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A simple but perfect burger can deliver more joy than a Michelin-starred meal

Last week, my daughter-in-law and son took their first flight since last February.

They flew to Male, masked and visored, refusing to eat anything on the plane. Their journey did not end at the airport. They had a sea-plane connection in two hours for another flight to the coral island, which was their destination.


Hungry and exhausted, they did what they always do. They went to the Burger King at the airport and ordered takeaway burgers to eat while they waited to resume their journey.


   I have always wondered about people who do this. Do they really prefer to take their burgers away? Do they prefer to eat them outside the plasticky confines of fast food restaurants?


   And most important: do the burgers ever last long enough to be truly enjoyable an hour or so later?


   These are questions that assume a new relevance because more and more of us are eating takeaway burgers in the aftermath of the pandemic. Suddenly my son’s penchant for takeaway burgers (and he has frequented that airport branch of Burger King for several years now, on every trip to Male) doesn’t seem so unusual: we are all eating take-out.


   From my perspective, the boom in delivery burgers has had at least one beneficial consequence. People are now eating more real burgers and not sticking so much to channa-tikki burgers or fried chicken sandwiches masquerading as hamburgers.


   The popularity of ‘real’ burgers has grown across all markets. At the Café Delhi Heights chain, they put up a board at all their restaurants recording how many of their Juicy Lucy burgers have been sold to date. (As of this writing, the number is 3, 91,545 burgers, but it will be much higher by the time you read this.)


   Chefs have based their reputations on the burger boom. I knew Akriti Malhotra in her days as a chef with the Diva group. But now, she has a cult following as the founder of Aku’s – The Brrgrr Co. Kabir Bose spent years in the retail sector before deciding to turn his passion as a home chef into a burger operation. His Burgerama now spans several successful outlets. I knew Jamsheed Bhote as the bread guy from Tres. Now, his Plats burgers are the talk of Delhi.


   One of the two founders of Tres is Jatin Mallick, who I first met when he was a trainee with the Taj group. Next he went on to become one of India’s best chefs for modern European food. But now, the delivery market craves his burger, easily the best in India.


   With the new breed of chefs has come a greater commitment to quality. The chefs have to offer the nonsense-burgers that are the bane of the Indian market but their real passion lies in meat burgers, made either from goat meat or buffalo tenderloin (they can’t use beef, the original burger ingredient, for obvious reasons).


  But at every level, lots of love goes into the making of the burger patty. At Café Delhi Heights, the Corporate Chef Ashish Singh told me that they take care to put cheese and spices in the centre of their patties to make the burger more attractive to Indians. (It is a successful twist on the cheeseburger). At both Tres and Plats, they add extra goat fat to the tenderloin patty to make it more tender. Jatin uses the standard 80-20 ratio but Jamsheed goes further. His patties have 30 per cent fat.


"Wherever you buy your burger, always remember that making the perfect burger is not as easy you may think."

   Most chefs stick to the time-honoured Indian kebab tradition of adding kidney fat to the mince but Harman Singh of HMan does it differently. Hearing him talk about how he makes his burger patty is an education.


   Harman chooses the cuts of meat himself. He says that the only part of the buffalo that is suitable is the tenderloin. (The same part of the animal that filet mignon comes from.) He slices his tenderloin into strips, cutting along the grain. Then he feeds the strips into a grinder, this time against the grain, to get a roughly-ground mince. He adds buffalo fat (not goat) taking care to choose the fat that encases the liver or the heart and makes plump, juicy patties.


   Chefs take as much care over the buns. Jatin makes a brioche bun (which you would expect from a classically-trained chef like him) but has had to adapt to delivery. He is unwilling to change his recipe but he cuts the bun so that the bottom is thicker and less likely to collapse. Jamsheed has tweaked his recipe to make a longer lasting bun. Akriti has asked the home chef who makes Aku’s breads to create a firmer bun.


   Kabir says that his partners (Viraaj Badhwar and Vivek Prakash) and he had always wanted a long lasting burger with a bun that would not crumble. He had heard, he says, of people who bring burgers back from Dubai and wanted to ensure that the Burgerama burger could travel as far. His buns are not brioche-style but they keep their shape as they travel.


   The sauce is the key to a fast food burger because the thin patty is usually tasteless. At proper restaurants, however, the sauce is no more than a condiment. Most of the chefs I spoke to seemed to think that you needed a pickle of some kind (in the European sense of pickle – like a gherkin), and mayonnaise. They were keen on a piece of lettuce but divided over whether a burger needed ketchup. Most had invented their own sauces. At Burgerama, they use a proprietary sauce that was created in-house. At Plats, Jamsheed combines homemade mayonnaise and mustard with ketchup to make his own sauce. Akriti also makes her own sauce though she is clear that it is not a secret sauce or anything.


   The other variations depend on the chef. Most like using a slice of Cheddar on top of the patty. Some like a fried egg. Jatin certainly does and Akriti uses a brand that gives her eggs a golden yolk.


   Café Delhi Heights uses a slice of tomato. Not everyone else does.


   Even the thickness of the patty can vary. The Tres patty is like a hamburger steak. Jatin has an advantage because he cooks his patty in a Josper oven, an expensive piece of kitchen equipment that most other restaurants are reluctant to splurge on, so his is a classic steakhouse burger.


   Jamsheed has his own twist. His burgers contain two smaller patties. He argues that with a large patty, you are so concerned with fully cooking the centre that you often overcook the edges. With two slimmer patties, you don’t have that problem. Plus you can put some ingredients between the patties (say cheese, for instance) so that they are less likely to seep out and make the bun soggy.


   Wherever you buy your burger, always remember that making the perfect burger is not as easy you may think. So much thought goes into the creation of each burger that I almost wonder if there should be Michelin stars for burger chefs. Certainly, a simple but perfect burger can deliver more joy than a Michelin-starred meal!!



Posted On: 30 Jan 2021 11:45 AM
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