© Copyright 1995-2017, Clay Irving <email@example.com>, Manhattan Beach, CA USA
|Subscribe in a reader|||||
Recipe from: Building the perfect burger, part 2: A local classic, The Herald-Dispatch, September 19, 2008
Servings: 6 burgers
I spent my middle- and high-school years being told by friends and family that Jim's Steak & Spaghetti House in downtown Huntington [West Virginia] was the best restaurant in the city. Best spaghetti, best fish sandwich, best cheeseburgers, best pie. I doubted them: I have been to "local legend" restaurants before. Plenty have been impressive, and plenty have been despicable.
Also, Jim's is one of those places that seems too good to be true. Not much has changed since 1938, except for one remodel, which was done in the 1960s. When was the last time you visited a restaurant and your server wore a starched-white uniform, everything in sight was faultlessly clean, and the table was set with butter crackers and pats of butter? (Does anyone alive still put butter on crackers?) The menu lists, under appetizers, a glass of tomato juice, and lima beans are still occasionally a vegetable of the day.
I'm happy to report that Jim's isn't too good to be true — it's the real deal.
OK, so I haven't tried the legendary, secret-recipe spaghetti, or the hand-battered fish used for the sandwiches, or a steak. What I have tried is their cheeseburger, almost as famous as the spaghetti, and so good that after six or seven visits, I still don't care if I ever order anything else.
The cheeseburger begins as a thin patty, similar to what you get to McDonald's, except freshly-cooked and (sorry Mickey D's) much improved taste-wise. This is placed between two slices of plain white sandwich bread with a slice of American cheese, some dill pickle chips, a thin slice of onion, and a smear of mustard, then the sandwich is put back on the same griddle and browned on both sides, like a grilled cheese (why do I get the feeling that every cardiologist who reads my column just left the room?).
It's not a fancy cheeseburger, but in its own way, it is absolutely perfect and unimprovable. Served with hot crinkle-cut French fries and a Coca-Cola served over crushed ice, then followed by a slice of chocolate cream pie so good that it will make your toes curl, it is my idea of the perfect lunch.
Enclosed this week is my method for coming as close as you can to a Jim's cheeseburger at home, without the ancient griddle. Make them at home as often as you like (leaving enough time to freeze the patties before cooking), but please, if you have the chance, go to Jim's. It really is like no place else.
1 pound ground chuck
salt and pepper to taste
6 slices plain white sandwich bread
6 American cheese singles, unwrapped
6 thin slices sweet onion
Dill pickle chips (as many or as few as you like, but the more on the sandwich, the messier)
Softened unsalted butter or margarine as needed
Lay down a large sheet of plastic wrap on the counter and place the ground chuck in the center. Form it into a rectangle, then pat out the rectangle with your fingers into a larger rectangle that is about ¼-inch-thick. Use a sharp knife to cut the rectangle in half the long way, then cut each half across into three sections. Remove the hamburgers and plastic wrap to a cookie sheet and place in the freezer for 1 hour.
At this point, the hamburgers can be individually wrapped in additional plastic wrap and then two layers of aluminum foil, and frozen. They can be cooked as needed, one or two at a time.
To prepare cheeseburgers, put a large skillet over high heat. When the skillet is good and hot, add the frozen hamburgers, straight off the plastic wrap. Salt and pepper to taste. Cook for about 5-8 minutes, turning once or twice, or until brown on both sides and just cooked through. Remove the cooked hamburgers to a plate.
Take the skillet off the heat, let it cool, and wipe it out.
For each cheeseburger, place an American cheese single on a piece of sandwich bread. Top with a hamburger, a slice of onion, a few pickle chips, and a squeeze of yellow mustard, in that order. Add the second slice of bread. Repeat with remaining ingredients.
Put the skillet over medium heat. Butter the top slice of bread of each sandwich and set the sandwiches butter side down in the skillet. Butter the top slices of bread that are now facing up.
Cook the sandwiches for about 5-8 minutes per side, turning once, or until each side is crispy and golden brown. Once you have flipped the sandwiches once, press down on each with the spatula so that they will stick together when served.
Slice each sandwich in half, corner-to-corner, and serve piping hot with crinkle-cut French fries or potato chips.