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For this critical summer subject, our culinary columnist Sara Jeran decided to recreate and freshen up the burger known around the globe -- the Big Mac. Pair it with a side of crispy, beer-battered onion rings for a platter of perfection. / Photo courtesy Sara Jeran

Sara Stirs: The Big Mac gets an ‘at-home’ makeover for one of the best — and freshest — burgers you’ve ever bitten into

Editor’s note: For even more recipes, you can follow culinary columnist Sara Jeran on Instagram at @sarajstirs and join My Buckhannon to get new articles and recipes from Sara twice a month!

BUCKHANNON – The number one food item associated with summer has got to be the burger. A simple concept, a ground meat patty on bread, these delights range from dollar-menu appearances to sporting extravagant toppings such as truffles and caviar. A given for picnic menus and a sure crowd-pleaser, this is one food item to master.

A few important tips for burger preparation:

The meat and bread are the main ingredients, so exercise care when shopping. Better quality beef (or whatever your preference may be) will taste better. A little fat in the meat is preferred for flavor. The bread should not fight with the patty, and is merely a vessel, not a star. Aim for a 3:1 ratio of filling:bread.

Season the beef before cooking. Condiments and toppings will not be able to cover up an unseasoned patty. A liberal dusting of salt does wonders. I also always add cracked pepper. Of course, additional seasoning could be mixed into the meat, but for the sake of a traditional burger, S&P do the job well.

When forming the patty, press the middle of the meat thinner than the outer edge. The center takes the longest to cook, so a thinner surface allows the burger to cook evenly throughout. When cooked, this will form a flat surface. If the patty is flat when cooked, the center will dome forming a rounded surface.

A room temperature patty is going to cook much better than if it were chilled. Allow the meat to rest on the counter before direct heat.

We all have a standing beloved burger. What’s your combo? Mine is cheese (actually, I pick American for this), onion, tomato, pickles and mustard. Truthfully, I do not eat many burgers throughout the year, and when I do, I prefer them loaded. Ruts are easy to form with burgers; it is simple to make what you love.

For this critical summer subject, I decided to recreate and freshen up the burger known around the globe, the Big Mac, arguably one of the most iconic menu items. You know a menu item is good when it has its own jingle. It is even a previous White House favorite. Burgers carry a negative health association, and while they may not be the healthiest choice, at-home preparations allow opportunities for change. While I present a “new” version I would not dare say a “better” version, as the original deserves space.

I choose an 80/20 ratio of meat/fat for the burger. Instead of two patties, I form one thicker patty. This will insure a juicy finished product. A sesame seed bun is standard, but I choose grilled brioche. The brioche tolerates the grill better than a plain bun but remains soft and pillowy inside. The cheese is untouched: it must be American. For the pickles and onion, I do a homemade quick pickle. Thinly sliced cucumber and onion are tossed with a brine: sugar, water, salt, red pepper flakes and fresh dill. They quietly marinate on the counter during burger preparation. Slices of summer tomatoes are added. Shredded iceberg lettuce is replaced with young garden greens.

Lastly, there must be a “secret sauce.” Reminiscent of Thousand Island and spiked with herbs, this sauce is all you need. Making homemade sauce eliminates added preservatives and high fructose corn syrup, both of which are common in prepared sauces.

French fries, potato chips, onion rings all ideal accompaniments to a juicy burger. Something crisp, salty, and starchy are the side requirements. Below I give you the crunchiest onion ring recipe. These are beer battered, so the outside coating becomes fluffy and ultra-crisp. Any carbonation (cider, sparkling water) may be used in the batter which is seasoned with cayenne for a little punch. Sweet onions are best as they become extra tender. A basket of these rings will silence any guests, as they are too consumed by eating to chatter.

I want to use the Big Mac adjustments as an example. Herbs can be added everywhere – even to a saucy burger – and they are full of vitamins. There is always a place for greens on the plate. When veggies are fresh, utilize them. Homemade sauce not only tastes better but is healthier. If cooking is intimidating and overwhelming, select a favorite restaurant dish and try making it at home; you can do this and it will be rewarding. I always want the column takeaway to be that “stress-free” cooking is the key to success in the kitchen. Cut yourself a break: A mess up is easily forgotten as there is always the next meal to be more concerned with. For now, enjoy the summer with a burger and a basket of onion rings.

Happy Cooking. Peace.

Burger Sauce

Ingredients:

  • 1/4 cup Mayo
  • 2 tablespoons sweet relish
  • 3 tablespoons ketchup
  • 1 teaspoon white vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon hot sauce
  • 1 tablespoon fresh parsley chopped, or 1 teaspoon dried
  • Cracked pepper and salt to taste

Directions:

Combine all ingredients. Chill before serving.

The freshened-up Big Mac paired with a homemade side of ultra-satisfying onion rings. / Photo courtesy Sara Jeran

Pickled Burger Veggies

(For 4 burgers)

Ingredients:

  • 1 medium cucumber sliced very thin
  • 1/2 red onion sliced thinly
  • 2 tablespoons fresh dill chopped, or 1 teaspoon dried
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 3 tablespoons white vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons water
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • Black pepper to taste
  • Red pepper flakes (optional)

Directions:

In a bowl combine all ingredients allow to marinate for 30 minutes before serving. Keep chilled.

Crispy Onion Rings

Ingredients:

  • 2 large sweet onions sliced 1/2 inch thickness
  • 1 cup cup flour, Plus 1/4 cup for dusting
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • 1/2 teaspoon cayenne
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon seasoned salt
  • Black pepper to taste
  • 3/4 – 1 cup carbonation (beer, sparkling water, sparkling cider)
  • Oil for frying
Beer-battered onion rings are a sure-fire cookout (or cook-in) crowd-pleaser. / Photo courtesy Sara Jeran

Directions:

  1. Combine 1 cup of flour with all spices. Stir in carbonation of choice (start with 3/4 cup add more of the batter seems to thick), allow to sit 15 minutes untouched.
  2. Toss onion rings in the remaining 1/4 cup flour until lightly coated.
  3. Heat 1 inch of oil in a large deep pot over medium to medium high heat. (I do not use a thermometer here.) Throw a dash of flour in to test; if it bubbles it is ready. Start lower heat and go from there.
  4. Once the oil is ready, dip onion rings in batter, and fry 2-3 minutes per side, depending on the onion size, until golden. As soon as they are out of the oil drain on a paper towel and sprinkle flaky salt.

Sara Jeran is a culinary enthusiast, gardener, beekeeper and Buckhannon native. Follow her on Instagram at @sarajstirs.

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