Now you may be asking yourself why in the world I would be talking about burgers in Paris with all the great French food that you can find all over (though not everywhere). It would seem after years of criticizing American fast food & sweet treats, the French (or at least the Parisians), are starting to embrace it! You may recall the cupcake craze which some say is over. Apparently, and I was a bit in shock when I heard this, the French are the largest consumers of McDonald's hamburgers outside of the US! What?!
So you can't be surprised when I tell you that there are many many new and old establishments jumping aboard this ship to bring us their take on the perfect hamburger. Now, I admit that I am no burger expert but I do use a very simple formula to determine just how good a burger is to me - ketchup. That's right ketchup. If I have to use it, the burger is not that great. It could be OK but I won't be jumping up an down about it.
I'm sure you've seen the numerous posts, tweets, and other reviews raving about one or another "the best" burger in Paris. But what is it that makes them the best? Some talk about the buns - home-made versus store-bought. Some talk about the seasonings, not just your ordinary s&p. Some talk about the accompaniments, home-made fries, coleslaw or home-made ketchup. But what about how the burger is made.
I've heard about the debate about whether burgers are best off the grill or off the flat top. Personally I like a nice BBQ burger. But I can see how the sizzling of the flat top could give some added bonuses to the beef. Give it to me anyway you like as long as it is juicy, and can be eaten alone as much as with the bun that accompanies it.
I like to change it up a bit from time to time and move from the classic beef burger over to a lamb burger or a salmon burger but that is a whole other can of fish. I like personally grinding the meat myself on my KitchenAid rather than buying the pre-ground pack of meat.
I'm happy the French are finding contentment in this classic sandwich and I'm sure there's a whole lot of expats that were chomping at the bit just waiting for this to happen. You may have heard about the Hard Rock Cafe London. Some American guys were tired of not getting the burger they knew and loved and decided to open up their own burger joint - the rest it rock-n-roll history.
But is Paris doing the burger justice? My answer? Sometimes yes, many times no. For me it's all lost in the cuisson aka just how cooked my cooked food is. Here are a few words that you may have heard when you were ordering at a French restaurant, bleu - rare, saignant - medium rare, à point - medium and finally bien cuit - well done. Now for those of you out there used to eating your meat well done à l'americain, I beg you to not try to order well-done in France. Maybe it's gotten better, I don't know as I no longer order that way, but unless you are looking to eat a shoe, I suggest you stay away from bien cuit. I generally ask for à point and hope for the best. Needless to say I have eaten a lot more rare meat than I care to think about. And this is where I have issue with the burgers.
Why or why can I not get a juicy burger that is not rare in the middle? What is with all the bloody meat? I've sent back I don't know how many burgers.
The other deal breaker in the world of burgers is the fattiness of the beef used. A lean piece of meat does not a tasty burger make. Say it with me, fat is good! For a long time, I believe, and I know someone is going to read this and think, how could I say such a thing, the French thought a burger was no more than a steak tartar pôelé a fried steak tartar. Look, I actually saw this with my own eyes when I worked in a hotel restaurant kitchen in Paris. When someone ordered a burger from room service, I watched as my fellow co-workers and even one of the sous-chefs, grabbed the meat from the tartar and just threw it into the frying pan unceremoniously. I was in shock. This was not what I saw coming off the grill at Thalia where I worked in New York. I asked if I could take over the burger orders - just for a little while and asked them to taste what I did. They begrudgingly had to admit it was good but not before "insulting" me a little and telling me it was like McDonald's.
|Camion Qui Fume BBQ burger|
|Five Guy's Burger - never judge a book by its cover!|
So my dear French neighbors and friends and those of you expats who have somehow managed to forget what a great burger is, here are a few tips to the perfect burger. I did some searching on line and let me tell you, there are a lot of folks out there with tips on the perfect burger but they have a common thread. Here's one I particularly liked from Anna Spiegel of the Washington who got tips from what she says is an Obama-approved burger joint Ray's Hell-Burger. So here it goes, feels free to take note (I am paraphrasing here):
Grind your own beef on a hand grinder or a KitchenAid or similar meat grinder extension. The perfect ratio is 80% fattier meat like chuck-eye (jarret aka shank or use Joue de boeuf beef cheeks) and 20% leaner meat like flank steak or skirt steak (bavette or onglet). Okay these are not cheap cuts of meat but hey we are building the perfect burger. Don't get meat already cut up. Do the work.
