The Secret Restaurant: Hamburger Helper

by Peter Moore

I may have been the world’s pickiest eater as a child.  My parents are saints and they indulged this.  I was almost never forced to eat something I didn’t want.  And there were a lot of things that I didn’t want to eat.  One thing I did love was hamburgers (though they had to be plain—no condiments, pickles, tomatoes, or lettuce) and that’s what I got.  As I said, my parents are saints.

As an adult, I’m pretty much at “you can eat anything if it is prepared properly.”  Some time ago there was a Facebook meme going around asking, “How many of these 100 foods have you eaten?”  I scored a 96 and may have added a few since then.

For all this, I still love a good burger.  My favorite restaurant burger is from the Café Rouge.  I like it with bacon on top.  The first time I saw a burger with the bacon in it was at el Salchichero, a craft butcher in Santa Cruz.  We picked some up and grilled them and I’ve been making them that way ever since.  You don’t have to use the bacon of course, but why wouldn’t you?  The key to this recipe is grinding the meat fresh.  This is easy if you’ve got a KitchenAid mixer and the meat grinding attachment, or an old school meat grinder (which my parents have).  But even if you don’t, we are fortunate in the Bay Area to have so many fine craft butchers around and you should see if your local butcher will do it for you.

The Hamburger Helper here is Maitake mushrooms.  Also called Hen of the Woods, they have a real meaty taste.

Burger Ingredients Ingredients

For each burger use:

5 oz hanger steak (see notes on ingredients below)
1 strip bacon
1 heaping TBS of dried maitake mushrooms
1 pat butter
Salt & pepper to taste


Condiments and toppings

Burger Maitake before

Maitake Mushrooms Before Roasting

Burger Maitake after

Maitake Mushrooms After Roasting

To make the dried maitake mushrooms, chop them into little bits and toss with a tablespoon or so of olive oil.  Spread on a parchment paper-covered sheet pan and roast for 30 minutes at 350°.  Check to make sure they’re dried out and then turn off the oven and let them stay in there another half an hour (at least).  You can make a bunch of this and it’ll keep well in a jar.  This ingredient is a great way to add a bit of earthiness and umami to a dish.  It goes well with beans, rice, and rubs for pork.

Chop the beef and bacon into 2″ sections and put in the freezer for 20 minutes.  This will help the meat not turn into mush when you grind it.

Burger Meat Grinder

Grind the meat on the biggest holes on the grinder adding beef, bacon, and mushrooms pieces alternating between them so that it’s all mixed up.  Working quickly, form the ground meat into patties being careful not to work them too much.  I like to put sort of a dimple in the middle of the patties to aid in even cooking.  If you’re not going to be cooking them right away, stick them in the fridge until you’re ready.  Just before you cook them, add salt & pepper.  You don’t want to salt them too far ahead of cooking as it will pull moisture out and they will steam instead of frying.

Burger Before

I like to cook my burgers in a cast iron skillet, but if you are going to grill them you’ll want to pack them a little tighter so that they don’t fall apart on the grill.

Heat a cast iron skillet until it’s just about smoking.  Add a pat of butter for each burger and as soon as the butter melts, add the burgers to the pan.

I usually go about 4 minutes per side.  On a grill you’re going to want to put them a little off the heat as the bacon fat will want to flare up.

Let rest a minute while you toast the buns and get the condiment and toppings ready.

Burger Finished


Notes on Ingredients

I like to use hanger steak for the beef.  Also known as onglet or butcher’s steak, it is a cut that is particularly rich.  A good substitute is short rib, but try to get English Cut short ribs as they are easier to work with.

I used Fifth Quarter bacon for these, but there are dozens of good bacons in the Bay Area to choose from.

When I made these I used Firebrand challah buns which are sold at the Kensington Farmers’ Market on Sundays.  Firebrand breads are also available through Good Eggs at Oakland Whole Foods and Bi-Rite in San Francisco.  The July/August 2012 issue of Cooks Illustrated has a great recipe for potato buns that is great if you have the time.

The first of the dry-farmed Early Girl tomatoes are just starting to show up at farmers’ markets.  There is nothing like the taste of them on a burger.

With the burgers I served roasted Kyoto Red carrots from Moon Fox Farm and Red Torpedo Onions from Queztal Farms.  I roasted them in a 425° oven with some olive oil and Oaktown Spice Shop Shichimi Togarashi (also known as Japanese Seven Spice, it includes black and white sesame seeds, poppy seeds, chile flakes, orange zest, Szechuan pepper, and Nori seaweed).

Peter Moore Tintype

Peter Moore lives, shops, and cooks in Berkeley, California. A co-founder of San Francisco’s Roxie Cinema, he worked in the film world for many years until the lure of food drew him into the world of professional cooking. Shortly thereafter, the lure of day shifts and a medical plan drew him out of restaurants, but his love of cooking remained. He is currently an intern at The Crucible in Oakland and an Operations and Development Associate for the SF Silent Film Festival. 

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