The Umami Burger from Chicago’s bopNgrill is a kind of culinary autobiography of Korean-American owner William Song. After combining Asian flavors with the classic American dish, the Cordon Bleu-trained chef lent his creation an extra personal dimension – and deep, complex flavors – by topping it with sun-dried tomato confit and truffled duxelles, or finely chopped mushrooms with garlic, onion (and his addition, truffle oil). Song says mushrooms in particular pack an umami punch, and pairing them with the tang of sun-dried tomatoes really brings out flavor. “You go to these burger joints all over America and they put sautéed mushrooms on top,” Song says. “That’s what we’re doing – just more detailed.” Note, though, that this burger requires a little extra prep time, about 25 to 45 minutes for the duxelles alone, but the patient cook will find it worth the wait. “Cook it slow so all the flavors can meld,” Song says.
Sun-dried tomato confit: • 6 tbsp sundried tomatoes in olive oil, minced • 4 tbsp minced garlic • 2 tbsp oil reserved from sun-dried tomatoes • 2 tbsp olive oil • Salt and pepper
Japanese togarashi mayonnaise: • 10 tbsp mayonnaise • 4 tbsp togarashi spice mixture • 2 tbsp lemon juice • 2 tbsp toasted sesame seeds, black or white • Salt and pepper
To make the duxelles, sauté garlic, onions, and mushrooms in truffle oil using low heat, 25–45 minutes; salt and pepper to taste. For confit, combine sun-dried tomatoes and garlic; sauté at low heat in olive oil and reserved sun-dried tomato oil, 15 minutes. Whisk mayonnaise, togarashi, lemon juice and sesame seeds; salt and pepper to taste. Grill burgers, top each with bacon, 4 tbsp duxelles and sliced gouda; let it remain on the heat until the cheese melts. Toast the bun on both sides; spread the cut side of top and bottom bun with mayonnaise, adding 1 tbsp of tomato confit to bottom. Place the burger on the bun, and serve.
“Japanese folks, we always marinate everything,” says Fukuburger chef and owner Colin Fukunaga. Hence the marinated patty, a staple of his Las Vegas food truck and Hollywood restaurant. But Fukunaga cautions that restraint is key. “Some people get too cute and all of a sudden it’s meatloaf,” he says. “You want to keep the essence of the meat.” Fukunaga recommends fledgling chefs test different marinade flavors and durations on a few mini patties before committing. He won’t divulge his own secret recipe, but he says that store-bought teriyaki will do the trick. Once you get that down, the next hurdle is figuring out how to avoid squirting yolk on your shirt. “When you’re eating it, push your face away from your body,” he says. “Have lots of napkins.”
Tomago Burger from Fukuburger (Makes 1 burger)
Burger: • White hamburger bun • 1 1/3 lb ground beef patty (marinated in a Japanese-style sauce, such as teriyaki) • 1 egg • 1/3 tsp tamago furikake spice mixture • 1/2 tsp teriyaki sauce
Crispy fried onions: • 1 yellow onion • 1 cup all purpose flour • Canola oil
Marinate the ground beef with Japanese flavors for a minimum of two hours and grill to desired doneness. Using a mandolin, slice onion into 1/4-inch-thick rounds. Dredge in flour, then fry in 375° canola oil till crispy and brown; place on paper towel to drain excess oil. Blend soy sauce and wasabi powder, then whisk into mayonnaise. Fry egg so that yolk remains soft and place atop patty; smear with teriyaki and sprinkle with furikake. Place burger and egg on toasted bun, top with fried onions and wasabi mayonnaise, and serve.
Umami Burger, from Umami Burger
None of the several components for Umami Burger’s famed Umami Burger are complicated to make. But faithfully re-creating one at home demands a well-stocked pantry (for things like anchovies, cider vinegar, soy sauce powder) and starting the oven-dried tomatoes the night before. For simplicity’s sake, Umami Burger owner Adam Fleischman advises home chefs to stray from the recipe and choose two flavorful ingredients for a manageable umami imitation.
