It has been four weeks since I last posted. The reason is no lack of enthusiasm for encouraging you to entertain at home more. It is that I still have a day job. My day job involves assisting in the management of Frog Commissary — especially our efforts at The Franklin Institute. The past six weeks have been especially busy with the opening of the Cleopatra exhibit and two new seasonal restaurants that we are operating there. These restaurants are Frog Burger and Cleo’s Portico. Starting this week I will get back to more regular posts. See the end of this blog for exciting plans for summer blogging.
Frog Burger is a no-frills hamburger and shake stand open during the summer months into fall on the front lawn of The Franklin Institute. It is near the familiar stainless steel airplane, overlooking the Parkway and Logan Square. In addition to hamburgers and turkey burgers, our menu includes Chesapeake Crab Rolls, Grilled Hot Dogs, Fries — including Garlic Fries and Jalapeno Fires — Fried Green Tomatoes, Gazpacho, Corn & Sweet Pepper Salad, Cole Slaw, the original Commissary Carrot Cake and Killer Cake Bars, thick Bassett’s ice cream milkshakes including shakes that include blended in carrot cake or killer cake plus Fresh Lemonade, Iced Tea and Hibiscus Agua Fresca. (Not bad for a little tent.)
People who remember the logo of our Frog Restaurant may remember the two dots over the “O.” It was never clear to people that those two dots represented the frog’s eyes — a very zen-looking frog. Two dots are reprising with the Frog Burger logo though we have tried to make the “eye-ness” more obvious and playful.
Part of the process of planning Frog Burger was to select a burger blend. Over a period of three weeks, at four different blind tasting sessions, our panel tasted — and often re-tasted 18 burger blends. A blind tasting means that panelists were unaware of what they were tasting. Blends ranged from supermarket-sourced to blends from New York’s premium meat supplier for restaurants. From the outset I established that we wanted a “backyard” burger that balanced “bib-worthy” juiciness, texture and taste. We also wanted “back-yard” friendly pricing.
Fundamental to a great burger is adequate fat content. An 80-20 blend — 80 percent meat to 20 percent fat — is the essential component of juiciness. So, all of our blends shared that component. Other components that affect taste and texture include the cuts used to make the blend and the manner of grinding the meat. Our more “exotic” blends included various combinations of skirt steak, brisket and oxtail, and, of course, chuck. Chuck is the humble foundation of most “supermarket” blends.
The panel consisted of myself, James and Lydia, our Executive Chef and Sous Chef, Larry, our Director of Operations, and my son Noah, with whom I am working on Frog Burger and Cleo’s Portico. We had an occasional “guest panelist.” Our panel’s tasting sheets included columns for our three criteria — juiciness, texture and taste — and panelists were asked to rank each component of each blend from 1 to 5. At the conclusion of each session, we discussed our reactions to each blend. It was often easy to agree on what to eliminate. The poor buger usually stood out. Usually a session ended with agreement to include two or three blends in a second round. As the process continued I came to believe that the hype about special burger blends was a bit of the kings new clothes. Here was a group of pretty serious burger tasters and it was rare to find any enthusiasm for the more expensive blends. (At the end of each tasting the blends were revealed.) Occasionally a panelist would speak in behalf of some more exotic taste that we assumed to be from the more exotic side of the ledger, but it was rare to find many allies for that burger to make it into the next round. Only one of the “better blends” hunf around through the final tasting though was on no one’s top choice.
At the conclusion of the process, a simple “house blend” from Esposito’s — located in the Italian Market was the winner. It was actually the second least expensive of the blends that we considered and only 60% of the cost of the fanciest blends.
In the end, a great backyard burger has most to do with the fat content — an 80-20 blend, how you make the patty — the less you handle the meat the better the texture — a very hot fire to create a nice char on the burger — and the care taken to cook your burger to the correct doneness. At Frog Burger we cook burgers to medium unless specified. With anything beyond medium you can say good-bye to juicy. With regard to the fat content, remember that a fair amount of that fat cooks away. It is also worth the effort to toast the roll — a step many a backyard cook skips. The roll does not need to be warm so just lightly pre-toast the rolls to form a crust. The crust keeps the roll from absorbing too much juice and getting soggy. We use Martin’s Potato Rolls — often available at supermarkets. Our burgers are served with lettuce, tomato and red onion on the side.
Among the burger condiments available are flame grill jalapenos and pickled red onions. The recipe for pickled red onions are featured in At Home. The recipe is from The Zuni Cafe Cookbook and printed with permission of the publisher. The Zuni Cafe is Judy Rodgers great San Francisco restaurant. Her cookbook also has her quintessential burger recipe that involves pre-salting the burger meat. Rogers’ section on The Practice of Salting Early is among the most useful cookbook advice I have ever encountered. Because I don’t have permission from the publisher beyond At Home, I can’t post the recipe here. I strongly recommend Zuni Cafe’s Pickled Red Onions from At Home for your next backyard barbecue…or visit Frog Burger the next time you are around 20th & The Parkway. Frog Burger is open daily from 11:30 AM to dusk.
