Here’s a burger that will re-organise your whole concept about what a burger should be. In some parts it’s referred to as “The Blind Willie Johnson”, (sometimes, simply the “Blind Willie Special”). Here is a virtoso burger in every respect – a gustatory miracle that has been making converts of the disbelievers since the late 1930s. Though it has had plenty of imitators, the original concoction traces its roots back to the southern United States, though no one is quite sure exactly where. Various towns have claimed it as their own over the years, from Shreveport to Tupelo. The once-legendary, Macon cook, Big Mama Lorner, allegedly assisted in the successful completion of the Georgia Northern Railroad network by supplying endless amounts of these burgers to the construction gangs. The stories persists and grow more voluminous with every passing decade, and the actual truth as to its origins are probably lost in time.. The people who turned me onto this meal-in-a-bun used the name I use here, cos the bluesman, Blind Willie Johnson, reputedly copied down the recipe after enjoying two or three of these monsters one night in Knoxville. The cook supposedly told him it was based on a burger he’d first eaten in some dive in southern Texas.
When all is said and done I don’t really care where it comes from, and you won’t either. With a taste that’ll make you forget your name, leave your wife (or husband), and think you’ve died and gone to heaven, it proves once and for all that a great burger really is for those who dare to live life to the fullest.
Let’s make us some Blind WIllie Johnson Burgers, shall we?
• 1 large Spanish onion
• 2 garlic cloves
• 1 large red pepper
• 1 red chilli
• Half a bunch of celery
• 2 medium carrots
• 1kg good quality steak mince
• 1 egg
• 1 cup of Colman’s ‘ok’ sauce (Can be hard to find, try the world food aisle of a large supermarket. If you’re unsuccessful use HP sauce.)
• Dried Paprika
• Dried Thyme
• Salt and pepper
To make –
1. Peel, tail and top the carrots, de-base and de-string the celery of any fibrous strands, de-seed the red pepper and chilli, peel and tail the garlic. (Wow that’s a painful sentence to read!)
2. Cut all vegetables into a similar size and put into a roasting tray (also add the garlic). Drizzle olive oil over the vegetables and get your hands into it, making sure everything has a good coating. Cook in a preheated oven at 180°c for 15-20 minutes or until all vegetables are slightly browned and tender.
3. Once you’re there, blend all the vegetables together with a food processor or stick blender.
4. Drain the blended mix in a fine sieve; the mix needs to be as dry as possible so use a wooden spoon to push as much liquid from the mixture. Set aside the vegetable solids to cool completely.
5. In a mixing bowl add the mince and separate by hand so there are no large clumps. Add the egg (beaten) and the “OK” sauce as well as a good hit of salt, pepper, paprika and thyme. Throw your vegetable mix in and get your hands into it again, mixing thoroughly. If you gave very good quality steak mince from a butcher you trust, taste the mixture for seasoning and tweak to your taste.
6. Roughly fashion your patties by hand into the size you desire. This recipe makes quite a bit of mix so freezing excess is fine. If you are doing this make sure you cling wrap them individually.
7. When cooking; I seal the burgers in a very hot cast-iron pan with a little organic olive. When they’re nicely browned I finish them in a very hot oven until firm. If using decent steak mince bypass the oven and serve them still twitching. Try serving these in buns like the ones I talk about below, with melted gorgonzola and red onion jam, and fresh leafy lettuce – very sexy.
And what’s a great burger without a great bun!
Light Brioche Burger Buns Makes 8 4 to 5-inch burger buns
1 cup warm water
3 tablespoons warm milk
2 teaspoons active dry yeast
2 1/2 tablespoons sugar
2 large eggs
3 cups bread flour
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
2 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
Black and white sesame seeds and/or poppy seeds (optional)
1. In a glass measuring cup, combine one cup warm water, the milk, yeast and sugar. Let stand until foamy, about five minutes. Meanwhile, beat one egg.
2. In a large bowl, whisk flours with salt. Add butter and rub into flour between your fingers, making crumbs. Using a dough scraper, stir in yeast mixture and beaten egg until a dough forms. Scrape dough onto clean, well-floured counter and knead, scooping dough up, slapping it on counter and turning it, until smooth and elastic, 8 to 10 minutes. (You may also use a stand mixer for this, eliminating the need for a bench scraper – but bread from hand always tastes and feels better than bread from machine) You want the dough to remain slightly tacky, as the more flour you add, the tougher they will be when baked.
3. Shape dough into a ball and return it to bowl. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place until doubled in bulk, 1 to 2 hours.
4. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Using dough scraper, divide dough into 8 equal parts. Gently roll each into a ball and arrange two to three inches apart on baking sheet. Cover loosely with a piece of plastic wrap lightly coated in nonstick spray and let buns rise in a warm place for 1 to 2 hours.
5. Set a large shallow pan of water on oven floor. Preheat oven to 400 degrees with rack in center. Beat remaining egg with 1 tablespoon water and brush some on top of buns. Sprinkle with sesame seeds ( I used both sesame and poppy seeds), if using. Bake, turning sheet halfway through baking, until tops are golden brown, about 15 minutes. Transfer to a rack to cool completely.