Rob and I have an ongoing debate (well, such as it is. He keeps pressing but I am right. He puts ketchup on leftover pizza so who are you gonna believe?) about burgers. A hamburger in my opinion is a fabulous ground beef patty with little seasoning and a binder. It is topped with the classics: ketchup, yellow mustard, green relish, raw onion, dill pickle, iceberg lettuce and tomato….all on a soft white bun. Add a slice of American cheese and call it a cheeseburger. You start adding garlic to the patty, Dijon, arugula , brie and present it on chiabatta and I maintain it is now a sandwich – maybe a great sandwich, but not a burger.
Enter the green chili cheeseburger of New Mexico fame. This one Rob and I agree on. You cannot mess around with this. It is an entity unto its own. Perfection. We first encountered this cheeseburger at the Owl Bar in San Antonio, New Mexico. About to hit the road to Albuquerque from Santa Fe, we were told we must visit this bar and have a green chili cheeseburger by the concierge at the Inn of the Five Graces. San Antonio is little more than a gas stop, four pickups and this little dark, windowless bar. The Owl is also a famous footnote in history — it had a role in the birth of the Atomic Age.
The steps below outline how to recreate an all-dressed green chili cheeseburger as close as possible to the real deal at The Owl. No substitutions. No upgrades. The patty MUST be fried on a flat top, not grilled on the BBQ. The cheese MUST be a crappy, orange American slice. The bun MUST be a soft, white, cheap, classic burger bun. Alas, living in the Great White North we can only approximate Hatch, New Mexico green chilies. Old El Paso chopped green chilies in a can are pretty close, but less variable in heat.
Here are the steps:
1. Mix freshly ground beef with salt, pepper and one egg to help the burgers keep their shape when cooked. Form burgers that are not too thick and they can be ragged at the edges. This makes for better caramelization and better flavour.
2. Slice some tomato and onion and shred some lettuce
3. Heat up your green chiles. Because they will be placed on top of the burger and under the cheese, they need to be hot so the cheese will readily melt.
4. Heat a pan on your stove or BBQ (it’s less messy on the BBQ as this can splatter). The pan should be very hot. When the dry pan is quite hot, add the burgers. Season liberally with salt and pepper. Let them sit for at least 4 minutes to form a crust on the bottom and for enough fat to render to make them easy to turn over without sticking. When you think they’ve been on one side long enough, turn them over carefully. Place the hot green chiles on the burger and top with a cheese slice. You may need to cover your pan so the cheese can melt well.
5. Place your burger on a bottom bun and top with shredded lettuce, a slice of tomato and a thin slice of onion. Feel free to add other condiments, but this burger is delicious as is. Top bun goes on and eating commences.
The debate continues: how far do you stray from a traditional burger and it a still being called a burger? Rob says it depends on where you come from. Clearly in the Southwest, green chiles are a staple condiment. At Louis’ Lunch, the birthplace of the burger in New Haven, Connecticut, no condiments at all are used, unless you count the butter on their buttered toast, which serves as a bun. Anyway, it’s a delicious argument. Let it rage on.