How to make a perfect burger. And how not to make a burger.

To make the best burger, Delia Smith says it has to be 20% fat. John Torode says 40% fat. Heston Blumenthal’s epic burger recipe has a formula of 2:1:1 of chuck, short rib and brisket.

Donna Hay put this in her burger recipe: mince, garlic, tomato paste, sauce, parsley, salt and pepper.  Jamie Oliver’s burger recipe suggests adding 12 cream crackers, parsley and an egg to minced beef.

No one suggests a dash of horse meat.

A burger with oyster sauce - surf and turf

We thought we’d try a few different ways to make a proper burger.

Tim’s a bit of a purist when it comes to burgers. Actually, he a bit of a purist concerning lots of food. So his first method contains 100% meat. Well, meat and fat. He used one lean cut, one fattier, and some fat.

three ingredients for the burger

Three ingredients, meat, meat and fat

He recently found this brilliant beast of a machine, to hand-mince the meat. A food processor could overwork the meat making it sausage-meat like.

The Beat - a hand mincing machine for burgers

The Beast in all its guises

The Beast minces the meat for the burger

The Beast does its work

After mincing the meats and fat, he laid the meat out and seasoned it. Then he fried a little sample to check the seasoning. He formed the beef into patties using an earthenware tapas dish, which produced a nice round 190g patty.

Three burger patties

Three burger patties

For the first burger he topped it simply and traditionally with a grated cheddar – Montgomery is a good strong traditional one. He browned it under the grill, before adding the bun ‘lid’.

A cheese burger with Montgomery cheddar.

A cheese burger with Montgomery cheddar.

For a second version Tim went for a ‘surf and turf’ effect, making an oyster sauce.

A burger with oyster sauce - surf and turf

Burger with oyster sauce – surf and turf

Another topping variant was bacon and celeriac slaw.

Burger with bacon and celeriac slaw

The burgers were good, but for me, I felt they were a bit dense. So we did another version, adding finely chopped onion, a couple of spoons of  breadcrumbs and an egg to bind it. The egg actually made the mixture fall apart, so we added a touch more breadcrumbs until it held together again.

Whichever way you prefer your burgers, homemade is definitely best, particularly now we have all these Unidentified Frozen Objects around.

How not to make a great burger:

Larry Goodman of ABP Food Group, which owns Silvercrest Foods, said, “DNA will pick up molecules and something in the air.” If it’s the case that horse DNA floats around in the air, why haven’t more horses been mistakenly convicted of violent crimes and ram-raiding jewellers?

Paul Walker of Iceland, who’s the spitting image of the bloke that runs the hilarious and disastrous ‘The Hotel’ on TV  (and inspires just about as much confidence) said,  “OK, you can say we haven’t been testing for horse – well, why would we? We don’t test for hedgehog either.” He clearly didn’t give a flying horse about the issue.

I’m shocked that a massive supermarket doesn’t look into who they deal with a little more carefully. A quick google shows that one of the Irish meat suppliers they use has been previously caught out for less than squeaky clean activities.  They’ve been found out using illegal growth hormones in their cattle more than once, prosecuted numerous times for polluting the environment, and fined for evading tax on several occasions.

http://www.thefreelibrary.com/IFFY+LIFFEY%3B+Horse+meat+firm+has+previous+convictions.-a0315548059

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Perhaps we should have gone for old ladies’ knickers.

When we set up the deli we were burning with all sorts of ideas about food. Many locals thought we were crazy to attempt to create good food, from good ingredients, in what was an old junk shop.

As Tim was doing the premises up locals gave us plenty of suggestions of what the shop should become. Some wanted a launderette. One old lady wanted a knicker shop, specifically for her and her friends, to save getting on the bus to Hounslow to buy big pants. It was an idea we dismissed.

We started off wanting to make everything organic, but as we were trying to keep it local, and were on the edge of London, we struggled to find the right suppliers. In the end we settled on the idea that everything in the deli had to be there for a reason.

Our old leaflet: We love small producers - organic - freerange

Call us picky. Or piggy.

Juggling free range, organic and local

Juggling free range, organic and local

We also started to get very interested in cheese. We became cheese spotters, cheese anoraks. We spent a morning in Bath tasting cheese – by lunchtime we’d tasted over 50 cheeses. We were cream-crackered.

We became cheese anoraks

We became cheese anoraks.

Our weekly cheese bill was massive. And cheese is surprisingly hard work to keep tip top – it needs a lot of babysitting. Running a deli unit to keep it creates humongous electricity bills.  The crunch time for cheese came when we noticed some people from one of the big 4 supermarkets came in to our second deli in Twickenham.

Would you like a plasma TV to go with your olives?

Would you like a plasma TV to go with your olives?

They had the name of their supermarket, which was just round the corner, on their clipboard. They had coffee, and took notes. A week later all the unusual cheeses we stocked, ones we’d never seen before in that particular supermarket were in stock. Plus all the chutneys, biscuits etc from our small suppliers. And of course, the supermarket buys by the pallet. So, we were very ‘knowingly undersold.’

We gave up cheese. Goodbye to the Stinking Bishop, Colston Bassett, Finn, Little Wallop. Au revoir, Epoisses. Arrivederci, Asiago.

The funny thing was, people would come in a year later, and say something like, “Oh, you don’t stock Comte anymore? But I always get my Comte here. I came in last December and you had it.” We’d probably make more money selling old ladies’ under-crackers.