One last note about Frog Burger. Our “signature burger” is the LOVE Burger, a “don’t eat this too often” cholesterol-laden affair that includes a juicy burger nestled between two grilled-and-pressed cheese sandwiches — the bread and cheese fuses — and adorned with lettuce, tomato and our “special sauce” — a sort of Russian-dressing with chopped bacon — just in case you feel cholesterol deprived. Eating a Frog Burger is an amazing experience — even if you do it only once.
Look for news about Cleo’s Portico in my next blog.
Featured Chef on Cookstr.com this Saturday, June 26th
On Saturday, June 26th I will be Cookstr.com‘s featured Chef of the Day. Cookstr.com is a web-based recipe source — “home of the best recipes from great cookbooks by acclaimed chefs and authors.” This is an honor and an exciting step in my efforts to spread the word about At Home. A series of At Home recipes will be featured on Cookstr.com. Check me out on Saturday.
Manou At BAC
Christina and I are on our way to New York this afternoon to attend the NY Premiere of Emmanuele Phuon’s work, Khmeropedies I + II at the Baryshnikov Art Center. Emmanuele is Manou, dear friend and wife of At Home illustrator, Pascal Lemaitre. Read At Home’s Postscript on Page 498 to learn more about the origins of this remarkable dance performance and dance troupe. The performance will be repeated Friday and Saturday. For more information.
Here’s Manou’s recipe from At Home for her Boiled Chicken with Ginger Relish & Sticky Rice. It is surprisingly refreshing on a hot summer’s eve.
Manou’s Boiled Chicken with Ginger-Garlic Relish & Sticky Rice
This is about as far from your mother’s boiled chicken as Philadelphia is from Bangkok. Manou, a friend and also the wife of this book’s illustrator, Pascal, served this to us on a visit to Brussels. The chicken is removed from the bone and served with a potent swirl of chopped ginger and garlic. Simple, humble and delicious!
do ahead Chicken is best if made shortly before serving but it can be made up to two days ahead, refrigerated and refreshed in stock. Relish can be made up to four days in advance and stored in the refrigerator. Rice should be made just before serving.
1-inch piece of ginger, peeled and sliced
1 cup small-cubed ginger
5 garlic cloves, crushed,
1 cup small-cubed garlic
1 cup fresh cilantro, rinsed and divided
2 bird’s-eye chiles or 1⁄2 jalapeño, thinly sliced
1⁄2 cup chopped scallion
4-5 pound chicken
1⁄4 cup plus 3 tablespoons fish sauce, divided
1 tablespoons vegetable oil
11⁄2 teaspoons salt, sea salt preferred
3 cups jasmine rice or other long-grain rice
1 To cook chicken: Rinse chicken, place in a large pot and cover with at least 2 quarts water. Add sliced ginger, crushed garlic, 1⁄2 cup cilantro, chiles and 1⁄4 cup fish sauce. Bring to a slow boil and reduce heat to a simmer. Add back water as needed. Cook until meat falls off the bone, about 90 minutes. Remove chicken from pot and allow it to rest until it’s cool enough to handle. Remove skin and pull meat from bones, discarding bones. Skim fat from stock and set aside. You will use stock to make the relish and rice and to refresh chicken, so save at least 7 cups.
2 To make relish: In a small sauté pan, heat oil over moderate heat. Add cubed ginger and garlic and gently sauté to soften without browning, about 3 minutes. Add 3 tablespoons fish sauce and 1⁄2 cup reserved stock. Cook over moderate heat until liquid is reduced to a glaze, about 5 minutes. Set relish aside to cool.
3 To make rice: Rinse rice well in strainer until water runs clear. In a pot, combine rice with 41⁄2 cups reserved stock. Bring to a slow boil, cover, and reduce heat to very low until all water is absorbed, about 15 minutes. Allow to sit for 10 minutes before serving.
4 To serve: If chicken and stock are still warm, place chicken on platter and pour a little stock over it to moisten. If you cooked chicken well in advance and it is now cold, refresh chicken in a pot with stock over moderate heat until just warm. Add salt. Garnish with scallion and remaining cilantro leaves.
Serve with relish and rice on the side.
Summer Blogging Plans
Many of this summer’s blogs will focus on weekly visits to area farm stands and farmer’s markets. Though not a locavore zealot, I am a strong believer in using locally grown produce. Summer though early fall is the time to incorporate trips to your local farm stand or farmer’s market into your At Home plans. So, each week — more or less — I’ll visit another place and create a new recipe for the At Home blog. My posting will begin next week at Maple Acres Farm located in Plymouth Meeting. Followers of At Home will be familiar with Maple Acres. I particularly love the variety of eggplant available at Maple Acres and will provide you with an easy recipe for grilled eggplant.
Please help me identify farmer’s markets and farm stands to visit. I am looking for suggestions with 50 miles of Center City Philadelphia. Post your suggestions in Leave a Comment at the end of this At Home blog.
Thank you for visiting.
Your Home Entertaining Coach