The main ingredient As executive chef at the Fairmont Bab al Bahr, John Cordeaux knows more than a few things about grills and what you put on them.
'A hamburger should be a two-hander and never served alone'
John Cordeaux spreads his hands wide. "It's big!" he grins, describing the Webber Genesis grill he recently bought for his villa in Khalifa City. As executive chef at the Fairmont Bab al Bahr, Cordeaux - who used to barbecue in the dead of winter on his Toronto terrace - knows more than a few things about grills and what you put on them. "We make really big, hunking burgers at our Poolside Cafe," he says, moving rapidly between counter and grill in the hotel's Marco Pierre White kitchen. "They're 180 grams of Angus beef, sirloin trimmings and a chain of tenderloin. But obviously, the way you cook a burger at home will be different from what we do in a restaurant."
Still, he points to a few things that can make all the difference. "The main thing is to make hamburgers on a grill." Another is to plan and prep in advance, especially for the fixings. "Cooking is all about organisation," says Cordeaux. And then there's choosing and buying the meat itself. "Commercial burgers are full of fillers like wheat and other grains. But, on the other hand, 100 per cent ground beef, with no fat, will taste like cardboard." That's why he adds butter to the mix. "People go, 'Oh, no, the fat!' Give me a break: we're on this planet once!" And Cordeaux, a gracious, friendly man who smiles a lot, smiles again.
Hamburger got its name from Hamburg, Germany, where meat was sometimes sliced ultra-thin and eaten raw. But as to who actually "invented" the hamburger, four different scenarios compete for the credit. My favourite is that a 15-year-old boy nicknamed Hamburger Charlie began frying ground meat patties in butter (Cordeaux would approve) and selling them from an ox-drawn cart at a county fair in the summer of 1885 in Seymour, Wisconsin. That's where the Hamburger Hall of Fame stands today.
As Cordeaux continues to build the Poolside's famous "classic" burger - "It's one of our biggest inroom items" - he talks about the various components. There's the chipotle bun, "baked right here", which gets buttered (of course) and grilled before being slathered with Dijonnaise and caramelised onions. A slice of aged Cheddar atop the thick patty, sautéed mushrooms, smoked beef bacon, plus the can't-do-without lettuce, tomato and cucumber - this baby's getting as tall as a house.
"Beautiful," Cordeaux pronounces, spearing the whole with a gherkin-topped cocktail fork. "A hamburger should be a two-hander." And it should never be served alone. "If you're going to have a burger, you've got to have fries with mayo." Indulgent? Perhaps, but Cordeaux, who came to Abu Dhabi last spring after 13 years in Fairmont Hotels in Montreal and Toronto, believes that "when no one's looking, what we all really want is down-home cooking". Of course, there's always the Poolside Cafe's The Full Monty with foie gras and truffle if you want something a wee bit more sophisticated - and taller.
A home cook would be hard-pressed to duplicate the meat available to hotel kitchens, but Spinneys' meat counter is willing to mix and grind together several kinds of beef, even in small amounts. Portuguese buns from Spinneys' fresh bread baskets provide great tops and bottoms. Makes 3-4 burgers, depending how big you like them. Ingredients 360g Angus beef, sirloin, tenderloin chain and rib-eye, ground together
¼ large white onion, finely chopped
2 tsp fresh thyme, finely chopped
Salt & pepper to taste
3-4 large, soft buns, such as Portuguese, split and lightly buttered
4 tbsp Dijonnaise (2 tbsp mayonnaise, 2 tbsp Dijon mustard mixed together)
60g button mushrooms, sliced and caramelised in 2 tbsp butter
60g smoked beef bacon, fried
3-4 slices sharp English Cheddar
60g caramelised onions (rest of onion, thinly sliced, cooked in 20g butter & 1 tbsp red vinegar)
1 large tomato, thinly sliced
2 small cucumbers, thinly sliced lengthwise
3-4 iceberg lettuce leaves
Method Fire up the grill. Place the chilled mix of ground beef in a large bowl. Sauté the chopped onion in butter until the onions are translucent. Thoroughly mix the cooked onions and thyme into the meat, adding salt and pepper to taste. Form into three or four patties. Grill the patties to your liking, using an instant-read thermometer to check the burgers' internal temperature (80°C is what you're aiming for).
Toast the buttered buns on the grill. When toasted, spread them with Dijonnaise. Place the caramelised mushrooms, bacon and cheese on top of each burger. Return to the grill to keep warm and for the cheese to melt. Now build your burger: caramelised onions on the bottom bun, the dressed patty, then tomato, cucumbers, lettuce and the top bun.