My niece Holly and her husband Don are chefs. Dinner invitations to their friends’ homes are few. The excuse? Pals say they are intimidated by the fancy food the couple serve when entertaining at their house.
To prove a point, they hosted a gathering designed to show that their party food could be delicious, yet in no way posh. They made smashed cheeseburgers, a one-at-a-time culinary performance art of sorts. Each two-patty burger takes less than two minutes to cook on a super-hot plancha (cast iron griddle) perched on the grate of a gas or charcoal grill. It goes fast.
Buns are toasted and topped with condiments before grilling starts, so the burgers go together quickly, the cheese layered between the patties melted to perfection.
It’s the crust that forms on each side of the meat that gives the burgers their irresistibility as well as a welcome texture contrast to the soft burger buns. The ground beef is rolled into ready-to-cook spheres in advance, 2-ounce balls ready for smashing.
It seems like a great idea for July 4th gatherings with four to six guests. The plancha process goes fast: smash, sizzle, flip, cheese, sizzle, stack.
At her outdoor shindig, Holly served store-bought ice cream cones, Drumsticks. With a grin, Holly asked guests if that was fancy enough. Here I offer a recipe for Strawberry Clouds, a delicious finish that can be served on angel food cake or ice cream.
And if you want a delicious side to serve with the burgers, it would be hard to beat scrumptious baked beans scented with oranges. The dish can be prepared in advance and reheated.Happy July 4th.
Yield: 6 servings
24 ounces 80/20 ground beef, freshly ground beef chuck preferred; see cook’s notes
6 soft hamburger buns
Soft butter for spreading on buns
Condiment suggestions: easy burger thousand island dressing (3 parts mayo plus 1 part ketchup), lettuce, thinly sliced red onion, sliced tomato, sliced pickles, mustard
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
6 thin slices melting cheese, such as American or Jack
Equipment: large solid (stiff) spatula, potato masher, thin flexible spatula such as a slotted fish spatula, plancha (cast iron griddle), gas or charcoal grill, optional heat-resistant barbecue gloves, optional smashed-burger press (if using a press, large solid spatula and potato masher aren’t needed)
Cook’s notes: Although most smash-style burger aficionados prefer 80-20 ground beef for its fat content, I have used leaner 85-15 ground meat with success.
1. Divide ground beef into 2-ounce portions and roll each into a ball and place on plate. The easiest way to do this is to use a kitchen scale, but it you don’t have one, you can roll the meat into balls with a diameter of 1 3/4 inches, trying to make them the same size.
2. Place plancha (large cast iron griddle) on grill grate (charcoal or gas). Start grill. Cover and heat plancha until sizzling hot, 550 to 600 degrees. This will take about 10 to 15 minutes. Make sure children are far away from grill.
3. Meanwhile, prepare buns. Thinly smear cut surface of each bun with soft butter. Place butter-side-up on rimmed baking sheet. Broil in oven about 6- to 8-inches below broiler element. Turn on oven light and watch carefully to toast surface. In my oven that’s 1 1/2 minutes.
4. Because the process moves quickly at the grill, prepare the buns in advance with desired condiments, and set them next to grill. If you are new at this, make one burger (2 patties) at a time; if you are a pro, make two (4 patties) at a time. For newbies, you can wear heat-resistant gloves for protection; place two balls of meat about 4 inches apart on the super-hot plancha. With a large solid spatula in one hand and a potato masher in the other, press down balls of meat with large spatula and use potato masher on top of spatula to increase pressure (smashed burger presses are also sold that can be used instead of the big solid spatula and potato masher). The meat will form very thin patties. Remove spatula or press; there may be areas that have small holes. Grill about a minute (tops are beginning to turn pale pinkish gray in spots), seasoning with salt and pepper. Use thin flexible spatula to turn each patty (trying to capture all browned bits, using a scraping motion) and immediately top one patty with cheese. Grill about 30 seconds and place patty without cheese atop the one with cheese. Transfer to prepared bun and serve.
Orange Blossom Baked Beans
Yield: about 14 cups, 10 to 12 servings
3 1/2 cups great white Northern beans, picked over, rinsed, soaked overnight
Canola oil or vegetable oil for greasing pot
1 large onion, halved, peeled, sliced
1 tablespoon salt, use less if you like, but these beans are happiest when well salted
1/2 to 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 1/2 teaspoons dry mustard
3/4 cup orange marmalade
1 teaspoon ground cayenne
2 tablespoons tomato paste
Optional: 1 tablespoon finely chopped chipotle in adobo
Grated zest of 1 orange (colored portion of peel), reserve orange
2 tablespoons honey, preferably orange blossom honey
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 pound salt pork, rinsed very well, drained, patted dry, diced
1. Drain beans and rinse, and place in large pot or Dutch oven. Cover beans with water by 2 inches and bring to boil on high heat. Reduce heat and simmer until almost tender, about 50 minutes to 1 1/2 hours. Allow to cool; drain through a colander reserving cooking liquid.
2. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Thoroughly grease the inside of a bean pot or a 4 1/2- to 5-quart deep casserole with a tight-fitting lid. Scatter onion slices over bottom of pot or casserole. Spoon cooked drained beans on top.
3. In a large bowl, pour 1 quart (4 cups) bean cooking liquid (if you don’t have enough add water); whisk in salt, pepper, dry mustard, marmalade, cayenne, tomato paste, chipotle if using, zest, honey and ginger. Pour mixture over beans to just barely cover (reserve leftover liquid to add later ifs needed). Scatter salt pork over beans.
4. Lower oven temperature to 250 degrees. Cover and place in oven for 7 to 8 hours, adding more liquid — the cooking liquid mixture — as needed to keep beans from drying out. Remove lid during the last 1 1/2 hours of cooking so a nice crust can develop. Serve hot. Cut the (zested) orange in half and squeeze a little fresh orange juice on top of beans (capturing any seeds in the process). I know this sounds a little odd, but it’s a succulent combo.
Source: Adapted from “Bean by Bean” by Crescent Dragonwagon (Workman, $15.95 softcover)
Yield: 6 servings
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into several pieces
24 large fresh strawberries, washed, not hulled
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 cup strawberry vodka or watermelon vodka
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
12 thin slices of angel food cake or 6 generous scoops of ice cream
1. Place a large, deep skillet on medium heat. Add butter, partially melt, and add strawberries. Gently toss and cook berries until all butter melts and coats berries. It’s OK if the butter boils, but don’t let it brown. Add sugar, vanilla, and vodka; continue to cook, letting mixture bubble and further coat the berries. The strawberries should be tender but not mushy, and the sauce should reduce a little. (If made 1 to 2 hours in advance, reheat on medium heat setting to liquefy sauce — berries don’t have to be hot.)
2. In shallow bowls, spoon berries and sauce over sliced angel food cake or ice cream (vanilla or pistachio).
Source: Adapted from “Dessert Circus at Home” by Jacques Torres (William Morrow, $28)
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