Rachael Ray is a true Burger Queen. Her magazine has sponsored a Burger Bash contest (Utahn Erin Mylroie won it in 2007). The popular TV cook hosts annual Burger Bashes at the South Beach Wine and Food Festival and in New York City.
So it follows that she would come up with a burger cookbook, "The Book of Burger" (Atria, $24.99).
It's a collection of 200 recipes for burgers, sliders, side dishes, sloppies (as in Joes), hot dogs, sandwiches, sauces and toppings. These include a few burgers created by trophy-winning chefs from her Burger Bashes, such as Iron Chef Michael Symon and Bobby Flay.
Most of us think summer grilling and burgers belong together. But Ray prefers cooking hers indoors on a cast-iron skillet, with a little drizzle of "EVOO" (Ray's catchphrase for extra-virgin olive oil, for those who have somehow missed one of her shows).
"Griddles and cast-iron skillets create a delicious crust on the meat, resulting in deeply flavored burgers, while outdoor grilling can hide flavors in char and smoke," she writes. "By all means, if you like to get your char on, take my burgers for a walk outside."
She gives her recipe for RR Burger Blend, a custom-ground combination of boneless beef chuck, sirloin and brisket. But the recipes go way beyond beef, for instance, Sicilian-Style Tuna or Swordfish Burgers, Lamb Burgers topped with walnut and feta cheese sauce, Portobello Burgers with spinach pesto, Veggie Burgers made with lentils, quinoa, chickpeas and pine nuts; Buffalo Turkey Burgers, burgers and sliders topped with mac 'n' cheese, Shrimp Burgers, Jerk Burgers, Hot Sausage Burgers topped with broccoli rabe, Shepherd's Pie Knife-and-Fork Burgers, Spaghetti and Meatball Burgers, Mexican Pulled Pork Sliders, Turkey Tikka Burgers with Indian Corn, and Vietnamese-style Banh Mi Burgers.
Some of her tips:
Before you form patties, bring the meat to room temperature and pat off excess liquid using a paper towel.
When you form patties, make the center of the patty thinner than the edges, because patties plump when you cook them.
Vary your rolls — brioche, Kaiser, ciabatta and so on. She likes slicing up loaves of white bread into half-inch thick slices for patty melts.
When using ground turkey, she prefers a white and dark meat blend that's heavier on the dark meat. If you use ground turkey breast, you'll need to compensate for the leanness with moisture from vegetables or adding fats like olive oil to keep the meat from drying out.
I started thumbing through Ray's book before our family's Independence Day barbecue with thoughts of trying some of the recipes. But one challenge when you're feeding a crowd is that you need to please everyone, and I realized some of the exotic burgers would be out of the comfort zone of some guests.
So I didn't mess with my usual beef patties (although I did make them thinner in the middle, as Ray advises).
But the recipes gave me some ideas for expanding on my usual array of toppings so that people could customize their own burgers, including caramelized onions, Swiss, feta and blue cheese, sautéed mushrooms, barbecue sauces, baby spinach, bacon, salsa and guacamole. Some folks enjoyed playing with the variety, but others didn't venture out of the cheddar-sliced tomato-onion-lettuce-pickle tradition. And really, that's OK, since Ray wrote that burgers symbolize "informality, hearty appetite, good times and the inclusion of all."
In the future, I intend to use this book to expand my own horizons, one burger at a time.
Valerie Phillips is the former Deseret News food editor. She blogs at www.chewandchat.blogspot.com.