Fixin' it up

Accessorize your burgers with complementary condiments


Published: Saturday, January 1, 2005 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, August 4, 2004 at 6:47 p.m.

Don't ask for ketchup at Louis' Lunch in New Haven, Conn.

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Lettuce, tomatoes, pickles, red onions, cheddar and Swiss cheeses are just some of the extras folks like to pile on to their burgers.

Calvin Knight/NYTRNG

Facts

DON'T HOLD THE ONIONS

- Avoid embarrassing tears and running eye makeup. Before slicing onions for your burgers, first chill onion for 30 minutes. Then cut off the top and peel the outer layers. Leave the root end, advises the National Onion Association. It has the largest concentration of sulfuric compounds that cause eyes to tear. Slice or chop as desired.

- Fresh spring/summer onions, available from March to August, are best for burgers. They are usually sweeter and milder than winter storage onions that are available from August to April.

Only cheese, tomato or onion accessorize Louis's $4.25 hamburgers. Customers are not deterred. They are savoring customized burgers. They are tasting history.

Maybe.

Louis Lassen and at least three others take credit for making hamburger history by putting a ground beef patty between slices of bread to make it portable.

''Old Dave'' Fletcher Davis from Athens, Texas, took his ground beef sandwich to the St. Louis World's Fair in 1904.

In Hamburg, N.Y., brothers Charles and Frank Menches sold hamburger sandwiches when they ran out of pork sausage in 1885.

Folks in Seymour, WI, home of the Hamburger Hall of Fame, claim 15-year-old Charlie Nagreen served the world's first burger at the county fair in 1885. The Lassen family claims Grandpa invented the first burger in 1900.

All four stories, writes John E. Harmon in the Atlas of Popular Culture in the Northeastern United States, ''have elements central to our culture - thrift, ingenuity, hucksterism and convenience.''

Each claim has strong local - if not very old - support. Documentation is, Harmon points out, shaky at best. Old Dave's claim is the only one investigated by a historian.

Chambers of Commerce in these towns might care about the burger's pedigree, but most folks don't. The inventor and the meat (unless, perhaps, it's a $41 Kobe beef patty) aren't the main attractions. It's the condiments that count.

''The classic burger is a long way from the fast-food transvestites that get served by the millions every day around the world,'' wrote Denis Kelly in ''Grilling and Barbecuing: Food and Fire in American Regional Cooking'' (Stewart, Tabori & Chang; $29.95).

''With a little care, and the right stuff, an old-fashioned American hamburger can make the taste buds rejoice and bring back delicious memories.''

Last year New York chef Daniel Boulud made history by offering a $50 burger from round sirloin and stuffed with foie gras, braised short ribs and topped with black truffles.

Americans consume more than 20 billion burgers a year, according to the National Cattlemen's Beef Association.

Burger chefs at Louis' Lunch may claim that no true connoisseur would corrupt a classic burger with mustard or ketchup. But it's safe to claim that less than a grocery cart full of those 20 million headed south with no condiments at all.

If you need assistance with accessorizing, here are some suggestions:

- Greek Burger: Season meat with oregano and garlic, then top cooked patty with feta cheese and olive tapenade.

- The Ultimate Hottie: Make our own rajas or pepper strips. Char 2 poblanos, 1 pasillas, 3 Anaheims, 2 jalapenos and 1 serrano. Put hot peppers in a plastic bag to steam for 10 minutes then peel. Cut around the base of the stem and pull out stem and seedpod. Pull pepper apart along the rib lines. Put rajas in a bowl and drizzle lightly with olive oil. Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Crisscross a lavish heap on burger.

- Be My Valentine: Heart healthy toppings include avocados, pepper jack soy cheese, fat-free cheese and salsa.

- Trattoria Burger: Add mozzarella cheese, roasted red bell pepper and mayonnaise mixed with basil pesto.

- Stuff It: Form two thin beef patties. Top one with Gorgonzola, or Italian seasoned fresh ricotta, or Mexican cheese and jalapenos. An elegant option is an Italian truffle flavored cheese such as Boscetto al Tartufo. Top with second patty and pinch the edges together to seal before cooking.

