I’m having a great weekend.  My oldest friend (day 1, grade 1) is back in town for 3 weeks.

Brian Hamilton (pronounced ‘brianhamilton’ as though all one word) has been living and working in Seoul, South Korea for the better part of the last six years.  In that time he has worked 4 jobs, had 3 apartments, married a lovely Korean girl (hi Sung He), and eaten far more rice and kimchee than any ‘Westerner’ from Binbrook would care to.

We had plans to hang out at Chez Cheffer this week-end so I asked brianhamilton what he’d like to eat – as in “what western comfort food have you been craving that is simply unavailable in Seoul?”.  I was expecting chicken pot pie or chili or a good (wheat flour) pasta or beefy stew, but after careful deliberation brianhamilton responded, rather apologetically,  with “Burgers”.

I’ve just offered a guy whatever he could dream up to eat, prepared by a personal professional chef, death row last meal style, and this guy requests burgers?? With dill pickles?? AWESOME!!!!

Apparently in Korea you can get yourself a fast food burger, but the stuff of Americana legends and Jimmy Buffett songs are nowhere to be found.  Also, ‘bread & butter’ pickles are everywhere but apparently you’ll never find a dill.  When you order a pizza in Korea, they send ‘bread & butter’ pickles the way we send celery and blue cheese.  I don’t ever recall thinking “you know, this pizza is great and all, but what it really needs are bread & butter pickles”.   I also find it strange that in a country who’s national dish is fermented and vinegared, there is no such thing as a proper sour dill pickle.  I’m not judging or poking fun at you Korea… I’m just saying.

Now I’ve made burgers at home before, it usually involves frozen patties, processed cheese food, D’Italiano’s finest buns, and a tube of Pringles.  But this was to be a serious burger experience, so I challenged myself to make serious, epic, burgers!!

Part 1:  Shopping.

Old Post Bakery in Beamsville:  Squishy white dinner rolls.  I’m a multigrain kind of guy, but serious burgers require squishy, white buns, and I went with dinner rolls because they are smaller, and while sliders are soooo 2009, a nice 3 ounce patty on a dinner roll allows for the option of multiple burgers, with multiple toppings.  The dieter can have a burger, the moderate eater can have 2, the serious burgerphile can have 3, and not feel entirely gluttonous.

Highland Country Market (AKA Highland Packers): MEAT!: Two and a quarter pounds of medium ground beef (if you only buy extra-lean, stop reading now. STEP AWAY FROM THE BLOG!) and three quarters of a pound of ground pork.  This ratio works for me.  I also went to the deli section for sliced havarti, edam, and cheddar.

Local “nameless” grocery store:  Boston lettuce, red onion, tomatoes (forgive me locovores), russet potatoes.

Costco: Moishes Full Sour Kosher dills.  If ’ve never had them, grab your keys and your Costco card.  Now!

The Good Earth: Cheffer’s own double smoked bacon, and the key ingredient.  The key ingredient is some special seasoned oil I’ve been keeping in a cool dark place for a while, looking for an opportunity to let it shine.  60% corn oil, 30% lard, 10% duck fat, 100% flavour (we’ll call this liquid gold).  The russets didn’t know what hit them.

Part 2: Prep.

Burgers – 3 lbs of ground meat, 3 eggs, half a cup breadcrumbs, salt, pepper, 1 Tbsp Dijon, 1 Tbsp Worchestershire, 1 Tbsp Soya sauce formed into 3 to 3 1/2 oz patties.  (For all of you extra lean buyers who are defiant and still reading, add about a half cup of veg oil to yours!)  This yields a tasty, soft, and juicy burger.  Grilled over low heat for even doneness, the edam, havarti and cheddar joined the burgers for the last 3 minutes of the fiery ride.

Bacon – sliced thick, fried crisp, patted dry.

Russets – sliced into ‘fries’, fully cooked in simmering water, strained and dried, shallow fried in cast iron pans in ‘liquid gold’ until crisp.  Generously seasoned with sea salt.  Fully cooking the potatoes in salted water at least gives the illusion of them being slightly less fatty than when fried from raw.  Whether true or not, I’m sure everyone felt slightly more virtuous.

Buns – Somewhere between ‘warmed’ and ‘toasted’ there exists a special place where a properly built bun will be both soft and crisp.  I think that spot can be found in about 4 minutes with a 275 degree oven.

Step 3: Assembly.

The only way to present this is as a be-all-and-end-all last supper style feast.  The table held…sliced tomato, sliced red onion, whole leaf Boston lettuce, ketchup,  mustard(s), bacon, buns, burgers, relish (untouched), Moishes pickles, salt, and lots of ice cold beer.  I plated the fries (to avoid bloodshed in the form of fork stabbing) and simply announced Game On!

I’ve always said that the best burgers are those that require a napkin not just for your mouth and hands, but for your chin and forearms.  These did not disappoint.  I don’t entirely remember the first 10 minutes of that meal, as I was lost in my own carnivorous world, but I believe the extent of the conversation was a series of groans, eye-rolls, and belly rubs. Mission accomplished.

I think the moral of the story here is to approach every meal with sincere thought and effort.  Whether it’s burgers, filet mignon, lobster thermidor or good old mac’n’cheese, ask yourself:  How can I go about making this the best (whichever) that I’ve ever had?  No matter what the outcome is, the effort will be worth it.   You will be proud.  Rather than feeling ‘off the hook’ for only having to make burgers, I challenged myself to locate the best ingredients and craft them into the best meal possible.  Pride in craftsmanship is a lost art that I for one am trying to bring back.

So, safe journey brianhamilton, 18 more months of kimchee and then it’s Burgerfest, Take 2 – Coming Autumn 2011.  Chow!