I probably shouldn’t admit this, but I went years and years without ever eating a hamburger, that most American of American specialties. I’m not completely sure why, though it probably had something to do with being so completely infatuated with other flavors that eating a hamburger seemed like a step backward. Then my daughter came along, and somehow we bonded over hamburgers. Not just any hamburgers, but ones that were so well executed that we could argue about whether they were the perfect burger. It remained our private debate, never spilling into my life as a professional chef — until I was asked to participate in one of those culinary challenges that have become part of every chef’s life nowadays, this one a hamburger challenge. I couldn’t imagine not weaving in some classic Mexican touches, crowd-pleasing flavors I knew could win a competition. Flavors like the traditional Mexican queso fundido, melted cheese with chorizo sausage and roasted peppers. So, for those very special moments, I offer my mash-up of the rich and delicious, gooey-melty queso fundido and a classic American burger. Cultural exchange never tasted better, unless, of course, it includes a big spoonful of roasted tomatillo salsa.
- 2 fresh poblano chilies
- 8 ounces fresh Mexican chorizo sausage, casing removed (about 1 cup)
- 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
- 1 medium white onion, sliced 1/4-inch thick
- 2 garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped
- 1 1/2 pounds ground chuck (chuck offers a beefy flavor and richness I like for special occasions; you can choose a leaner cut if that makes sense for you)
- 1 to 2 canned chipotle chilies en adobo, seeded if you wish, finely chopped
- 8 thick slices monterey jack cheese
- 4 Hamburger buns, lightly toasted
For the burger
Roast the chilies over an open flame or close up under a preheated broiler, turning them regularly, until evenly blackened and blistered, about 5 minutes for an open flame, 10 minutes for the broiler. Place in a bowl, cover with a kitchen towel and cool until handle-able. Rub off the blackened skin, pull out the seedpods and scrape out the seeds. Rinse briefly to remove any stray seeds and bits of blackened skin. Cut into ¼-inch strips.
Set a large (10-inch) skillet over medium heat. Add the chorizo and cook, stirring to break up the clumps, until it is beginning to brown and is cooked through, about 10 minutes. Scrape onto a plate lined with paper towels and let cool. Return the skillet to medium heat, measure in the oil and add the onion. Cook, stirring regularly, until it is soft and beginning to caramelize, about 7 minutes. Stir in the garlic and poblano and cook for 2 minutes. Taste, season with salt, usually about ½ teaspoon, scrape the rajas into a bowl and cover to keep warm.
In a large bowl, combine the ground beef, the cooled chorizo and the chipotles. Mix thoroughly but lightly (to keep from turning out an overly compact texture). Divide into 4 portions, lightly pressing them into patties the size of your buns.
Heat a gas grill to medium-high on one side, medium on the other, or light a charcoal fire and let it burn until the charcoal is covered with white ash and quite hot, then bank the coals to one side.
Lay the hamburger patties on the hottest side of the grill and cook until the grill grate has seared beautiful marks on one side, about 2 minutes, then flip and cook until the hamburgers are a little less done than you like (usually a couple of minutes longer for rare to medium-rare). Move the burgers to the cooler side of the grill. Lay one piece of cheese on each burger, top with a portion of the warm rajas and then another piece of cheese. Close the lid and continue cooking until the cheese has melted, about 1 minute. Remove from the grill and place on the toasted buns. Serve immediately.