With Labor Day on the horizon, look no farther than Chris Kronner for all your burger needs.
After all, Kronner, late of the now-shuttered Slow Club and Bar Tartine, as well as Serpentine in San Francisco, has been perfecting his burgers for more than a decade.
In his new cookbook, “A Burger to Believe In” (Ten Speed Press), written with the San Francisco Chronicle Food & Wine section editor Paolo Lucchesi, Kronner takes you through the fine points of making the ultimate burgers, as well as salads, sides, drinks, desserts and condiments.
There’s every iteration imaginable, from the “Patty Melt” made with bechamel to the “Earth Burger” made with mushrooms, mushroom powder and a host of other veggies, and “Pickle-Brined Fried Chicken” burger in which you will need 3 cups of pickle juice to submerge chicken thighs in before further soaking them in buttermilk.
Along the way, he stresses how every step and ingredient makes such a difference — from using beef from older cows for greater flaor, aging the meat, and the importance of salting your patty on both sides immediately before cooking to buttering your buns before toasting because the milk solids turn to steam, which rises and helps soften them.
The recipe for “The KronnerBurger” is indeed included. I readily admit I wasn’t feeling as ambitious as Berkeleyside food writer Sarah Han, who actually made it — including grinding her own beef, baking buns from scratch, and making the pickles, and “cheddar mayonnaise that go along with it. Read her epic adventure here.
Instead, I opted for the less demanding “Shrimp Burger,” which had a couple of surprises.
First, despite its name, this burger contains as much sweet potato as it does shrimp.
Second, the accompanying “Jalapeno Barbecue Sauce” is not what you picture when you think of barbecue sauce. It’s not at all that characteristic reddish-brown in color. Instead, it’s more of a pale chartreuse. It’s perky, tangy and spicy, much like a pickle relish. You’ll end up with leftovers, which are fantastic on sausages or turkey burgers.
For the patties, a roasted sweet potato gets mixed together in a food processor with shrimp and chives. You form the mixture into the patties, then stick them in the freezer for 15 minutes to firm up. I cooked two of the burgers the first night, then the remaining two the next day. And I actually preferred the texture better after the mixture had time to chill overnight. So I added that tip to the original recipe.
These patties are definitely soft in texture, almost like mashed potato croquettes. Even after refrigerating the mixture overnight, then cooking the next day, they will still be soft, but a bit more compactable. They would be near impossible to cook on a grill without falling apart. Better to follow the directions instead and cook them in a pan on the stove-top.
The burgers are quite filling, owing to the sweet potatoes. The taste of the sweet potatoes indeed comes through predominantly with the shrimp adding texture and a back note of sweet brininess. The jalapeno barbecue sauce jazzes it all up with zing and heat. Pickle slices and iceberg lettuce add more crisp texture. I also added a big slice of heirloom tomato. Hey, it’s summer, so how could I resist?
After assembling the shrimp burgers, the recipe directs to “Eat immediately.” It’s advice you should heed, as they will fall apart the longer they sit on the bun with the condiments.
These burgers wait for no one.
On Labor Day, you shouldn’t, either.
1 large (about 1 pound) sweet potato
2 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon neutral oil (such as safflower oil)
1 pound (about 40 medium) shrimp, peeled and deveined
1 bunch chives, chopped
4 pain de mie buns (store-bought)
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/4 cup potato starch
12 to 16 bread and butter pickle slices (store-bought)
4 to 6 iceberg lettuce leaves
1/4 cup Jalapeno Barbecue Sauce (recipe below)
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.
Wrap the sweet potato in aluminum foil and roast until soft but not mushy, 50 to 60 minutes. A fork should be able to easily penetrate it. Let cool. When cool enough to handle, chop the sweet potato into large chunks, peeling off (but reserving) the skins. Set aside.
Heat 1 teaspoon of the oil in a saute pan over high heat. Add the shrimp and a large pinch of salt, stir, and cook until pink, about 1 minute. Transfer to a food processor, add the sweet potato skins, and process until the shrimp mixture is a coarse texture, about 10 seconds. (The skins add a nice textural component to the final product.)
Transfer the shrimp mixture to a large bowl. Add the flesh of the sweet potato, crumbling it with your fingers as it falls into the bowl. Add the chives and, using your hands, mix until fully incorporated.
Divide the shrimp mixture into four equal portions and form into tightly packed balls. Put a sheet of plastic wrap over a 4-inch ring mold on a cutting board or other hard surface. Put a ball in the middle of the mold and gently press down with the palm of your hand, forming a patty this is 4 inches wide. Pop it out with the plastic wrap. Put the patties n a large dish or small baking sheet, cover with plastic wrap, and put it in the freezer until firm but not frozen, 15 to 20 minutes. (Or better yet, refrigerate overnight before cooking.)
Before you begin cooking the burgers, get the buns toasting. Heat a cast-iron skillet or similar surface over medium-low heat. Slice the buns in half horizontally. Smear the butter on the buns and place, butter side down, on the hot surface, working in batches if necessary. Toast until golden brown, 6 to 8 minutes, adjusting the heat if necessary. You want to do your best to time their completion to the burger cooking.
While the buns toast, cook the patties. Stir together the potato starch with 2 teaspoons salt in a bowl. One at a time, dredge the patties in the mixture, turning to evenly coat. (This will help maintain integrity during cooking.) In a skillet, heat the remaining 2 tablespoons oil over medium-high heat, making sure you have 1/8-inch of oil. Add the patties to the skillet and cook until golden brown, about 5 minutes on each side.
Place a patty on a bottom bun and top with the pickles and lettuce. Spread 1 tablespoon barbecue sauce on the top bun and cap it off. Repeat with your other burgers. Eat immediately.
Jalapeno Barbecue Sauce
(Makes 3/4 cup)
1 teaspoon neutral oil (such as safflower oil)
1 white onion, sliced
1 cup sliced pickled jalapenos
1/4 cup honey
Heat the oil in a skillet or saute pan over medium-high heat. Add the onion and saute until soft and slightly brown, 5 to 6 minutes. Add the jalapenos and stir to combine; cook another 1 to 2 minutes, until the jalapenos are warmed through. Transfer to a food processor or blender and process until smooth. Add the honey and pulse, just to combine. Set aside and refrigerate until ready to use. Keeps for 1 week, refrigerated.
Adapted from “A Burger to Believe In” by Chris Kronner with Paolo Lucchesi
More Burgers to Try: Lucques Grilled Pork Burger
And: Shu Mai Burger