So, things moved on. Tim started focussing on food to eat in, and dinner parties, which – truth be told – was what he always really wanted to do. We still had fabulous coffee, and classics like our gorgeous beetroot cake. We sold the Twickenham deli, as Tim couldn’t be in two places at once – I guess we should have worked that one out earlier. Duh.

Out of the blue, somebody wanted to buy the deli, the original one, at the end of our street.

Tim was tired, wrung out. We’d had four years of fighting against the recession, spats with the council about pavement licences that were 10 times the cost of those in neighbouring Richmond. There’d been issues with a trade waste company that put their prices up by 30% every 3 months – and picked up and charged for phantom bin bags.

So, the deli was sold. And now we’re here, out in the Chilterns. And there’s a new project on the way.

Looking back on our ‘manifesto’ as a chum called it – it’s clear we still care about the same things.

give_us_back_our_daily_bread

Give us back our daily bread


Our old Syon leaflet about bread

Give us back our daily bread

Now, we can achieve organic AND local. We can be closer to the animals that are behind it all. Tim can achieve the kinds of things he was trying to do when he was voted a ‘Local Food Hero’ on TV with Arthur Potts Dawson and Gary Rhodes. We can grow our own. Organically.

A rare breed sheep looking right back at you

Who’re ewe looking at?

New born rare breed piglets

One day old

A brace of pheasants

A brace of pheasants

A lop eared pig and...er... a ginger one.

A lop eared pig and…er… a ginger one.


It’s funny, filming the show took us to Devon, where we spent a lot of time searching out good produce.

But moving here, to Buckinghamshire, which is ‘going home’ for me, we’ve found there are lots of great suppliers of real food.

The new project will be up and running by the spring, we hope. It’s a bit quirky, a bit handmade, and on a shoestring. But we’re used to that. It will be working with those little producers who really care. And we won’t be competing with supermarkets. Or purveyors of senior lingerie.

A proper British pig

 

A British Lop Pig, with ears that protect the eyes when foraging

A native British Lop Pig. The ears cover the eyes to protect them when foraging.

A couple of weeks ago we moved out of London. Today was our first weekend of not shifting boxes about. So, when I asked Tim what he’d like to do today, on our first free weekend together in the country, he suggested we go and see some pigs. Very romantic, but hey, we’re in the country.

After a brief discussion about appropriate footwear (my scruffy ones let in water, but I don’t want to ruin my warm and dry ones with pig poo) we set off to see some young, rare pigs on a farm.

We had no idea that there are pigs that are so rare that they are almost endangered species. One of those breeds is the Lop Pig, previously known as the National Long White Lop Eared Pig. It’s one of the original, native British pigs.

It seems, much like the way the Milk Marketing Board buggered up British cheeses in the 70s, wiping out a huge selection of our traditional cheeses, the government waded into in the subject of pigs in 1955. British artisan cheeses have been recovering gradually since the 90s, to the point that we now have a fantastic selection of cheeses again. Sadly, some native pig breeds have been lost forever.

The Government’s Howitt Report recommended that in order to increase profitability and compete with imported bacon, farmers should concentrate on the Landrace – imported from Sweden, and the Large White and Welsh breeds.

This led to the extinction of native pig breeds such as the Cumberland, Lincolnshire Curly Coated, Ulster White, Dorset Gold Tip and Yorkshire Blue.

A group of British Lop eared pigs in a stall

Tea time

Tea time

A lop eared piglet looking out the pigsty door for his mother pig

Mum..?

Piglets - lop eared pigs under a heat lamp

Is it hot in here, or is it me?

Chef Tim Zekki on the rare breed Hazeldene Farm

So these little piggies are rather special, as there are currently only around 200 Lop sows left in the country.

A chap in the farm shop gave us a bag of something that the pigs like – not entirely sure what they were – some sort of pig food pellet – the pigs were certainly keen to get hold of them. And I wouldn’t want to be amongst these pigs when they are hungry – they are enthusiastic eaters.

A dandy of a cockerel

A dandy of a Cockerel

Free range rare breed chickens

Free ranging chickens

The farm also keeps rare breeds of chickens, such as Marsh Daisy – apparently only a hundred of those left. The pure white Ixworth chickens are slightly less rare, with around 500 left. No wonder they were so upset a fox got one of their rare chickens recently. It’s so nice to see the chickens wandering around wherever they want, and funny to see how they sheltered in various places, under their houses, under a bench, under a raised drinking water can, when a sudden downpour of rain came.

Chef Tim Zekki and a traditional Hereford cow

This is the pork shoulder Tim cooked a few weeks back, after one of our visits to the farm. The crackling was cracking, and it was perfect.

A gorgeous shoulder of organic raised rare breed pork from a lop pig

Shoulder of pork. 

A trivet made from the bones of the lop pig raised by organic principles

A trivet made from the bones

free range pork with excellent crackling

In the oven

Cracking crackling from lop pig pork

Cracking crackling

Excellent crackling from lop pig

Postscript: I saw the other day that the lovely Philip Dundas of the pop up restaurant Pip’s Dish at the Garage in Islington did a shoulder of lop pork recently. Can’t wait to go and try Pip’s Dish. It’s here: http://www.pipsdish.co.uk/2012/07/stuffed-british-lop-shoulder