Death Row Burger
Everyone has had that "last meal" conversation, right? Even if it was just in your own head? I have it too often. Not because I'm morbid or afraid I'm going to finally get pinched for that heinous crime I did in a prior life. It's because I just love food THAT. MUCH. I love it so much that I am wont to obsess over the possibility that one day I will be faced with a "last meal" situation (hopefully not the death row kind) and I'll end up not having anything because I'll dither so long about whether to have fried chicken or sushi or a big Fred Flintstone steak or a black bean quesadilla from Free State that they'll pull the plug on me before I get to eat anything. I know. Bizarre.
Anyway, I have thought about it more than I should and discussed it with many key players and I keep coming back to the same thing: burger and fries. And every all of the people I tell this to roll their eyes, throw their hands in the air, and dismiss me as a culinary ludite, a lunatic, or as lacking all sophistication and creativity.
I get it. I should be thinking up French delicacies and dreaming of goose liver pate or caviar or even a nice duck breast sous-vide.
But no, I am who I am, and when I'm really hungry and the world is my oyster (by the way, I hate oysters and they'll never make my last meal list), I salivate most at the though of a medium-rare juicy burger with just the right fixins and a mess of salty fries, preferably the truffle variety. See? I can be fancy too.
As simple and inexpensive as it is to get my hands on a burger, you'd think I'd have them all the time. Strangely, this is not the case.
I don't know if it's my compulsion to rarely repeat a menu during a season when I'm cooking at home, or the nagging feeling that I should always try a new thing or a special off a menu when I'm eating out, but I don't eat burgers nearly as much as I'd like. That's probably a good thing.
But there is nothing like a hamburger and a mess of pasta salad to say "Happy Labor Day!" So that is just what we did on Monday afternoon. A grill full of meat, and of course my favorite part was the burgers, medium-rare, with mustard and red onion and a good bun.
The bun is almost as important as the burger itself, and if I'm only cooking for a few people, I usually butter and toast them because a buttered bun is straight from heaven's arms.
Sometimes I am too lazy to go to the store for what I need, and because there is usually some ground beef to be found in my freezer, I have taught myself to make hamburger buns from scratch.
My mother was shocked the first time I confessed I was doing it and couldn't understand why on Earth I'd go to such trouble when the stores have bakeries and they all make nice buns for a good price. And then I explained that I do it out of laziness. I don't want to go to the store, and it takes very little for me to whip up the dough to make buns at home, especially if it's the weekend and I have the time to let things rise.
So we had hamburgers on Labor Day and I was happy as a pig in slop. I promise that once you start making these buns, you'll rarely buy a store variety again. It just makes sense to make what you need. It's inexpensive, you don't have four buns going bad in your cupboard, and they taste like you always knew a bun should taste.Hamburger buns from scratch
3 1/2 cups bread flour
1 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons instant yeast
1 egg, slightly beaten
1/4 cup butter, at room temperature
1 cup buttermilk
First, mix together the dry ingredients, including the yeast (by the way, keep your yeast in the freezer — you'll thank me for this).
Then add in the egg and butter, and start drizzling in the buttermilk (regular milk will work too but I do suggest the buttermilk) and mixing. If you have a stand-up mixer, this is a good time to use it. Otherwise, just use your (very clean) hands. Add buttermilk until you have a soft dough, but not too wet.
Knead (either on a floured countertop or using a mixer with a dough hook) for about 7 minutes.
Then move the dough to an oiled bowl and cover with plastic wrap or a towel and let it rise for about an hour and a half, until it has doubled in size.
This should be enough dough for about 10 hamburger buns. I do not like my hamburger buns too large — I just end up throwing away half of that extraneous bread — so be mindful of that when you make them into rounds. They're going to rise again and get a bit bigger, so account for that.
I just make the buns with my hands. Shape them into little rounds, about 3 ounces apiece.
Cover them loosely with a towel and wait another hour.
Meanwhile, prepare an egg wash and preheat your oven to 400 degrees. When you're ready to bake, give each bun a brush with the egg so it will be golden brown.
Bake for 13 to 15 minutes, until golden brown on top.
I sincerely hope everyone had a nice Labor Day and didn't labor too hard. We spent ours mostly lounging poolside with our bony hands wrapped around a glasses full of Lime-A-Rita on ice. (I'm sick for the stuff. Am I alone here?) Maybe that would be on my "last meal" list too. I'm a girl of simple tastes. What can I say?
Do tell, please, what your "last meal" food(s) would be. I'm dying to know.