Archive for July, 2011

The Better Supermarket Beefs In The UK – More Thoughts On Burger Making

Friday, July 22nd, 2011

For the supermarkets, I have reviewed their offerings (see below) and made an initial selection of meats, going for beef from Booths, Sainsbury’sTesco and Waitrose

Next, we needed to make some burgers from these suppliers, so I chose the following: from Booths, chuck and rib eye steaks; from Sainsbury’s, rib eye steak and braising steak; from Tesco, rib eye steak and casserole steak; and from Waitrose, rib eye steak and braising steak.  To these, I then made simple burgers following my core recipe from my blog earlier in July 2011 without the onions to let the meat speak for itself.  The meats were ground through a 4½mm mincer and shaped using the Italian burger press from Weschenfelder. 

Tasting Beefburgers Made From Supermarkets' Steak

Tasting Beefburgers Made From Supermarkets' Steak

They were lightly fried in deodourised sunflower oil then tasted with fork & knife rather than in bread rolls.  We tasted them en famille so the results are across ages and sexes and the ranking was Booths and Waitrose first equal then Sainbsury’s and last Tesco.  However, it is important to state that Booths, Sainsbury’s and Waitrose were clearly good with Tesco’s quality lagging a long way behind.

As for Booth’s and Waitrose, the differences were that Booths had the best general flavour and mouthfeel, while Waitrose had a deeper, richer flavour.  I reckon this was because the Waitrose meat was hung for longer and so had more beefiness coming through whereas for Booth’s I was able to get exactly the cuts that I desired, so perhaps the ideal is as I argued in my previous blogs for a 1:1 mix of chuck and rib eye that has been matured for 21 – 28 days rather than a relatively quick 14 days as was the case for Booths.

As an aside, we also taste tested Sainsbury’s versus Waitrose dry aged sirloin and the Sainsbury’s beef was a clear winner, so it is not a case of Booths & Waitrose being clear winners across the board nor was the older beef the better as Sainsbury’s was 21 day and Waitrose 28 day aged.

Review of supermarket beef

At Asda, the choice of beef was from British or Irish meat with most coming from Ireland.  Mince was Irish beef and £6.08 for 1kg (in 500g amounts) or 2 for £5, braising steak was £8.75/kg and rump steak £7.00/kg (currently down from £11.48/kg) and from Ireland.  In ribeye steak there was the biggest choice – organic (£16.99/kg), Irish 14 day matured (£14.49/kg), British (£15.00/kg) or Yorkshire Dales steak (£21.94/kg).  Overall, I was impressed that they had Yorkshire sourced beef and some organic, but too much was from Ireland rather than Britain and very little provenance was given.

At Booths, they have a good minced steak at £4.00 for 700g which is very good value compared to Morrisons in spite of Morrisons claiming to be the value store and Booths having the reputation for being expensive.  They have a much smaller selection than the big highstreet multiples but the quality is much better, and I went for a mix of traditional chuck steak (£8.00/kg) and rib eye steak (£20.00/kg) with marbling a little light at around 10%, but I compensated with some beef fat that I took off another sirloin steak.  The beef at the butcher’s counter is hung for 21 days, but the instore staff did not know whether the steaks in the chillers were the same age, but presumed they could be.  If you go to one of their stores, try and get their 28 days National Trust beef, which often comes from Fountains Abbey for the Ripon store – it is just amazing kit and the best beef in any supermarket but that is for another blog.

At Morrisons, you can get either minced beef or steak, where I suggest that minced steak at £5.56/kg for 720g is a good bet or for the Butcher’s Mince at £6.99/kg.  Alternatively, you could buy from the Family Butcher rib eye steak (£14.49/kg) and braising steak (£7.99/kg) then cube them both up and grind them at home.  We tried their The Best Scotch Beef Quarter Pounder Burgers and they were tough, rubbery and full of gristle, plus lots of liquid came out during the cooking process, which left me feeling mighty suspicious.  Anyway one of the key reasons to make you own burgers is to look at the ingredients: beef (86%), breadcrumbs, beef fat, roasted onions, seasoning, then the horrors of sodium metabisulphite (horrible stuff!), sodium ascorbate and trisodium citrate.  Note that all supermarkets use heavy preservatives as they need to maximise the length in store to minimise wastage, so all superamrkets use these nasty chemicals.

