It used to be the case that I was in the minority; my obsession with burgers and their buns has been a long time raging. Now every London blogger, their partner, pet and best mate seems to be fixated on them. My main issue was always the bun, which was what led me to arrange The Great Bun Tasting and to make several batches of these. They are pretty much the ideal bun – a slightly sweet brioche with a structure that is light yet robust enough to last without turning to mush.
The problem with burgers in London is that decent ones are so few and far between that when we do actually find one, everyone gets worked up to the extent that the hype exceeds reality. It’s like playing a favourite song to death; it becomes so familiar that you almost have to try harder to enjoy it. The Hawksmoor burger is a perfect example.
In America though, they do things differently; we are teased with stories of delicious burgers on every other block. The interesting thing though is that while they are generally regarded with appropriate respect, most seem completely unpretentious. Fast food; high quality; grabbed and gobbled. American burgers is a subject I spend quite a bit of time reading about but sadly, I’ve not yet had a chance to visit for real. My excitement at discovering The Meatwagon then, in an industrial estate on my very own home turf of Peckham, was off the scale and then some. It was there that I tasted my first Bobcat Burger; I’ve craved another ever since. My love affair with Hamburger America had begun.
Then I got my hands on this book by George Motz and, as if that wasn’t good enough, it came with a DVD which is, quite simply, brilliant. Motz basically journeyed across America in search of the best burger joints (100 made the final cut) and the result is a charming record of the daily lives of each joint, the history, the customers and of course, the burgers – some of which are simply outrageous.
The film opens for example with ‘Dyer’s Restaurant’ where, “it’s all about the grease” – deep fried burgers. Super thin patties are plunged into NINETY ONE YEAR OLD oil until cooked and then lifted out and squeezed, an oleaginous waterfall gushing forth. The grease is apparently ‘strained and processed’ every day but seriously, that fat has never been changed. Dyer’s consider this their selling point though and when they moved premises, the oil moved to the new location accompanied by a police escort and TV crew. Not joking.
Twenty minutes in and I was worried; a steamed burger with steamed cheese came next, followed by the peanut butter burger and then the plain old butter burger, which in case you are wondering is simply piled, piled with what I would estimate to be at least 5 or 6 tablespoons of butter. Amongst the extreme though there are the sublime and by the end of the film I was salivating.
The Bobcat Bite (New Mexico) is owned by John and Bonnie Eckre (above), who are very proud of their Green Chilli Cheeseburger. People actually come in coachloads to visit the place and often end up with a lengthy wait due to the limited seating capacity; Bonnie describes how customers have been known to wait for an hour outside without a grumble. The burgers are worth it.
The Bobcat is this: prime beef topped with chillies fried in butter; sinful juices seep through the meat. Cheese is then melted on top of the chillies, sealing the spicy layer. A sprinkle of their ‘famous’ tangy slaw provides crunch and contrast. When I found the recipe for Bobcat slaw in Hamburger America there was no stopping me; I made buns, the slaw and some patties from ground beef shoulder. Mild Turkish chillies were fried in butter, piled high and sealed with a cheesy vacuum. That cat was finally mine.
Some burger recommendations that will come as no surprise: if you live in London and you are not suffering from burger fatigue, I recommend you visit The Meat Wagon. It goes without saying that Hamburger America should also go on the wish list. While you are waiting for those things to happen, why not try the recipe/s below and inject a little New Mexican love into your boiger? It’s a taste sensation and no mistakin’.
Bobcat Burgers (from Bobcat Bite, New Mexico)
Ground beef shoulder, for making the patties, or ground beef of your choice. You want a good bit of fat in there basically. I wanted to experiment with a mixture of cuts but didn’t have time
Mild green chillies (or hot, up to you), sliced
Butter and a touch of oil, for frying
Cheese slice of your choice
I use this recipe for the buns – it’s the best I’ve come across
Bobcat Bite Slaw (from Hamburger America)
This is a half quantity. Double this apparently keeps the Bobcat Bite going for 1 day. It is best the day after it has been made.
1 small head white cabbage, core removed and finely shredded
1/2 large green bell pepper, grated
110g caster sugar (yep, really)
235ml white vinegar (trust me)
60ml flavourless oil, such as groundnut
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 teaspoon celery seeds
1 tablespoon mustard
Mix it all together. Keep in the fridge and give it a good stir before serving.
Toast your buns. Gently fry your chillies in a healthy amount of butter (20g or so) and begin frying your burgers. I use a cast iron pan for this – if you have a proper hot plate then use that – I am jealous. When you flip the burger, it’s time to put those chillies on followed by the cheese. Once the cheese has melted you are good to go. Get that burger in that bun. Top with slaw (and anything else you fancy) and serve.