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Wednesday, Feb. 21
The Indiana Daily Student

Hamburgers: The tabula rosa

I reside in a small apartment by myself, which results in a frustrating little problem. On one hand, my lack of a roommate allows me complete control of the kitchen. On the other, that kitchen is tiny, limiting me more than you might think.

Thankfully, there is the burger, a true bastion of American cuisine and a meal that the home cook can take in any direction with minimal effort.

While the grill is perhaps the classic heat source here, it’s hardly the only one. Burgers can be griddled, broiled, even steamed. Plus, if you think about it, aren’t meatloaf and meatballs not too distant cousins of the burger? And those can both be baked.

If you’re fortunate enough to have a choice among these cooking methods, take your pick. As for me, in the confines of my small kitchen, I opt for the ever-reliable cast iron skillet.

It’s outrageously simple. Your only interaction with the burger during cooking is a flip of the patty and maybe a sheet of tin foil over the top to hold in the heat.

With just a sprinkling of salt and pepper on each side before cooking, the patty can develop a nice light crust on the outside while remaining a nice, juicy medium-rare on the inside.

Regardless of cooking method, there are even more directions to take your burger topping-wise. Let the games begin.

Of course, you can go with classics like lettuce, tomato, raw onion, ketchup and mustard, but I find those a bit old and tired.

Practically no condiment is off-limits, from salsa to soy sauce. Try choosing one condiment first, then let that inform the other toppings.

If you go with a nice green salsa, for example, then natural additions might include pepper jack cheese and a dollop of sour cream. If you know you’re taking this direction from the start, why not mix a little taco seasoning into the ground beef before cooking?

Feel free to get weird.

Though I haven’t tried any of these myself yet, I have heard of toppings as far-fetched as peanut butter, sauerkraut and maple syrup. I have, however, topped a few burgers with fried eggs in the past and can personally attest to their deliciousness.

My personal favorite, which I refer to as “the Max-burger,” calls for white American cheese (an ode to my grandfather that melts beautifully), onions and/or mushrooms sautéed in the same skillet as the burger and flavored with worcestershire sauce, a few dashes of steak sauce and, if I’m feeling fancy, a strip or two of bacon.

I find this particular combination utterly satisfying, but I have no doubt there are folks who think it sounds revolting. And that’s OK. That’s the beauty of burgers.

For the home cook, the burger is the ultimate blank canvas, a dish whose versatility lends itself to both ease of cooking and a range of possibilities.

There’s no excuse for not making the exact burger you want.

The Max-burger (Makes 1 burger)
8 oz ground beef, formed into a fairly plump patty
2 strips thick-cut bacon
Half of a small onion, sliced into half-rings
A few small white button or cremini mushrooms, each cut into four slices
1-2 slices white American cheese
1 large burger bun, the more resilient the better
Worcestershire sauce
Steak sauce
Salt and pepper

Fry bacon in a large cast iron skillet. Once crisp, remove and set aside.

Season patty on both side with salt and pepper to taste, then add to bacon grease in skillet. Cook over high heat for 4-5 minutes, then flip, drop heat to medium, lightly cover skillet with tin foil and cook another 9-10 minutes for medium-rare. Just before serving, flip burger and put cheese on top.

Meanwhile, in the same skillet, add mushrooms and onions. Sautee until nearly done, stirring occasionally, then add a few dashes of worcestershire sauce.

Lightly toast the bun, then put onions and mushrooms on bottom bun. Top with the patty, then the bacon, steak sauce and top bun.

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