For Sainsbury’s, there was beef mince (£4.40/kg), braising steak (£8.75/kg), Taste the Difference rump steak (£13.99/kg), sirloin (standard = £19.99/kg; 21 day dry aged Taste the Difference = £21.99/kg), rib eye steak in various guises – scotch beef (£16.30/kg); North Highland rib eye (£20.40/kg) and 21 day dry aged Taste the Difference (£23.99/kg).

At Tesco, there was steak mince (£5.74/kg) or organic beef mince (£5.75/kg)casserole steak from Britain or Ireland (£8.00/kg or £9.00/kg at the butcher’s counter even though it looked the same style of beef), rump steak (£11.79/kg for standard and £13.49/kg for Tesco Finest), sirloin (standard = £15.97/kg; Tesco Finest = £15.99/kg; organic sirloin £17.99/kg), rib eye steak in various guises – standard beef (£14.49/kg)Tesco Finest (£13.00/kg – should be £15.99/kg per but was mispriced in store at £13.00/kg so I got a bargain) and organic rib eye (£16.00/kg).

At Waitrose, there was beef mince from Aberdeen Angus cattle in 10% fat and 20% fat forms, with the 20% being £6.58/kg and the most appropriate for making burgers; there is a beef mince that is organic at £13.16/kg for their Duchy Original brand.  There is an organic rump steak from Duchy Originals (£16.49/kg) and sirloin (£21.99/kg).  Non-organic beefs are Hereford diced braising steak (£10.47/kg), 14 days aged sirloin (£23.99/kg) and rib eye steak (£26.99/kg),  plus 28 day dry aged Aberdeen Angus beef from the butcher’s counter – sirloin (£25.99/kg) and rib eye steak (£26.99/kg).  The butcher at the counter in Harrogate was really helpful and the best of all the supermarkets for knowledge and courtesy.

I make no warranties or claims on pricing or availability in store.  They are provided as guides, but as I visited the supermarkets at different times and in different places, these could have gone up or down or done some somersaults while some products may even have been delisted.  Booths prices at 28/6/2011; Morrisons prices at 26/6/2011; on 1 July 2011, I got prices for Asda, Sainsbury’s, Tesco and Waitrose.  I went to Harrogate for Asda, Sainsbury’s and Waitrose; Ripon for Booths; Morrisons in Boroughbridge; and Tesco in Thirsk.

Some Rules For Better Beef For A Better Burger

Friday, July 15th, 2011

These are some more technical thoughts on the type of beef you are after, over and above the right breed and farmer.

The key complaints about burgers are that they can be tasteless or are rubbery and/or dry.  The dryness is a result of the meat being too lean, so your are looking for 15-20% of fat content, or marbling, to baste the beef during the cooking process.  The rubberiness comes from a number of possible factors, including the meat being ground too fine, then packed really tightly in a machine to a pattie shape.  Another possibility is the collagen level in the beef itself; there is more collagen in the muscle when it has been worked harder, so you tend to get more collagen and so toughness and gristle for cuts from the lower half of the beast or the hind legs, especially lower hind legs.  As you cook meats full of collagen, the collagen contracts and becomes more rubbery, which is why these meats are best slow cooked in a stew rather than quick cooked over a grill or fried.  Fortunately, these cuts tend to be the cheaper ones, so you can use the price/weight method and go for higher value cuts.  Another way to reduce the rubberiness is through the ageing process (see below).  Finally, there may be binders that tend to compact the shape of the pattie further as liquid escapes during the grilling and frying process, particularly if water has been injected into the meat at any stage of the preparation.  As for taste, this comes from the quality of the meat – I have a rule of thumb which is simply would you eat the meat as a steak or not; if you would eat it as a steak then when ground it should still taste great.  Once again ageing helps with flavour.

Age of the steak is important, as the hanging process develops the flavour and tenderises the meat.  So you should ask your butcher how long the beef has been aged for. As a rule, 21 days should be the minimum and 35 days as a maximum.  So what does ageing do? Firstly, moisture evaporates from the muscle, resulting in a richer and deeper umami intensity to the beef. Secondly, the beef’s natural enzymes break down the tough and rubbery collagen in the muscle, resulting in a tenderer beef.  So the hanging process overcomes the key issues of collagen, excess water and flavour, which if you then merge with the idea of marbling will serve as a good guide to buying better beef for your burgers.

