Five Burger Tasting Notes From An Expert
Illustration by Ms Anje Jager
Shake Shack director Mr Mark Rosati explains how to make the perfect burger.
When it comes to the hamburger, it’s safe to say that Mr Mark Rosati knows his stuff. Having served since 2007 as culinary director for restaurant chain Shake Shack, he’s spent almost a decade travelling the globe gathering inspiration for his company’s simple yet delicious sandwiches – now available in more than 90 locations across the globe. For his latest creation, the Yard Burger, which launches at Shake Shack in London today, he worked with Neal’s Yard Dairy to find the perfect cheese (a Colston Bassett Stilton) and then developed a thick, crunchy and spicy pickled onion relish to go with it, “to clean the palate and not make it feel so rich and heavy”.
So who better, then, to offer an opinion on the platonic ideal of the burger, as we head into a few months that are (hopefully) set to be full of the things? “I think it should be as simple as possible,” says Mr Rosati. “It should never take away from the centre, the hallmark of any great burger, and that’s the meat. Scroll down for Mr Rosati’s guide to appreciating the burger…
A good burger, says Mr Rosati, has a particular heft to it. When tasting, he considers this before even taking a bite:
“The first thing I do is look at it, maybe squish the bun a little, and see if any juices come out… I want to see juices. I also like to feel the weight of the meat in the bun. You should feel the meat as you press into the bun.”
Burger tastes vary across the world, says Mr Rosati. The Brits, for example, favour sweet sauces and relishes, while the Americans are more about vinegar and mustards. Where parties on both sides of the Atlantic make it work, however, is when they balance out the taste of the burger, so not one flavour is paramount.
“Once it’s all in balance, those are the best experiences. Your palate is happy, it’s not saying it’s either too salty or too sweet. But, of course, as soon as something is missing, you always notice.”
Shackburger. Photograph courtesy of Shake Shack
“I love crunch,” says Mr Rosati. This was made clear in the burger he created for the recent Action Against Hunger auction in London on 26 May, featuring a pork crackling filling. “I don’t always go as crunchy as I did then… that was an extreme version of it,” he says. “But bacon, I love bacon.”
So how crunchy should a burger be? The key is in the contrast – a soft bun, perfectly balanced by bacon (or another ingredient) that has a crunch to it in the middle. Getting the bacon right is a fine art in itself, “I like it to be thick cut, so you can cook the outside and get it crunchy, but the inside is very soft and juicy,” says Mr Rosati.
A good burger is often ruined by a bad bun. “I can’t tell you how many buns we tried in the early days,” says Mr Rosati. The key to getting it right, he says, is in achieving an optimum bread-to-patty ratio. “When we found a bun that was very soft – cradles the meat, absorbs the juices, is complementary, doesn’t take away from the meat – we thought, this is what we must do,” he says. Shake Shack’s patties are on the small side, but for a bigger burger, “the bun should be big and soft,” says Mr Rosati. “I like the ones with a glaze on the outside, they’re kind of shiny.”
The Yard Burger. Photograph courtesy of Shake Shack
Part of Mr Rosati’s job is making each branch of Shake Shack feel like a different restaurant – hence local specials such as the Yard Burger. This leads us to a key truth: part of being a good burger is that you can’t get it anywhere. Mr Rosati reminisces in particular about a giant burger he ate as a child, on holiday in Quebec. “These guys had what turned out to be the biggest burger, or so they claimed, in all of Canada. It looked like a wheel,” he says. “I think that’s memorable, and I would not want to eat that anywhere else. There’s something beautiful about that moment. So it kind of was like a culinary souvenir.”
Bonus: the two-napkin trick
Tasting a burger is all well and good, but how should you actually eat it? Mr Rosati has a key tip for all those that have found themselves popping out at lunch for a casual sandwich, and returning covered in ketchup with onion-scented fingers. Let’s call it the “Two Napkin Trick”. Primarily because it involves two napkins.
“I have one on my lap and one on the table,” says Mr Rosati. “The first is to protect my clothing, and then as I keep going in, I’ll keep on patting my hands and wiping them off here. Because if you wipe them on the one down here, this is where you get dirty. And you go off to use the restroom and you come back and throw it back on your lap the wrong way… I’ve seen that go bad a few times.” Shudder.