Japanese consumers love limited editions so there was a lot of advertising and press interest when Burger King announced their Kuro (Black) Ninja burger in October. And this special edition was given its own mascot in the form of a cute cartoon ninja complete with black outfit and… a tongue stuck cheekily out! (No, I don’t know why, either…)

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I love BK Whoppers so when I learned that the Kuro Ninja was being launched during our recent holiday in Japan, I really wanted to seek it out.

On a day of eating that a hobbit would be proud of (during which we stopped for multiple breakfasts, multiple lunches and an enormous dinner), we finally tracked it down in Osaka.

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Most striking, of course, is the black bun, coloured with bamboo charcoal. It’s impressively black and with no discernible oddness of taste that we could detect.

Inside is a whopper patty, a round hash brown and a ridiculously long slab of thick bacon that lolls lewdly out from two sides. The regular lettuce, onions and sauce are complemented by Chaliapin sauce – this onion and garlic sauce is named for Russian opera singer Fyodor Ivanovich Chaliapin; during a visit to Tokyo in 1936, a steak and sauce dish was created for him by a hotel chef and has been named in his honour ever since.

Apparently, various of these elements have been seen before in some of Burger King’s earlier limited edition specials – the black bun also featured in 2012’s Kuro Burger, essentially a regular whopper but served with black ketchup (flavoured and coloured with garlic and squid ink); the bacon “tongue” was at the heart of Big Bacon Whopper, just a month or two before Kuro Ninja was available; and the Chaliapin sauce was a key component of the XT Steakhouse, a 2011 creation.

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What did we think? We liked it!

The balance of flavours and textures worked well enough. I found the hash brown made the burger a touch too big to eat easily; Pete had no such problem. The bacon tongue we folded inside, though that made the burger even bigger. Personally, I’d still choose a regular whopper over the Kuro Ninja… but I would really like to try the Kuro Whopper (no longer available) with its garlic and squid ink ketchup!

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Although the Kuro Ninja was advertised as ¥ 680 (burger only) / ¥ 830 (burger, fries and drink) the branch we went to in Osaka had increased the meal deal price to ¥ 1040 (about £7). But hey, we did get cute Kuro Ninja stickers for that too!

Read more of my Japan content, here.

Mar 222013
 

This gal has been wanting to visit Five Guys Burgers and Fries for donkey’s years.

Recently, I spent a few days Massachusetts for work. When the US team leader suggested we go there for our last lunch of the week  I nodded and grinned so enthusiastically I think I startled him!

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We grabbed a table, and a few little trays of peanuts – they’re complimentary and you help yourself from a huge bin just inside the door.

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Ordering was fast – I hardly had time to read the options before my turn at the counter came up.

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I chose a regular burger with pickle relish, pickles, mushrooms and grilled onions, the smallest portion offered of plain (rather than Cajun) fries and a regular soft drink. It came to just over $10 and I couldn’t finish it, though I enjoyed trying!

A nice touch is that all the toppings are included and you can choose as many of them as you like, right up to every single one, though I think that’d overload the burger so much it’d be impossible to eat!

Drinks are self-service from a machine. Your number is called when your food is ready to collect.

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As I expected, the burger was good. Very good. Really, very very good. Two meaty, juicy beef patties, generous portions of my chosen toppings and a sesame bun which just about held together to the end, though it was a close thing. A tasty, tasty burger!

Fries are served in cups but all of us found at least as many loose in the bags as in the (filled) cups. One or two cups between all five of us would have been plenty, though the rest were taken back for hungry colleagues at the office!

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Five Guys isn’t glamorous. Five Guys isn’t gourmet. Five Guys isn’t fancy.

It’s simple, greasy, comforting fast food done really well and I loved it!

 

Back in summer I shared my Pickleback Ice Lollies with the world. The reaction was mixed, with some readers horrified by the very idea but one of those who came down firmly on the “genius” side was Nicola Swift, Creative Food Director at The Ginger Pig.