Differences Between 21 Day (left) And 28 Day (right) Aged Rib Eye Steak

Differences Between 21 Day (left) And 28 Day (right) Aged Rib Eye Steak

When choosing a steak, sirloin (short loin in US) is a fine choice due to its tasty, melt-in-the-mouth succulence. Good sirloin has just the right amount of fat and nice marbling. Rump steak (sirloin in the US) is slightly cheaper than sirloin but is still a great griddling or frying, with more depth of flavour than sirloin. However, it does tend to be slightly chewier, especially if it has not been matured properly.  For more on meat cuts, see

How To Prepare The Meat For Your Burger

Tuesday, July 12th, 2011

But the key to the recipe is the meat. You should not just get the nearest pack of mince that you can find, but should go to a proper butcher and get the mince made for you using the right types of meat.  The best beef for a burger comes from the top, so you are looking for neck, chuck & blade (in the US, this is chuck), rump (in the US, this is sirloin), silverside and topside (in the US, this is top round, i.e. from the top of the hind leg rather than towards the base); for UK cuts, you can see the attached website or in the US.  Each cut has different characteristics and pricing, but they are all great for burgers.   If you are going to buy your meat from the supermarket or preminced, try and get minced steak rather than minced beef, and organic or free range beef over factory farmed, so you are more likely to get a better quality cut and more ageing.  However, good mince and braising steak often comes straight from chuck so you could just go straight for these, then mince the braising steak yourself, but check with your butcher if you can. 

What you are looking for is a beef from the top of the cattle with a good level of marbling of 15% – 20% of the total meat.  A good level of marbling (the little veins of fat running through the beef) is vital as it melts as you cook, helping the beef to baste itself while cooking, so keeping the beef succulent and flavoursome.  Then you are looking for muscles that are worked and so have good flavour as in the hind leg or neck, rather than the soft, but less flavoursome cuts from the ribcage area, which are forerib and sirloin in the UK and rib and short loin in the US, however on the other side you do not want the overly tough meat from the lower round or brisket.  Then you are after an aged beef as this overcomes any possible issues from extra collagen from being worked hard.

As for breeds, the best beef comes from hardy Border and Scottish breeds, like the Aberdeen Angus and Galloway lines or Blue Grey, which is a Whitebred Shorthorn crossed with a Galloway.  Then for global beef afficionadoes there is Wagyu beef from the Japanese Wagyu cattle, which has intense marbling.  One thing I feel is that the best beef comes from hardy cattle that have been farmed in tough conditions where the beef has been grown properly rather than becoming flaccid and dull from easy living.

Heston Blumenthal goes into some detail and consideration of the types of beef to use in the perfect burger.  He uses a mix of chuck, aged short rib and brisket in a ratio of 1:2:1, with a 6 hour presalting of the chuck before grinding.  Personally, I think this is too complex, but agree that a mix of chuck and short rib (or rib eye) or rump, using 21+ day aged beef if you can get it, is a great idea, but you must still look for the right fat:meat ratio, i.e. marbling.  The idea of presalting the beef at this stage is interesting, but does not actually make any difference as I always suggest that you season the minced beef for at least an hour before you grill the burgers, so you draw the moisture out at that stage.  Some blog views on his burger can be found at and

Cutting through all this, I go for a 1:1 ratio of chuck steak to either ribeye steak or rump steak, with the picanha cut being a great rump cut to use.

