Over the Christmas break I did indeed make my signature cube steak sandwich as a burger instead. I looked over multiple methods that I thought might suit, since directly pan-frying a burger patty soaked in teriyaki sauce long enough to cook it through wasn’t likely to be a good idea. Broiling was one option, but I felt that was iffy as well. Ultimately I decided to try preparing a burger sous vide.
I got a package of 80-20 ground beef—because if you make burgers much more than 80% lean, you need an intervention—weighing roughly 15 oz., and split it up into two halves, forming each one as best I could by hand into a burger patty without compressing them too much. One of these I froze for later, which meant for tonight, and the other I started right away. So each burger was about half a pound.
The burger patty went into a quart-size freezer bag along with a generous amount of teriyaki sauce (Kikkoman being my favorite) and then I got out as much air as possible. After immersing the bag in water I unsealed it slightly to get more air out, as much as I could. Finally I turned on my immersion circulator for 130° (Fahrenheit, naturally). Per the instructions I found on how to cook burgers sous vide, at that temperature I was going to need at least 40 minutes to pasteurize the meat, so I let it go about 45 minutes. After that I removed it from the bag, poured off any liquids, patted it somewhat dry, and let it rest on a folded paper towel for about 10 minutes. Resting the meat is apparently very important even for a burger.
Following this, I first tried to use the broiler to give it a good sear, but I found that my oven’s broiler took too long so I switched to using a pan. I didn’t let it sear for very long: maybe like a minute to a minute and a half per side. I used my trusty 10″ Orgreenic pan, but didn’t put in any fat, so the pan got some black gunk on it in short order. The gunk cleaned up pretty easily, all things considered. The accumulation of gunk, and the smell of the smoke in the house, was why I only seared for a short time.
This first burger was extremely tender and tasty, and was definitely worth doing this way. The whole sandwich was very enjoyable with one small caveat: Because I cooked the meat to 130°, the recommended temperature for a medium burger, it actually ended up with more of a medium-rare texture. The meat had almost a raw texture to it, even though it was fully cooked, and honestly that wasn’t what I wanted at all.
Tonight I went for round 2 with the frozen burger, since I still had a little bacon and the rest of my mushrooms in the fridge, plus of course more cheese. I thawed one of the Kaiser rolls from the freezer, and had the burger itself thawing in the freezer bag along with some teriyaki sauce for about 5 hours. That wasn’t enough time to fully thaw it, so I resolved to give the process more time; you can generally cook most meats from frozen in a sous vide bath, I’ve read, if you give them an extra half hour.
This time I upped the temperature to 135°. I also ended up giving the burger a total of 90 minutes in the bath, which was overkill even accounting for the extra time to finish thawing, but that was mostly because I had something else to do at the time. The beauty of sous vide cooking is you can just let it go in the background. Again I rested it, and then I pan-seared it but this time with a small dollop (less than a tablespoon, I would say) of bacon grease. Less black gunk this time, though still plenty of smoke; I think it seared much better.
135° cooking along with the searing as I described it turned out to produce the perfect medium burger, and this time the texture was just right.
A sous vide burger is so much better than a regular burger off the grill. Although it lacks that firm crust all around, it’s juicy and tender and a delight to bite into. Part of that is because you don’t have to overcook the meat to kill off rogue bacteria; you’ve basically sterilized it by holding it at temperature for the right length of time.
I’m starting to realize, though, that the next thing I need to tackle in perfecting this sandwich is my mushrooms. Oh, they’re quite wonderful, but even though they’ve been removed from the butter they were sauteed in, they’re still very greasy. There’s already a bit of grease from the meat and the cheese, but there was a significant amount of butter that dripped out onto my plate. And don’t get me wrong, it’s not that I don’t like it a bit greasy, but it’s a bigger mess than I think it needs to be. Somehow I have to up my mushroom game with much less fat.
Anyway, I declare this year’s sandwich experiment a success, and now I don’t have to worry about figuring out how to tenderize cube steak because I’ve done an end run around it.