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Wall Street Journal: Bottlefork Chef Kevin Hickey Shares his Secrets to the Perfect Patty

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Burgers may be a ubiquitous summer staple, but that doesn’t mean they have to be predictable. “It’s really an opportunity for a chef to show some style and creativity,” says Kevin Hickey, executive chef and partner of Bottlefork restaurant in Chicago.
Mr. Hickey, who has friends over for cookouts in his backyard once or twice a month in the summer, says his first focus in creating a memorable burger is the patty. “I’m all for creativity and adventuresome creations, but the most important part about a burger is having the right fat content so you have a juicy burger,” says Mr. Hickey, who is also partner and director of food and beverage for Rockit Ranch Productions in Chicago.
Mr. Hickey admits to being a purist when it comes to patties, using just beef, though he makes sure to buy the best quality grass-fed ground meat he can find. He generally avoids mixing in other kinds of meat (such as pork or veal) because different meats sometimes cook at different speeds, making it difficult to have an evenly cooked patty.
While some cooks like to marinate the meat, he believes in sprinkling on just a little salt and pepper. “I want to taste that meat taste, that fat taste, the char. I’m not interested in adding too many seasonings to that,” he says.
Sometimes, though, if Mr. Hickey is using leaner ground beef, he may raise the fat content (and the burger’s juiciness) by adding ground bacon to the mix. “Lean-ground grass-fed beef has a wonderful flavor, but it doesn’t necessarily make the best burger, so I’ll make patties using 70% of that and 30% ground slab bacon,” he says.
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If Mr. Hickey wants to serve something out of the ordinary, he’ll sometimes cook lamb patties with Middle Eastern seasonings. “Lamb has a wonderful flavor, but it needs a lot of help when it comes to the fat department,” he says. “Take yellow onions, grate them on a box grater to a liquid pulp and mix that in with the ground lamb” to increases the patty’s juiciness, he says. “Add salt, pepper, sumac, garlic, and that makes a fantastic burger.”
Sometimes, Mr. Hickey turns to ground chicken or turkey, but once again you need to add something to the mix that “mimics the fat content” of fattier beef, he says.
“Grind tomatoes or liquefy red onions and mix that in with the turkey and chicken, then add seasonings and spice so the burger has some life to it,” he says. He often uses minced fresh herbs such as sage, thyme and rosemary with poultry patties.
One important thing with meat patties: Don’t overmix the meat. “In most restaurants you’re going to use the dough hook on a pastry mixer to mix the meat. You don’t want the speed up too high or the fat will start to cook slightly,” Mr. Hickey says. “That changes the texture,” possibly making the patties tough. “You want gentle careful blending.”
For vegetarians, Mr. Hickey makes meatless patties by puréeing beans (black beans and chickpeas work well) and combining this with diced vegetables, quinoa and whole beans or cooked lentils. The purée, which should make up about 20% to 25% of the patty, forms a base that binds the ingredients together.
For more tips, read the full article here.