Chuck Steak (left) And Rib Eye Steak (right)

Chuck Steak (left) And Rib Eye Steak (right)

No 8 Stainless Steel Hand Mincer

No 8 Stainless Steel Hand Mincer

The next thing to consider is the grind size for the beef.  The best way is to get your butcher to do this as they have the right equipment and good hygiene.  You should ask for the beef to be minced through a medium (4.5mm; 3/16 inch) setting, not finer like industrial pre-ground mince.  At home, I grind the meat once with the 4.5mm blade then again either with the same blade or a 6mm blade, as I find the double mince creates a smoother and less tough beef.  If you are going to do this at home, you must ensure that all the equipment is really, really clean and should scald the blades in boiling water to kill all the bacteria or use food grade cleaners and rinse off afterwards thoroughly; then refrigerate the equipment for 30 minutes to help to prevent the meat from sticking to it.  Once again, I would recommend Weschenfelder for a manual mincer and would plump for either the No 8 or No 10 stainless steel mincers on their site.  Heston Blumenthal suggests that you grind the meat then align the strands in parallel, but this is not worth the effort and also means that the burger has much less bindability and can easily fall apart.  The key is the quality of the meat, not in being overtly particular to align the strands of minced beef this way, i.e. don’t bother as it is a pain in the butt.

Mincing Beef Steak At Home

Mincing Beef Steak At Home

Maldon Sea Salt

Maldon Sea Salt

Having minced the meat, you should season it right through.  To do this, grind the salt to a fine powder in a mortar and pestle as you want this to be all the way through the beef.  You must use a sea salt for this and not an industrial salt.  For this, I would suggest either our fleur de sel, or be more British about it and use one of the wonderful crystal salts from Anglesey, Cornwall or Maldon.  The salt draws out some of the moisture in the beef creating a greater succulence and binding the beef together more, while subtly enhancing the umami tones within great beef.  Next get some coarsely ground good quality black peppercorns, which you can either do with your grinder on a coarse setting or buy a cracked black pepper (called crushed black pepper in the US and butcher’s cut in Germany).  This brings the characteristic warm, piperine flavour that wonderfully offsets the richness of the beef.  I think that you want bursts of flavour in this case rather than an even heat throughout, which would come from a ground pepper, essentially the opposite flavouring style to the sea salt.  I think our Steenbergs TGSEB from Kerala is the best pepper you could want, so that is what I use.  Finally, I add a small amount of fried grated onion, which is really my own personal preference – it is only a small amount and complements the meat nicely with a hint of sweetness.  For really good beef, you can, and I often do, drop this and rely on the salt and pepper, but I do like a little bit of fried onion in the burger mix, but this is optional.

Put the minced beef into a stainless steel bowl.  Having prepared the fine ground sea salt, the coarse ground black pepper and the grated onion, you should sprinkle these then mix through the ground beef as well as you can.  Use your hands here, making sure they are scrupulously clean.  Then cover the stainless steel bowl with a clingfilm and leave in refrigerator for at least one hour.

To make the patties, you should either shape them with clean hands or use a burger press like the ones I suggested from Weschenfelder or Scobies in East Kilbride.  If doing them by hand, shape them to 10-12cm (4 – 5 inches) in diameter and 4cm high (1½ inches), which is roughly palm-sized and about two fingers thick.  Place these burgers into the fridge until you are ready to fry or grill them.

Shaping The Ground Beef In A Burger Press

Shaping The Ground Beef In A Burger Press

Having explained the basics for making a burger and some of the kit to use, I will review some possible sources for where you can get great meat for making your burger at home, both through the supermarkets, local to the North East, some online speciality stores and a few other great places that are worth tracking down if you have the time and money to reach for greatness.  From there, we will go to ideas for sauces, burger buns and so on.

Sports And Winning

Sunday, July 10th, 2011

I read with amusement about the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge competing against each other in a dragonboat race in Quebec and that the Duke won and he reportedly said to Kate “There is no chivalry in sport.”  At this time of the year as we seem to move from one school sports day to another via a school swimming gala, I thought about sport and how important it is. 

The other day Jay played a game of U11s cricket for Studley Roger versus Knaresborough Forest and Studley Roger were winning until the last pair went in and were out 3 times, so losing 18 runs for their team (they play pairs cricket).  One of those who was out came back in tears, threw his helmet down and sat on a bench with his back to everyone, so his mother went over and used those disastrous words “Don’t worry, it’s just a game”, to which he rightly replied “No, it’s not just a game: I let down my friends and we lost” or as Bill Shankly said “Some people think football is a matter of life and death.  I assure you it’s much more serious than that.”

