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Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Summer Simplicity

As the days get warmer, the call of the cookout beacons. Here in the states the All-American cookout, seems to always include the ubiquitous hamburger and hot dog.
There is something wonderful about a summer day filled with swimming and cool drinks and a juicy burger or dog, coming together in memory making alchemy.
The simplicity and innocence of the experience can be marred when you think of the fear of not knowing what is in that burger or tube steak, and all the thoughts of ammoniated by-product fillers and radiated nitrate filled nether parts ground into pink slime and stuffed into a quasi-tube form. It makes me shudder, when I think of it, my degree in Biology, doesn't seem to help qualm my fears either.
Nevertheless, we can enjoy these foods without fear and regret. By understanding the origin of your food and how it was handled. One way is to buy quality meats from a trusted source. Buy meat that has been sold at a higher standard of quality checks and regulations than set by your government.  Buy local, buy fresh, buy organic. Head over to your local butcher and ask questions about farm origin, who he buys from, does he grind his own, meat grading, and fat and filler content. If he has an issue answering any of these question, head on down the road. Don't buy meat prepackaged or frozen, more then likely it came frozen from an industrial style factory that would never have the consumer best interest in mind.  
Get hands on! Buy loose unpacked ground beef and make your own patties. There are more and more health food stores like Sprouts than can provide great quality options, and are great at answering questions.
The hamburger is simply not just a hockey puck of ground beef. There are many things to consider fat content, texture of grind, mixes of different cuts not only from beef but of pig, lamb, chicken and turkey, also fillers and spices. Your meat purveyor or butcher can customize a grind and mix for you, usually at the same price as the market value of the meat or you can get the burger you want and mix in a bowl at home.
I like to use a fat content of 20%-30%, for a juicy succulent burger. I like to hand pack them into burgers that are not too thick, since these larger burgers don't seem to cook to the proper temp before they fall apart and dry out due to being on the heat for so long.
Different cuts of the beef lend themselves to a greater array of beef flavors. for example, brisket, loin, and skirt steak grind mix lend the perfect melt away fat of the brisket, the meatiness of the loin, and the beefy flavor of the skirt steak.
A mix of meats such as adding ground pork or lamb to a beef burger, provides more of a gamier more, robust flavor profile to my burger. Each of these meats can stand alone as healthier options alone.
Don't just season the outside of your burger, the goodness comes from within. While mixing your ground meat add the spices and seasoning to the meat. these flavors will meld with the meat prior to cooking and will flavor it when cooking. You also use less spices, due to the excess not falling off or burning away, while cooking. I let my sides, condiments/cheese, cooking method and type of meat dictate what spices I use. For example if I intend to use BBQ as a condiment when making my burger I can add more pork to the meat mix and use a BBQ rub as my spice. If I intend to put some charred green chiles and jack cheese on my burger I will use garlic and cumin or green chili powder in my burger mix. Mushrooms I will add some lamb, rosemary, finely dices red onion and a dash of red wine vinegar to my burger mix, the possibilities are endless! Not to forget those veggies, a stemmed balsamic marinated portabello mushroom spiked with garlic shards topped with Gruyere is the best grilled sub for meat ever, I could eat these everyday!
When it comes to the (as one of my chefs used to call it) Tube Steaks or as we like to call them here in the states…Hot Dogs, I tend to always go kosher and in its natural casing. Kosher hot dogs seem to come from cleaner establishments and tend to be less processed and have less fillers and less nasty bits that make up the dogs composition. My favorite tubesteak is in the form of linked sausages. When I buy sausages, I usually conform to the same standards I have ground meat, since it is essentially the same thing in a natural casing. The casing is quite important in my opinion, one it proves that the texture is meaty and thick enough that it would need it or it would fall apart from being to juicy (which is a good thing) as opposed to the cheap pink fingers of meat paste that we tend to try and pass as a hot dog. The second is that that casing crisps up and provides that wonderful snap when biting into it. Try making an Italian with grilled onions and bell pepper topped with provolone and banana peppers or something as crazy as a bacon Sonora dog. You can go wrong with the American mustard and relish. I am a Chicago dog fan myself with the addition of celery salt, pickle spear, tomatoes, sport peppers and diced onion.

Now get out there and grill up some summer memories for your family and friends…and ladies the grill is as much your domain as it is his so show him what you can do! Dont forget to comment or ask me questions, recipes or hints on how to make your summer a lot more yummy!

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