Burgers. That’s the food inextricably linked to Memorial Day weekend, and not just because it kicks off with National Burger Day on Friday, May 28.
One place to pay special attention to is Los Angeles, a city where the dish is a lifestyle. Since 1948, when the first In-N-Out Burger opened in an L.A. suburb, the city has celebrated the burger in a way few others have.
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One of the newer, notable burgers in town comes from chef Curtis Stone (below). He introduced it at his hybrid restaurant-butcher shop Gwen when the dining room was shut as a result of Covid-19. “People kept asking for a burger since Gwen opened, and we have a superdeluxe butchery in house, so it just made sense,” Stone said in an email. “When we started doing delivery and takeout during the pandemic, the time was right.” Stone is now readying the reopening of his restaurant in mid-June and says if demand for burgers is there, they could be served at the bar.
The chef went on to say the pressure to create a superdeluxe burger was high because of L.A.’s reverence for the dish. “With all that competition around town, it had to be special, right?” he said. “Burgers are are an important food group in the U.S. You want to find a way to make it special while not mucking it up with a heavy hand.”
The chef, who’s also co-starring in the new baking competition Crime Scene Kitchen on Fox, has specific ideas about what goes into making a great burger. “I love a good char, so I thought about how I could complement that smoky flavor.” He ended up with a secret sauce that’s based on kimchi aioli: “That tart, funky tang and spice mixed with aioli adds something unexpected.” To evoke the smokiness the burgers get at Gwen, where they’re finished in a Josper charcoal oven, Stone also adds a spoonful of chipotle to his secret sauce.
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But Stone’s best advice is to make the ground beef patties a little larger than the bun before they’re cooked. That way, even with shrinkage, the bun won’t overwhelm the beef. “Getting the burger-to-bun ratio is a must,” he said. “There’s nothing more anticlimactic than that first bite of a fresh burger off the grill, and all you get is a mouthful of bun.” Stone also advises to make a small inundation in the center of the patty to stop the burger from seizing and elevating off the grill’s surface area; this guarantees a more even sear.
His cheeseburger is a triumphant two-handed dish, a juicy patty topped with a crown of salty melted Gruyere cheese and the refreshing punch of lettuce and tomato. (Stone recommends iceberg, but feel free to add a more flavorful green.) The creamy piquant sauce gets texture from chopped pickles and kimchi.
As an added bonus, Stone throws in a bed of caramelized onions spiked with an optional hit of bourbon. It’s a dish that feels like the best mix of what we missed about restaurants—an expert recipe that takes into account detail like your first bite—without working too hard to get there.
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Testers note: This recipe makes extra sauce that will work well on just about any sandwich that calls for mayo, including tuna.
Gwen Cheeseburgers With Secret Sauce
For the sweet onions
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 pound yellow onions, thinly sliced
1 tablespoon bourbon (optional)
1 tablespoon light brown sugar (optional)
For the secret sauce
Half cup mayonnaise
One-third cup ketchup
3 tablespoons chopped pickles, plus 1/2 teaspoon pickle juice
3 tablespoons kimchi, drained, chopped
Half tablespoon Dijon mustard
Half tablespoon minced chipotle chile in adobo sauce
For the burgers
1 1/4 pounds ground beef (80% lean)*
1 1/4 cups grated Gruyere cheese (about 5 ounces)
4 brioche hamburger buns or your favorite buns, toasted
4 iceberg lettuce leaves, shredded, or other lettuce
1 heirloom tomato, sliced
Make the onions: In a medium skillet over medium-high heat, melt butter. Add onions and cook, stirring often, for about 15 minutes or until they are caramelized and tender. Remove pan from heat and stir in bourbon and sugar, if desired. Season onion marmalade with salt and pepper and keep warm.
Make the secret sauce: In medium bowl, mix all ingredients together.
Make the burgers: Light a grill over high heat; alternatively, heat a grill pan over high heat. Divide the ground beef into four equal patties that are slightly wider than the buns. Using your fingers, make a shallow depression in the center of each patty, about 2 inches in diameter. Season the patties with salt and pepper. Grill the burgers for about 3 minutes or until well-browned. Flip over and top each with cheese. Cook for 2 to 3 minutes for medium-rare. Transfer the patties to a plate to rest for 5 minutes.
Spread the tops of the buns with secret sauce. Layer the bottom bun with onion marmalade, lettuce, and tomatoes. Top with the cheeseburger, cover with the bun tops and serve.
*Note: The ground beef can be substituted for mince lamb or chicken
The story has been lightly edited for style