Keep your equipment cool. You do not want to warm your meat before it is ready to be cooked. The owner of Ray's Hell-Burger Michael Landrum, even says you should freeze your tools and your meat for 20 minutes.
Make your patties a loose patty is best for preserving moisture and keeping the layers of fat and meat intact. You can try to make your patty as loose as you want after putting through a mixer and it will never really be loose. So these two steps really go hand in hand. Mr Landrum suggests making a dimple in the middle of the burger as this will prevent the burger from puffing up.
Prepare your grill. If you don't have a grill I like to use a cast iron skillet as it can get really really hot. You can also use a flat top. And of course you can always use your frying pan. Keep your patties that are destined for rare meat lovers in the fridge while the higher temp burgers should be kept at room temperature. The colder burgers will cook slower so you can get them all out at about the same time. Mr Landrum likes to put wood coals only on one side of the grill and keeps one side empty so you can transfer the medium-well or well done burgers over to completely cook after you have seared them quickly.
Add a smokey flavor - this is not absolutely necessary of course so I'll just let you read that part in Anne Speigel's article. But I am definitely going to try this out next time.
Cook it right - I feel like I've said this part already. How to do that? Don't flatten your burger. Don't poke at it or you risk letting the juices run out. Season the burger just before putting it on the grill (well, personally I like to season mine before). Leave the burger alone. Turn that burger over with delicatess (after about a minute or so). To check the doneness of your meat, I was taught the finger test which consisted of pressing your thumb against your index, middle and ring finger while checking the firmness of the muscle made by your thumb (probably not painting a very clear picture), and pressing your cooked meat carefully, but we just said don't poke your burger. So, check the color of the juices running from the burger. No juice at all, rare (and this is actually how my à point burgers have been served to me), red indicates medium rare (saignant), rosy to clear liquid, medium to well-done (à point to bien cuit).
Top it off but keep it simple - the right cheese, onions, tomato, lettuce whatever you like but as I said, if the burger is really tasty you don't need the ketchup.
Some burgers I've had in Paris and not at all an exhaustive list. My impressions varied but I'll let you be the judge yourself:
Le Camion qui Fume - I think I tried every burger they had. I have to say that I only got one that was à point but overall it was delicious and our favorite was the BBQ burger. They offer a delivery service for a minimum order of 6 burgers, so invite your friends. Check out their site to know where the food truck will be parked for lunch.
Schwartz Deli - you will need to be patient as there can often be a long line of wait-listed soon-to-be diners. They have three locations now:
7 avenue d'Eylau 75016 Paris
01 47 04 73 61
Blend - I tried it once. For me not my favorite. There was a lot of flavor but there was something missing for me. I may have to give it another go to either figure it out or see if it was a fluke. I actually wanted some ketchup (note: They do home made ketchup which I found a bit too concentrated). Interesting combinations and tasty bread. Burgers a bit smaller than most.
44, rue d'Argout 75002 Paris
Au roi du Cafe - if you are out at the Marché aux Puces in St Ouen, this is a nice place to pop into for lunch. My first burger here was a true delight. So much so, I forgot to take a photo. The cuisson was just as I had requested and it was juicy.
32 Rue Paul Bert 93400 st ouen
Hard Rock Cafe - This used to be my go-to place for a burger in Paris. Haven't been in a while but would go again if for nothing other than the onions rings, and coleslaw!
14 Boulevard Montmartre, 75009 Paris
Terrasse 17 - located just in front of the mairie du 17eme (the 17th district's town hall), the burger here remained consistent if not the best I've ever had.
17 Rue Batignolles 75017 Paris
Les Fils à Maman - Nice ambiance and a well-balanced burger à la française.
7 Bis Rue Geoffroy-Marie 75009 Paris
Photos: Yetunde Oshodi (all but Five Guy's burger: Christine Plummer)
Burger tips: Courtesy of Anne Spiegel's article How to Make the perfect burger: Tips from Michael Landrum