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Some freshly ground, well-marbled chuck from the Lick the Plate kitchen. Photo David Boylan
Columns Food & Wine Lick the Plate

Lick the Plate: A fun meal to hunker down with at home

While last week was all about supporting local restaurants by taking advantage of their carryout and delivery services, this week I’d like to share one of my favorite meals to make when time is not an issue and you want to have a little fun prepping.

My first meal is probably the most widely available combination available in restaurants and certainly not exotic by any means, but in this case, hamburgers and fries are elevated to another level by the preparation. That preparation might entail you making a couple of purchases for under $30 each on Amazon that are well worth the cost.

Those items are a deep fryer and a meat grinder and, of course, you can spend a bit more for some more bells and whistles, but if grinding and frying are your sole objectives, that’s all you need.

I actually inherited an antique Universal No. 2 Food Hopper (meat grinder) as it’s called and it’s a bit more labor-intensive and a bear to clean but has sentimental value so I stick with it. In researching meat grinders for this story I almost pulled the trigger on one that has sausage making attachments that really piqued my interest.

I’ve had my deep fryer for years and besides being the perfect vessel for cooking fries to perfection, I’ve used it for fish fries and much more. I should mention that I also have a mandolin slicer for the fries but those can be easily cut by hand as well.

So first off, I purchase a chuck roast with plenty of fat and cut it into chunks sized for the grinder. The result is the most beautifully marbled ground chuck you will ever see.  See my photo above for proof of that. Please don’t by a leaner cut of meat; these burgers are about flavor, not health, and the fat provides that flavor and in the case of you possibly overcooking the patty, you will still have a moist burger.

As far as cooking the freshly ground beef, first shape them into quarter pound-size patties. Give them generous amounts of salt and pepper on both sides, and let them get to room temperature. The best cooking vessel for these burgers is a well-seasoned cast iron pan that is preheated very hot, to create a crusty outer layer on your burger.

Sear those beauties to a perfect medium-rare as you want them to sit for a few minutes, which will cook them a bit more.

A thin slice of cheese is cool, yet not one that is going to compete with the beauty of a patty below it.  I like to keep the toppings to a minimum as this is all about the flavor of that fresh ground beef and its fatty deliciousness.

Buns are a personal preference but make sure they are fresh, and if you want to butter them up and give them a bit of a fry in that burger pan for some toasty goodness, even better.

As far as the fries go, I start with large Idaho Russet potatoes and keep the skins on. I run them over my mandolin to slice them perfectly. This while my peanut oil is heating to 325-375 degrees. You are going to have to do some personal testing here, but that’s the range that I’ve found works best.

There are those who say you should par-cook them, take them out, then finish them or soak them overnight to remove starch that prevents sticking. I’ve never done either and have always been happy with my fries.

One key is that as soon as they reach their desired crispiness, I lift them from the oil, letting it drain off, but at the same time shaking the basket while seasoning generously with salt and garlic salt.

You can season with whatever you fancy but it’s key to get it on them soon while shaking them around.  It’s next to impossible to cook a few batches of fries without snacking on them in the process. I mean, really, how often do you have really fresh fries with your choice of seasoning at your fingertips?

Plate that fatty fresh ground burger with a heaping pile of fries and bask in the glory of your culinary delight. If you must have veggies with this meal, batter up some cauliflower or asparagus and take further advantage of that hot oil.

I always have a lot of fun with this meal and it’s a great lesson for kids … just be safe around that grinder, mandolin and hot oil.