The Burger Lab's Toppings Week 2013: Poutine Burger
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Welcome to Burger Toppings Week 2013. Each day this week we'll be presenting a brand new set of burger toppings, all crafted in accordance to The Principles of Topping Burgers, a plan designed to maximize flavor and textural contrasts to provide you with the ultimate burgering experience. Let's jump right in, shall we?
We all know how seductive a plate of poutine can be, right? You know, that Canadian late-night dish of fresh fries smothered with squeaky cheese curds and hot, meaty gravy? After a few beers it beckons to you, seduces you. A cheese-clad goddess enrobed in gravy, ready to nip your hangover in the bud. Heck, even without the beer goggles poutine is a pretty tough mistress to turn away.
So what happens when your poutine employs her crafty wiles on an unsuspecting burger?
The Poutine Burger emerges.
This is what happens when your poutine and your hamburger slink off into some dimly lit corner and re-emerge a bit more disheveled and a whole lot messier. It's a delicious burger, to be sure, but one you probably shouldn't consume in mixed company.
There are only three elements that make up a perfect plate of poutine. First is really good fries. When designing this burger, I started by taking a very literal approach: topping a burger with poutine made with standard, thick-cut french fries. It was delicious, but it was not more than the sum of its parts, as a well-designed sandwich should be.
The problem? The fries, despite their crisp exterior, were simply too similar in texture to the burger itself. Moist-on-moist doesn't make for the most exciting bite of food. I gradually reduced the thickness of my fries in order to increase their crisp-crust-to-interior ratio until I finally reached the stage where they were literally matchstick-thickness, crisp all the way through.
They weren't the classic poutine-style fries, but I felt that the added textural contrast they gave to the dish was enough to warrant a slight deviation from utter authenticity.
In order to get the fries crisp without becoming too dark and acrid tasting, I washed them in water until all of their residual starch was washed away.
This allowed me to cook them until completely crisp while still maintaining a nice golden-brown color with a clean, potato-y flavor.
The other two elements of poutine—the cheese curds and the gravy—didn't require much tinkering at all; they worked as-is with the burger concept. If you have a local cheese maker, most likely they'll sell you fresh cheese curd if you ask them. You can order them online (there are a number of options available on Amazon, or you can do what I did: make them yourself with fresh milk and rennet tablets (the process is remarkably easy, requiring nothing more than a thermometer and a pot).
As for the gravy, any sort of meat broth-based homemade gravy will do. This is a good place to start. Poutine gravy tends to be glossier and shinier than your standard roux-thickened American-style gravy, so if you want to get that look just right, you should thicken your gravy with a pure starch like cornstarch or arrowroot as opposed to flour.
Once you've got your elements all set, it's a simple matter of putting it all together. You can cook your burgers in a skillet if you'd like, but this is a topping set designed for a thick, hearty burger from the backyard grill. Take a look at our Guide to Grilling Great Burgers for some good general principles on how to get the most out of the meat between your buns.
Finally, for the sake of some fresh, non-fried crunch, I like to line my bottom bun with plenty of fresh-sliced onions. White onions or Vidalia are the way to go. Their sweetness works perfectly with the meat and the gravy.
Some may question whether all of this extravagance is necessary. I would question whether those folks know how to seek pleasure out of life.
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About the author: J. Kenji Lopez-Alt is the Chief Creative Officer of Serious Eats where he likes to explore the science of home cooking in his weekly column The Food Lab. You can follow him at @thefoodlab on Twitter, or at The Food Lab on Facebook.