To cut a fairly short story even shorter, we agreed on an exchange. I’d take in a bottle of (unfrozen) pickleback ice lolly and The Ginger Pig would help me create a custom burger mix for a burger to accompany the lollies. And they kindly offered to throw in a few other samples as well!

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At the Moxon Street branch, in Marylebone, one of the butchers showed me how to break down a side of beautifully aged beef into a variety of cuts.

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For my burger, I chose to combine chuck steak and fat, picanha and bone marrow.

I’ve come across picanha only through Brazilian steak restaurants, where it is a much prized cut. Not mentioned often here, the cut is called rump cap, also referred to as top sirloin or culotte in the US.

Beefy chuck was the main body of my burger mix, a cut that is affordable and good in flavour. Picanha is tender, juicy and gave more excellent flavour. Moistness in the finished burger was provided by the inclusion of bone marrow and added fat.

Once my cuts were finalised, the butcher passed them through the mincer twice to ensure they were not only properly minced but also well combined.

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With such a large volume of burger mince, I divided the mince into portions when I got home. We had the first burgers plain with freshly dug Yukon gold potatoes and butter. The flavour of the burgers was phenomenal! Moist and with just the right texture, they tasted absolutely fantastic!

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The next batch we had as burgers. For the buns, Pete used this trusty Tom Herbert recipe.

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Buns, pickled gherkins, raw red onion, fresh tomato and some mustard ketchup was all the beautiful patties needed.

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Fantastic burgers and definitely better than any single-cut burger mince we’ve used before.

Of course, the pickleback ice lolly I had afterwards hit the spot too, though Pete continues to insist they’re crazy rather than genius!

 

With thanks to The Ginger Pig for the custom burger mix and other samples.Hope you enjoyed the lollies, but am sure I got the best end of the swap!

 

One of the many great street food traders at Food Blogger Connect 2012 was Tongue N Cheek.

Usually at Eat Street, King’s Cross, owners Cristiano and Kirie Meneghin sell tasty food making use of underappreciated cuts of meat. As well as burgers and ox tongue rolls, the menu also includes Italian-inspired dishes, such as the ox cheeks with caramelised onions and polenta.

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As you can see, I was pretty darn pleased with myself when I got my hands on this Heartbreaker burger with pork belly, gorgonzola and other Tongue N Cheek condiments.

The patty is ox heart mixed with other well-aged cuts of beef to create an incredibly succulent texture and wonderfully rich beefy flavour. Even against the silky pork belly and pungent gorgonzola, this patty held it’s own.

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It’s a fabulous burger, and what’s more, it’s not trying to recreate what anyone else is doing. It forges its own utterly tasty path.

 

Dave aka Cork Gourmet Guy is a friend of mine and he’s also a bloody good chef. So when he announced his Burger Breakout popup, it went straight into the diary.

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It was hosted at 06 St Chad’s Place, a stunning space that was once a train repair shed and has been transformed by the architectural group that own it. It was a great venue from the customer point of view but I know that very limited kitchen space and, more importantly, cold storage, made it difficult for Dave and his kitchen helpers.

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Dave had designed 5 burgers, all priced at £11 including a side portion of chips. Deep fried pickles, burger slaw and extra chips could also be ordered.

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Perhaps a little overexcited by the arrival of summer, after so many months of rain, I ordered an entire (enormous) pitcher of Pimm’s for myself. Various beers were available at the bar, and the normal range of other stuff.

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Pete and I shared two burgers, the first of which was named The Bambi Bought It. Served in Dave’s choice of sourdough bun (for stability), this was a juicy Cornish venison patty with beetroot pickle, Cornish brie and Dave’s rather special quince & chocolate BBQ sauce. The sauce was thick, like Marmite, or perhaps closer to tar, and very intense, but worked superbly against the sweet sharp pickle and creamy cheese. The chips were a little over salted for me, but still excellent.

