angel food cake or 6 generous scoops of ice cream
1. Place a large, deep skillet over medium heat. Add butter, partially melt and add strawberries. Gently shake and cook the berries until all the butter melts and coats the berries. It’s okay for the butter to boil, but don’t let it brown. Add sugar, vanilla and vodka; continue cooking, let the mixture bubble and cover the berries further. The strawberries should be soft but not mushy and the sauce should reduce slightly. (If made 1 to 2 hours ahead of time, reheat over medium heat to liquefy the sauce — berries don’t need to be hot.)
2. In shallow bowls, spoon berries and sauce over sliced angel food cake or ice cream (vanilla or pistachio).
Source: Adapted from “Dessert Circus at Home” by Jacques Torres (William Morrow, $28)