The vital ingredient for the perfect burger is way the meat is prepared

Steak burger with onion marmalade
Steak burger with onion marmalade

My niece Rachel turned 16 last week.

When her mother asked her what special birthday dinner she’d like, she chose burgers.

I did wonder about this decision for a while and then came to the conclusion that a well made burger is probably one of life’s great eating pleasures.

The main element of the burger, the meat, is the most vital ingredient. Properly hung, well aged beef from a rare breed animal like a Dexter, Shorthorn or Moilie, is going to give you the ultimate beef pattie.

Another more unusual option is buffalo meat. It’s lower in fat but extremely rich and tasty.

Ballyriff Farm in Ballyronan do superb buffalo meat and their burgers are first class.

There are markets and food shows around the country where you can buy truly excellent cuts of the more unusual protein. One of the things we do best in this country is produce world class meat – it’s worth making an effort to source from many of the excellent butchers around the province. Try to avoid prepacked types, imprisoned in gas flushed plastic,and which most supermarkets tend to stock. It might say ‘Product of NI’ but that could mean it was just put in a pack here and not necessarily raised here. A good producer will be proud to provide you with clear traceability of their wares.

There are few things worse than a dry, tough burger – meat tightly packed to an inch of its life. They should be succulent and juicy with the emphasis on the meat, and not flavour enhancers. Some commercially prepared burgers are eeked out with rusk, and therefore should be avoided at all costs.

For my recipe this week I’ve taken simply seasoned meat and then wrapped it around an onion, garlic and parsley blended smoked Abernethy butter. You could use ordinary butter but it won’t have that edge. As the burger cooks the butter permeates through, this provides moisture and a hit of savoury smokiness.

When you’ve got the mince patties sorted you can focus on the accompaniments. Brioche baps have become trendy lately but for me they’re a bit sweet. A good floury bap from a bakery is hard to beat – it won’t intrude on the succulence of the filling. For a classic burger top it with golden fried onions and some good cheddar – never raw onion and absolutely never that plastic burger cheese. I make up my own burger sauce which consists of a squirt of ketchup, a squirt of American mustard, a dollop of mayo and a finely chopped gherkin – tried and test but does the job beautifully.

Bacon jam ticks the on trend box now and can be seen in good restaurants and takeway’s menus. Fatty bacon is rendered down and then cooked with aromatics, spices, vinegar, maple syrup and sugar. Again the quality of the bacon is paramount – you won’t get crispy and golden from mass produced, water injected bacon. Go for dry cure from a good butcher – it’ll cost slightly more but is definitely worth it. Butchers who cure their own often do packs of lardons, or off cuts, that are perfect for the recipe included and a lot cheaper. A word of warning though – this stuff is seriously good and you’ll find it hard to resist.

For me a burger isn’t complete without the addition of a delicious pickle. You could add a sliced gherkin but pickling your own will provide a zing and fresh crunch to the finished product.