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Our second burger was The Whiskey Beast. (Dave used Jim Beam, I think, so yes, whiskey with an “e”. Plus he’s Irish, so you know, fair play!) This one, also in the sourdough bun, contained a dry aged Cornish beef patty, smoked bacon, Cornish blue cheese and Dave’s whiskey mustard. Perfectly cooked beef, a good balance of condiments and that sweet sharp kicker of mustard sauce, with just the faintest hint of whiskey, this was also a bloody good burger!

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The burger slaw didn’t work for me – too much mustard and not enough crunch. But the deep fried deli pickle in dill batter more than made up for it, served piping hot, these were intensely juicy and sharp with the lovely crisp coating of batter. I’d have preferred smaller pieces, to get slightly more batter to pickle, but they were superb as was.

 

Meat and fish were provided by Cornish Grill, suppliers of Cornish produce to London restaurants. They’ve also hosted a series of popups themselves over the last few months.

 

To keep up to date with further Burger Breakout dates, follow Dave on twitter or subscribe to his blog.

 

I’ve been thinking about this question recently, not least because I was sent two different burgers to review, and I was also asked what my ultimate burger would be by Donald Russell.

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Broadly, there are three aspects to a burger – the meat patty, the bun and the various condiments served inside or with it.

The Patty

This is a contentious one, especially with my friends across the pond, many of whom insist that any patty that contains more than minced beef and seasoning is a not a burger at all, and might better be described as a flattened meatball!

I’ll have to agree to disagree as I happily enjoy both pure-beef burger patties as well as ones with all kinds of other ingredients mixed in. Since I eat the latter in burger baps, with burger condiments they are, as far as I’m concerned, burgers!

Pure Beef Patties

If I want a pure beef patty, then I don’t see the point of buying mince just to add salt, pepper and shape it myself, and I’m certainly too lazy to buy a steak and mince it myself, so we usually get ready-made patties from Waitrose – their Aberdeen Angus ones to be specific. These are pretty good and we’d not thought much about alternatives, until recently.

The Donald Russell patties we were sent didn’t measure up well against the Waitrose Aberdeen Angus ones. Cooked to medium in our normal way, they were chewy, a touch dry and under-seasoned. We were disappointed with them.

A few weeks previously, we were also sent some Waitrose Heston Ultimate Beef Burgers to review. I was dubious because, at the end of the day, they were still made of beef, so how much better (if at all) could they possibly be, really?

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I read the blurb. It informed me that Heston has created a blend of three different cuts of (British) beef which, minced especially to ensure that the meat’s grain sits vertically within the burger. The cuts used are chuck and brisket, finely minced, plus 28 day aged fore rib, minced less finely to add texture. Plus seasoning and that’s it. The burgers are based on the recipe Heston developed for his In Search Of Perfection TV show.

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To my surprise, we absolutely loved Heston’s Ultimate burgers. The flavour and texture were exceptionally good and they retained moisture very well. We thought they were significantly better than any other pure-beef patty we’ve tried; in fact we liked them so much that, despite the price tag of £4.49 for 2 burgers (weighing 125 grams each), we’ve bought them twice since and will continue to buy them regularly for as long as they’re available. (Note, because they don’t shrink like cheaper burgers, we’ve found one burger in a bun each to be sufficient for a satisfying meal).

Recipe Patties

It seems that there are as many recipes for burger patties, the kind containing more than just beef, as there are burger eaters. OK, this is probably an exaggeration but only a slight one!

In the past, we’ve enjoyed Pete’s mum’s recipe which combines minced beef, raw onions, pork sausage meat and seasoning. And we’ve made cheese burgers with the cheese inside rather than on top; blue cheese is my choice for this. We’ve also been inspired by Nigel Slater to add East Asian ingredients to flavour beef, pork and chicken patties and even to cook them in a bath of stock, in the oven.

But the recipe I’m recommending for my ultimate burger is a Felicity Cloake one, part of her “How To Cook The Perfect…” series (which earned Felicity one of two well-deserved awards from the Guild of Food Writers this year). (See below for recipe).

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We particularly loved the flavours and moistness added by the stout and the lightly caramelised onions. These were seriously good burgers!

