Photo by Sauce Supreme/FlickrCC
Click here to read about the race against time to prepare this recipe for a special dinner. Timing: Buy, cube and salt beef chuck the night or afternoon before. Two hours before the meal, prepare the pecans, salad dressing and bacon. Set aside. In the final hour, get the onions going while grinding and forming the patties. The buns are best left for last, to avoid drying them out. (Note: This recipe was written by the proud owner of a meat grinder. While I don't judge those who may use subpar alternatives, I can't recommend any other way, either.)
Cube a pound-and-a-half chunk of boneless beef chuck and place in a bowl. Sprinkle generously with sea salt, but don't cover the surface with salt -- just a teaspoon should do it. Toss lightly - the meat must not be manhandled -- with a cooking fork and refrigerate overnight. Also refrigerate blades of a meat grinder. (Improvisers beware: a food processor will technically chop the meat, but not in the consistent way essential for a sturdy burger. Zuni does allow for chopping by hand, but that takes stamina and requires great care to avoid turning the meat into mush.)
Put meat through grinder twice. Then form into patties that start out about the size of tennis balls. You should end up with 4 or 5, depending on the exact weight of your chuck. Use fingers to press in center so that the patties are slightly concave. The center will expand as the meat reaches room temperature, and more as it cooks.
Preheat an oven to 450 degrees. Crumble a cup of Roquefort cheese by raking it with a fork. Set aside.
Place cast-iron pan on medium heat and preheat until a drop of water sizzles and disappears forever. Drizzle vegetable oil in pan to coat bottom before placing patties with enough space between them to avoid steaming, about an inch all around. Make sure the meat and the pan are in full contact, but don't mess with them until it is time to flip. Listen for sizzling to calm down and look for the bottom edges of the patty to change color. Then give one of the patties a peak by using a spatula and your hand. Is there a crust yet? When it is time to flip, poke to check for doneness and then move pan to the preheated oven.
Depending on how done the patties seemed when they went in, check them in another two minutes. It's hard to say, but I just keep poking, looking for the dark brown color I wanted.
Pull out before medium rare and transfer to a rack over a baking sheet. Let cool for a few minutes before piling on the Roquefort -- a quarter cup, or as much as you can fit on each one. Broil for a few minutes.
Or: you can follow the official Zuni recipe at MarthaStewart.com. I veered away with the stovetop/oven combo.
Heat a skillet to very low, drop in a tablespoon of butter, a tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil, and 5 stems of thyme. Pull out the thyme before it turns black, but not too long before. Then drop in half a Vidalia onion, finely sliced, and sauté for 30 to 45 minutes, until translucent but before any browning. Set aside until burger construction.
Lay six strips of thick-cut smoked bacon on a baking sheet and evenly distribute over them 10 or 12 turns of a pepper mill. Place in a cold oven set to 350. After 10 or 15 minutes, start checking regularly. When the bacon is about 5 minutes to crunchy-yet-still juicy, pull it out at brush on about 1 tablespoon of really good maple syrup. Set aside until burger construction.
Buy buns from the best baker or brand you can find. Or take a knife to a whole loaf of challah. They just have to be soft.
To assemble the burger, place two tablespoons of sautéed onions on top of the bottom half of the bun. Burger on top, followed by bacon. Serve immediately.
Iceberg Wedges With Buttermilk Blue Cheese Dressing
Quarter a head of iceberg, line them up on a nice plate and drizzle with dressing and then spiced and glazed pecans.
Photo by Mike Nizza
Toast half a cup of large whole pecans in a skillet heated to medium, along with 3 or 4 crushed red chiles and a pinch of fine sea salt. Toss and shake until they smell like pecan popcorn, not that I've ever actually smelled that before. They are ready for a drizzle of maple syrup and a quarter cup of water. Turn up the heat and toss and shake until the water cooks off. Transfer to a rack to cool. Then break them up into individual pecans.
Buttermilk Blue Cheese Dressing
See Tyler Florence.