In certain parts of the United States (the parts that don’t know what “English” means, apparently), McDonalds is testing a new burger called the English Pub Burger. As could probably be surmised, the sandwich is anything but English.
According to marketing materials, the burger consists of “1/3 lb of 100 percent Angus beef, hickory-smoked bacon, white cheddar and American cheese, grilled onions, tangy steak sauce and smokey Dijon mustard sauce all housed on an artisan roll.”
— Huffington Post Food
At least the beef is from a Scottish breed of cow, and Scotland is part of Great Britain. But American cheese? Dijon (french) mustard?
Okay, I probably shouldn’t pick on McDonalds. They’re not exactly known for upholding high culinary art. I’m sure this sandwich is very tasty, if you ignore the name. But I thought I’d take the opportunity to brainstorm a true English pub burger.
Coming up with a burger, or any dish that sums up a country, is difficult. Every country has different regions, which possess different culinary styles, and different local ingredients at their disposal. So lets narrow down the field a bit, and consider a burger with McDonalds’ original framework.
Angus beef is an acceptable foundation — especially considering “Angus” has become synonymous to “good beef” to most Americans. (Snobs will point out that Kobe or Kobe-style beef might rank higher, but not everyone knows about that.) Most Angus beef in the US is grain fed, which tends to lead to fattier meat. But most beef in the UK is grass-fed, producing leaner meat and a more subtle flavor. So, for something to truly be an English burger, we would need to start with lean, grass-fed beef.
I have a feeling that this would catch a lot of people off guard. Often when you see a recipe for burgers, it calls for the highest meat/fat ratio you can get — the fat helps bind the burger together and adds an amazing amount of flavor. If that’s the kind of burger you’re after, you can always add additional fat to the meat you’re grinding. I’ve found that isn’t always necessary, though — leaner burgers still have great flavor. They’re just not grease-dripping, finger-coating orgasmic.
I’m not sure what an “artisan roll” is supposed to be. You don’t need to get fancy with the bread used for a burger. You want it to be substantial enough to stand up to the (often moist) ingredients, and to be pliable enough so that when you take a bite, the ingredients don’t shoot out the other side like some sort of bread-based meat cannon. The best choice is probably a soft, savory (i.e. no sweeteners added) whole wheat roll.
The classic answer here would be cheddar. That’s certainly a good bet, and is well known as a traditional English cheese. If you go that route, I would make sure it’s sharp or extra sharp so that you can actually taste the cheese against the other strong-flavored ingredients — another curious oversight by McDonalds in their use of mild white cheddar and American cheeses.
If you wanted to be a bit more exotic, you could use Cotswold cheese (aka pub cheese), which is a Double Gloucester cheese blended with chives and green onions. It has a hearty flavor that takes McDonalds’ cheddar/American/grilled onions trio to the next level.
At this point we have a pretty solid burger. Not much needs to be added to push it over the top. McDonalds uses both mustard and steak sauce, but that seems a little excessive. I would opt for one or the other — specifically, Colman’s English Mustard (which goes great with both beef and cheese) or brown sauce (just enough to add some savory notes; it shouldn’t be the only thing you taste).
You could add bacon if you want, but it probably isn’t necessary. If you do, it should be pork back bacon. Most American bacon is made from the fatty pork belly.
Lettuce and tomato are always a nice addition to a burger, both of which would help cut some of the saltiness from the other ingredients.
That’s it. It’s pretty simple, but that lets each component stand up and be recognized as you’re eating it. And really, isn’t that part of the point of creating a meal that highlights a region’s flavors?
Now I really want a burger…