BEAU­TI­FUL BURG­ERS

Smack­down chefs share some se­crets

Santa Fe New Mexican - - FRONT PAGE - By Kristen Cox Roby

Be­hold, the check­list for the per­fect cheese­burger: good meat, salt and pep­per, a nice melty cheese and spicy green chile. That recipe for heaven on a bun comes straight from Kath­leen Crook, ex­ec­u­tive chef and co-owner of Mar­ket Steer Steak­house. And she should know: In ad­di­tion to helm­ing the kitchen of her Santa Fe steak­house, she’s one of seven fi­nal­ists of this year’s Green Chile Cheese­burger Smack­down, tak­ing place Satur­day at Santa Fe Brew­ing Co.

“That’s what I think of when I think of a green chile cheese­burger, that’s what en­com­passes it to me,” Crook said as she pre­pared one of her burg­ers last week. “That’s my phi­los­o­phy with all my food: Keep it sim­ple and buy re­ally qual­ity in­gre­di­ents and en­hance them, not try to make it taste like some­thing it’s not sup­posed to.”

Her half-pound burger, the “Johnny C,” is topped with muen­ster cheese, a green chile jam and pick­led red onions. It’s served on a brioche bun from Boultawn’s Bak­ery. On Satur­day, she and a small team will cook 200 of them on-site and cut them into quar­ters for guests, who will vote on the win­ner of a Peo­ple’s Choice award. Judges will sam­ple the seven fi­nal­ists’ burg­ers as well be­fore declar­ing a “Reign­ing Chomp.”

Last year, chef Marc Quiñones of Al­bu­querque’s MAS Tapas y Vino took home the judges’ prize for his Honey Bomb, whose top­pings in­cluded house­made honey ba­con; and David Sell­ers of Street Food In­sti­tute won Peo­ple’s Choice for the sec­ond year run­ning with his roasted gar­lic, ba­con and onion green chile cheese­burger, said Stephanie Cameron, pub­lisher of Edi­ble magazine, which hosts the com­pe­ti­tion.

Quiñones makes an ap­pear­ance again this year among the chef fi­nal­ists, along with Crook, Ja­son Ste­wart of Santa Fe’s Lu­mi­naria, Sean Sin­clair of Las Ve­gas’ Bar Cas­tañeda, Peter Knaus of Pa­jar­ito Brew­pub and Grill in Los Alamos, Isaac San­doval of The Skil­let in Las Ve­gas and Ja­son Baczkiewic­z of Al­bu­querque’s Steel Ben­der Brew­yard. Win­ners get $500 and — new this year — a Big Green Egg grill. Pro­ceeds from the event ben­e­fit Cook­ing with Kids and the South­west Grass­fed Live­stock Al­liance, Cameron said.

A group of 15 burg­ers was nar­rowed to seven by a top-se­cret panel of lucky judges who trav­eled the state incog­nito and tasted each of­fer­ing.

This year’s fi­nal­ist en­tries run the length of the green chile cheese­burger spec­trum: They come stuffed and topped, served on bak­ery buns and house­made rolls and tor­tillas, and dressed up with ev­ery­thing from arugula to queso to “spe­cial sauce.”

That creativity is the beauty of the burger, said Lu­mi­naria’s ex­ec­u­tive chef Ste­wart.

“Ham­burg­ers are amaz­ing,” he said. “Be­cause ev­ery­one likes a good burger, but you can cus­tomize it how­ever you like.”

Ste­wart cre­ated a “Green Chile Juicy Lucy” for the com­pe­ti­tion, a half-pound burger stuffed with lo­cal ched­dar jack cheese, jalapeños and green chile, and topped with a host of in­gre­di­ents in­clud­ing a spicy aioli, crispy opin­ions and a Chi­mayó red chile- and cayenne-rubbed ba­con, served on a Fano Bak­ery bun, he said.

Ste­wart agrees that one of the big­gest fac­tors in build­ing a great burger, whether it’s in a pro­fes­sional kitchen or at a back­yard bar­be­cue, is qual­ity in­gre­di­ents. An­other tip: Only sea­son the out­side of the burger, he said. Sea­son­ing the inside will pull out the mois­ture and make the patty tough. And he rec­om­mended “a nice hot pan to get a nice crust.”

A lit­tle fat doesn’t hurt, ei­ther. Crook likes to use a coarsely ground 80/20 blend of meat, giv­ing both sides of the patty a gen­er­ous sprin­kle of salt and pep­per.

“Al­ways sea­son both sides,” she ad­vised dur­ing her re­cent burger demon­stra­tion. “A friend of mine asked a chef one time, ‘Why do you sea­son both sides?’ And he just looked at her and said, ‘Be­cause you eat both sides.’ ”

She slid the patty onto the flat top, us­ing a weight to help it cook evenly. A brioche bun re­ceived a coat­ing of but­ter — “If you have mar­garine at your house,” she said with a grin, “just throw it away and start over” — be­fore she toasted both sides of each half. She rec­om­mended home cooks try a cast iron pan for their burger, and toast­ing the buns in the pan with the fat.

For the chile com­po­nent, Crook uses Bueno’s Au­tumn Roast to make a green chile jam (her grand­mother’s recipe) us­ing low-sugar pectin, which binds the chile to the burger. She spooned it over the burger and topped it with a slice of muen­ster, then squirted a bit of white wine onto the cook­ing sur­face and cov­ered the burger with a bowl to help the cheese melt.

Then came assem­bly time. A sim­ple but piquant pile of pick­led red onions atop the patty added bright­ness and pulled the burger’s fla­vors to­gether, she said.

The re­sult? Just what a chile cheese­burger should be: salty and spicy, but­tery and tangy, rich and juicy. And all in less than 10 min­utes.

Of course, heaven on a bun looks dif­fer­ent to ev­ery­one. On Satur­day, Smack­down ticket hold­ers will get to try seven ver­sions al­ready guar­an­teed to have got­ten pretty darn close.

PHO­TOS BY GABRIELA CAMPOS THE NEW MEX­I­CAN

Mar­ket Steer Steak­house’s half-pound burger, the ‘Johnny C,’ topped with muen­ster cheese, green chile jam and pick­led red onions served on a brioche bun from Boultawn’s Bak­ery. The burger is one of the fi­nal­ists at Satur­day’s Green Chile Cheese­burger Smack­down.

Kath­leen Crook, left, ex­ec­u­tive chef and co-owner of Mar­ket Steer Steak­house, sea­sons her hamburger patty with salt and pep­per. ‘Al­ways sea­son both sides,’ she ad­vises. Crook uses Bueno’s Au­tumn Roast to make a green chile jam (her grand­mother’s recipe) us­ing low-sugar pectin, which binds the chile to the burger.

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