- The Blues: Experiment with different blue cheese. For a slightly nutty taste, try King Island Dairy's Roaring Forties Blue from Australia. Melt it into burger and add a slice of tomato.

- Cowboy Burger: Add Monterey Jack cheese, grilled mushrooms, grilled onions and crisp bacon.

- New Mexico Green Chile Burger: Southwestern food specialist Jane Butel suggests seasoning beef with ground chili. Melt shredded Monterey Jack cheese on the top half of the bun and serve with green chilies, onions, tomatoes and lettuce. Offer fresh salsa.

- Pizza Too: Top burger with pizza sauce, sliced mushrooms, sliced black olives and a slide of mozzarella cheese.

- Trendy Bistro Burger: Top grilled burger with a thin slice of sweet onion, Swiss cheese, mayonnaise, Dijon-style mustard, Romaine lettuce and tomato slices. Serve on toasted crusty roll.

VANILLA CHIPOTLE BBQ SAUCE

1/4 cup smoked chipotle chilies, canned

1/4 cup butter

1/4 cup garlic, coarsely chopped

1/2 pound brown sugar

1/2 cup red wine vinegar

1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce

3 cups ketchup

1/4 cup dark molasses

1/4 cup vanilla bean paste

Split chilies, remove seeds and chop coarsely. Reserve with their liquid.

In a heavy-bottomed pan, sauté garlic in butter until garlic is soft.

Add sugar, vinegar, Worcestershire sauce, ketchup, molasses, paste and peppers.

Simmer for 45 minutes to an hour.

Serve with burgers.

- From Central Market, headquarters San Antonio, Texas

CARAMELIZED ONIONS

3 pounds (6 to 9) yellow onions

1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil

1 teaspoon dried thyme, crushed

1 teaspoon dried rosemary, crushed

Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Halve and slice onions.

Over medium heat, sauté onions in oil for 15 to 20 minutes, stirring occasionally, or until soft and light golden.

Stir in thyme, rosemary, salt and pepper.

Serve warm over burgers - add white cheddar cheese for extra swoons - or cover and refrigerate for up to 5 days.

Makes 12 servings.

Note: Caramelized onions are lovely on other sandwiches and meats. Stack with beans, cheese and salsa in a corn tortilla; use as a bed for poached firm white fish. But never use high heat to caramelize. It makes the onions bitter.

- From National Onion Association

AVOCADO RELISH

1/2 ripe avocado, peeled and chopped

1/4 cup sour cream

1/4 cup thick, chunky salsa

1 tablespoon cilantro, chopped

In small bowl, stir together all four ingredients.

To serve, cover the bottom half of two hamburger rolls with mixture. Top with meat patty, 2 slices of tomato, 1 lettuce leaf and a slice of red onion.

Garnish with remaining mixture and/or avocado slices.

Makes relish for two burgers.

- From Mary Engelbreit's Dining Out Cookbook (Andrews McMeel)

SPICY HAMBURGER GOO

1 cup ketchup

1/2 cup mayonnaise

1/4 cup brown or Dijon mustard

2 tablespoons horseradish

1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce

Dash hot sauce or to taste

In a bowl, mix all ingredients.

Makes enough for at least 4 burgers.

- From "Grilling and Barbecuing"

RED RELISH AND HERB AIOLI

Relish

1/4 cup diced tomato

2 tablespoons bottled roasted red peppers, rinsed, drained and minced

1 tablespoons finely chopped red onion

2 tablespoons red wine vinegar

Combine all ingredients in medium bowl.

Cover and refrigerate until ready to use.

Aioli

1/3 cup mayonnaise

2 tablespoons shredded Parmesan cheese

2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh basil

2 large garlic cloves, minced

Combine all ingredients in a medium bowl, cover and refrigerate.

When ready to serve, douse burgers with Aioli and top with relish.

Makes enough for four burgers.

- From the National Cattlemen's Beef Association

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