One of my favorite foods is a big and juicy burger cooked to medium rare. Unfortunately, this is one of the hardest things to find in Abu Dhabi restaurants. Don’t get me wrong; there are plenty of places here where I can get my burger fix, from Shake Shack to the five star venues that serve Wagyu burgers and everything in between. However, they are often overpriced and overcooked (why is it so hard to get a medium rare burger around here?).
After a number disappointments, I finally gave up on eating burgers at restaurants in Abu Dhabi and started to make my own. Since I like my burger patties without any spices or binders or extra flavorings, the choice of meat is very important. I want the meat to shine on its own. So I splurged on the cut and went with an Angus rib-eye. To make a good burger, you need quite a bit of fat. Rib-eye is already quite fatty but I supplemented the fat content with some short rib (30% of the meat mixture). I got the butcher to freshly grind the meat for me. When I got home I formed the patties, making sure to put a dimple in the center so the patties don’t puff up when you cook them:
Now for the wine. I can’t think of a better wine to match with a burger than a zinfandel! Zinfandel is a robust red wine from California. A lot of people tend to confuse this with blush zinfandel, which tends to be undrinkably awful. In contrast, red zinfandel is a much more complex wine with intense flavors. I have a 2012 Turley Fredericks from Sonoma Valley. This is a beautiful wine with ripe dark fruit, spice, and a slight hint of sweetness – this is not a sweet wine by any means but zinfandels characteristically have a hint of sweetness that comes from the grapes. There are also some really nice and velvety tannins. This is such a lovely wine!
My friends who joined me for dinner brought over delicious homemade buns for the burgers (baked by @uneebgram).
And I made some homemade mayonnaise, which is exponentially more delicious than the store-bought kind.
I wanted to try various flavors with the wine so I decided to opt for smaller, slider sized burgers, each with a different topping.
From the right, the first one has feta and beetroot juice infused caramelized red onions:
The second is topped with Wensleydale cheese from North Yorkshire, which is a blue cheese made from cow’s milk:
And finally the third has cheddar, sauteed mushrooms, and fried quail’s egg:
All three sliders were paired fabulously the zinfandel! The burger patty is perfectly rich and fatty: just what you need to pair with a tannic wine. The pairing simultaneously enhances both the food and the wine. First, the tannins in the wine work to cut through the fat in the food; and second, the proteins in the beef are just what you need to soften the tannins (though the Fredericks is already so smooth and velvety that there isn’t much softening that needs to be done).
The toppings allows each slider to work with the wine in a slightly different way. In the first slider, the sweetness of the beetroot infused caramelized red onions mirrors the ripe fruit aromas of the wine as well as complementing the ever slight hint of sweetness in the wine.
In the second slider, the blue cheese adds more robustness to the flavors of the burger and marries well with the sweet elements in the wine (Sweet + blue cheese = heaven). Blue cheese pairs wonderfully with sweet wines and I would not pair it on its own with a dry and tannic red wine (even though I talk about sweet tones in the zinfandel, this is still very much a dry wine). However, I use the blue cheese as a flavor enhancer in the burger. And as an element that adds more power to the dish, it enhances the pairing as zinfandel is quite a robust wine – you should always opt for an equality of intensity between the wine and the food – without the saltiness of the blue cheese turning the tannins bitter (Salt + tannins = no bueno). And as it turns out, the fruitiness of the zinfandel actually works well to contrast and balance the pungent flavors of the blue cheese.
Finally, the sharp cheddar in the third slider also adds intensity to the flavors and mushrooms are always great for soaking up the tannins in wine and their earthiness always brings out the fruitiness in a wine (you could pair earthy mushrooms with earthy wines too. But pairing them with fruity wines creates a nice interplay of flavors).
As a side dish with burgers, you have to have french fries. I prepared some homemade fries made with sage and thyme. Even though I baked these in the oven, they came out so delicious and crispy that it was hard to tell they were not deep fried. You wouldn’t normally think of adding sage when making french fries but it worked superbly!
It was a lovely dinner that we ended on a sweet note with a delicious homemade dessert that my friends brought (baked by @jessicaelsbethe). Coconut and lime cheesecake with a ginger crust!
Delicious food, fantastic wine, and even better company!
Even Mr. Cuteness wanted to get in on the burger action.