Sport teaches us teamwork, including responsibilities to others, and individual skills.  Most importantly it teaches us about working hard to succeed and win.  Sport is nothing without winning, without the sweet joy of beating others in a race or a football match, but it also teaches us to hurt when we lose.  There is nothing worse than measly phrases that go along the lines of “It’s all about the taking part”.  No, it is about hurting when you lose, getting up from the floor and trying harder to get better and win next time.  There is too much sympathy given to average performances, and mediocrity in general, and we must all strive in our lives to do a bit better and to win a little more.  Then when we have won and done with winning, we can be gracious in our success and spread some of your joy in winning to help others improve and teach and hand on our secrets of success.

Sport, also, teaches us about taking risks, embracing risk to achieve things we never expected to be able to do.  We live lives that are too soft and cosseted by rules and regulations, so have become almost incapable of understanding and balancing risks in our daily lives, expecting rewards to come to us without any risk attached or hard work put in.  We must all get real.

Starting Out – The Basics For A Simple Homemade Burger

Friday, July 8th, 2011

Some time ago, I started a quest for a great burger, then stopped that search as things at Steenbergs gave me less time than I had needed.  But I think I am ready to start that hunt again.

In the meantime, I have not been completely idle..well, a little perhaps…and have tweaked my core simple burger recipe, reducing the seasoning to let the flavour of the meat come through more.  However, it is completely a matter of taste as to how much seasoning you want to complement the beef flavours, plus an element of how good the meat itself is, where the better the flavours in the meat, the less seasoning you should be adding.

So here is my amended Simple Burger recipe:

450g / 1lb ground chuck, rib eye, rump, silverside or topside beef
1tbsp grated or minced onion (optional especially for top notch 21+ days’ beef, but ideal for shop bought mince), lightly fried then cooled
½tsp sea salt
¼tsp cracked black pepper

If doing the onion, fry gently in ½tbsp of sunflower oil until clear, then cool until chilled in the fridge. 

Next, clean your hands.  Then, in a clean stainless steel bowl, mix together all the ingredients using your hands, making sure all the ingredients are spread evenly through the mix.  Leave in the fridge for at least an hour and ideally overnight (or 6 hours).  Form the burger mix into patties that are 2cm (¾ inch) thick with your hands or in a burger press.

Season With Mince With Salt & Pepper

Season With Mince With Salt & Pepper

Shape The Burgers In A Pattie Press Or By Hand

Shape The Burgers In A Pattie Press Or By Hand

Homemade Burger Patties

Burger Patties Made At Home

Lightly brush with sunflower oil on each side, then either grill them over a barbecue or in a good cast-iron frying pan over a medium-high heat to the desired degree of doneness – around 4 – 5 minutes per side for medium rare; 5 – 6 minutes for medium.  However, the degree of doneness is not an exact science and depends a lot on the actual temperatures used and the meat, so be flexible rather than rigid in these guides.

Burger Press From Weschenfelder

Burger Press From Weschenfelder

To shape the burgers, I just use my hands.  However, Lakeland have a burger press that would do the job if you do not like the feel of meat, or you could try Twenga where there seem to be loads of alternatives over a wide price bracket.  Better still there is a range of burger presses from £7 – £300 at one of my favourite web secrets, Weschenfelder.

If you find that your burgers are falling apart, you may find that the meat you are using is not moist enough.  Alternatively, you could add some breadcrumbs, which will help to bind the meat together more.  In my homemade burger recipe via the main Steenbergs website, I use these in a more involved burger recipe.  The other possibility is that the burger is being turned too much or you are pressing it down, so releasing the juices that would bind the meat together, as below.

If you wish to barbecue them, a charcoal fire is much better rather than a gas grill, but obviously comes with more of a hassle factor.  Here are some basic burger cooking rules:

  1. Turn the burger only once – flipping might make the burger fall apart, while turning it back and forth will dry it out without letting the burger cook through.
  2. Don’t squash down the burger while it is cooking.  It does not speed up the cooking time much and squeezes out the juices, so ensuring your burger will become dry and solid rather than succulent & delicious.
  3. Finally, make sure your frying pan or grill is hot before you start cooking, but you don’t want a mega hot flame that chars the burgers to a crisp, cinder, better to be white hot charcoals than big flickering flames.  Impatience will not help the best flavours to develop.

But the key to any burger recipe is the meat.