By the way, we used some Donald Russell mince for these patties, which we were sent at the same time as the burgers, and thought it had a decent fat content and flavour, so worked well for making burgers.

The Bun

I am torn between the brioche bun (which adds a lovely hint of sweetness and also looks spiffing) and a regular white burger bap.

What is definite is that it must be soft, soft, soft.

I hate burger buns with a crust and using ciabatta (or any other trendy loaf) is a no-no.

But nor must it be so soft that it disintegrates while eating the burger, leaving soggy smears of bun remnants and a virtually bare burger between your fingers!

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As Pete isn’t a fan of brioche, we opted for white and our favourite baker, Tom Herbert, came to the rescue and emailed over his ultimate burger bap recipe. It produces the perfect white burger buns – soft, with a lovely crumb and yet robust enough to remain in one piece while eating. (See below for recipe).

The Condiments

This one’s a bit of a free for all as there are many condiments people like in their burgers from a variety of pickles and relishes to cheese (American processed or real) to rashers of bacon, fried onions, fried mushrooms, onion rings and then there’s the question of sauces and salad…

In our ultimate burgers, we both went for romaine lettuce (picked fresh from the garden), thinly sliced red onion and some of my home-made pickled gherkins. In addition, Pete added thinly sliced tomato and I added sliced, fried mushrooms and a basic marie rose sauce (tomato ketchup + mayonnaise mixed).

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On a cheaper burger, I might add stronger flavours such as bacon, chilli con carne, cheese or pesto but on a great burger, much less in the way of condiments are necessary, I think.

Felicity Cloake’s Perfect Burger

12 patties

Ingredients
1 tablespoon oil or butter
1 large onion, finely chopped
1kg roughly minced chuck steak (or any non-lean mince)
100 ml stout
2 tablespoons brown breadcrumbs
2 teaspoons chopped herbs (parsley or thyme work well)
1 teaspoon salt
Black pepper

Note: we used Meantime London Stout, white breadcrumbs and fresh thyme.

  • Heat the oil in a frying pan over a low heat, and cook the onion until soft and slightly browned. Leave to cool.

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  • Spread the beef out and sprinkle over the onion. Add the stout, breadcrumbs, herbs and seasoning and mix together with a fork, being careful not to overwork it.

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  • Divide the meat into 12 flattish burgers, putting a dimple in the centre of each. Cover and refrigerate for an hour.

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  • Cook the burgers on a medium to hot barbecue or griddle pan: leave them undisturbed for the first 3 minutes so they build up a good seal on the bottom, then carefully turn them over, adding a slice of cheese on top if desired. Cook for a further 4 minutes for rare, and 7 for well done, and allow to rest for a few minutes before serving.

Tom Herbert’s Ultimate Burger Bap

Makes 10 baps

Ingredients
500g strong white flour
200ml milk (tepid)
100ml water (tepid)
25g castor sugar
25g lard
25g sourdough (omit if necessary)
10g salt
5g dried yeast (or 10g fresh yeast)
Egg, beaten (optional, for wash)
Sesame seeds (optional)

  • Weigh all the ingredients into a bowl and mix thoroughly.
  • Knead for 10 minutes until your dough is soft and elastic.
  • Leave to rise in a covered bowl for an hour in a warm place.
  • Divide the dough into 10 pieces and pin out 10cm baps on a floured surface.
  • Place on a baking trays with baking paper on.
  • Brush some beaten egg over each bap.
  • Leave them in a warm place for half an hour.
  • Brush with a second coat of beaten egg.
  • Sprinkle a pinch of sesame seeds onto each bap.
  • Leave for a further half hour to rise.
  • Meanwhile pre heat your oven too 230 degrees Celsius.
  • Bake your baps until they are perfectly golden (about 10-15mins).

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Note: We omitted the sesame seeds and egg wash. We were still rewarded with beautifully risen, evenly textured white baps that were pillowy soft but didn’t disintegrate whilst eating our burgers.

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