Start with the patty: Grind dried mushrooms (Fleischman recommends porcini) in a coffee grinder, mix with salt and pepper and sprinkle on the burger. “Dried mushrooms are very high in umami,” Fleischman explains. The simplified umami dust, sold at umami.com, can be applied to the raw or cooked patty – Fleischman says he does both. “That, combined with the ketchup, would make a nice Umami burger without going through all the trouble.” If ambition gets the best of you, though, follow the recipe to a tee. Or pick from the complete burger’s signature elements: Parmesan crisps, umami ketchup, caramelized onions, sautéed mushrooms, and oven-dried tomatoes.
Fleischman makes one other recommendation for burgers of any style: Grind your own meat. “You never know what’s in ground beef when you buy it in the supermarket,” he says. You can use a variety of cuts, listed in the recipe, but Fleischman advises paying attention to the fat. “Choose something that has a nice marble. You don’t want anything too lean or too fatty.” Cube the meat and place it in the freezer for 20 minutes before grinding it in a food processor – cold meat will retain a chunky texture that allows oxygen to distribute flavor, rather than mushing together, Fleischman says.
Umami Burger, from Umami Burger (Makes 4 burgers)
Burgers: • 24 oz assorted cuts of well-marbled beef, such as short rib, flap, skirt, chuck, or hanger steak • 4 soft potato buns, sliced • 4 Parmesan crisps (recipe below) • 6 oz umami ketchup (recipe below) • 6 oz shiitake mushrooms, stemmed • Caramelized onions • 8 pieces oven-dried tomatoes (recipe below) • 1 tbsp butter • Vegetable oil
Parmesan crisps: • 3 oz Parmigiano-Reggiano • nonstick baking liner (Fleischman recommends Silpat sheet pan liner)
Umami ketchup: • 32 oz San Marzano tomatoes • 1 medium onion, chopped • 3 tbsp olive oil • 2 tbsp tomato paste • 1/2 cup dark brown sugar • 1/2 cup cider vinegar • 2 salted anchovies, cleaned and pureed • 1 tbsp salt • Worcestershire sauce • Oyster sauce • Tamari • Truffle salt
Carmelized onions: • 1 tbsp unsalted butter • 1 tbsp vegetable oil • 1/2 tsp salt • 2 tsp star anise • 2 lb onions, halved and cut across the grain into 1/4-inch-thick slices
Burgers: Grind beef coarsely in food processor. For each burger, place 6 oz meat into 4-inch ring mold, gently tap down to form, and place in refrigerator. Heat cast-iron skillet on high for 5 minutes, then grease lightly with vegetable oil. Season patties with salt and pepper, and sear each side for 3 minutes. Let rest.
In another skillet, melt half the butter and sauté mushroom caps until soft, 2 minutes. Wipe skillet and toast buns with the other half of the butter. Spread umami ketchup on both halves, place patties on bun and top with 1 tbsp caramelized onions, one Parmesan chip, 2 mushroom caps, and 2 slices oven-dried tomato.
Umami ketchup: Puree tomatoes and juice in blender. In a heavy saucepan, cook onion in oil over medium heat, 8 minutes. Add pureed tomatoes, tomato paste, brown sugar, vinegar, and salt; simmer uncovered, stirring occasionally until thick, 1 hour. Puree ketchup in blender until smooth. Chill covered overnight. Add umami seasonings to taste; chill until needed.
Caramelized onions: Heat butter and oil in pan on high, then stir in salt and star anise. Add onions and stir occasionally, 5 minutes. Reduce heat to medium; stir frequently until onions are deep brown, about 40 minutes.
Parmesan crisps: Coarsely shred 1 cup cheese. Line baking sheet with nonstick liner, arrange tablespoons of cheese 2 inches apart, and flatten with spatula to form 3-inch rounds. Bake in 375-degree oven until golden, 10 minutes. Cool 10 minutes, then transfer with metal spatula to rack until completely cooled.
Oven-dried tomatoes: Whisk ingredients together, brush on sliced tomatoes, and dry tomatoes overnight in oven on lowest setting.
Should you find this recipe too daunting, Umami Burger has created a line of fifth-flavor enhancers, including umami spice dust and ketchup, sold on the chain’s website alongside Red Boat fish sauce, HAK’s barbecue sauce, and other products hand-selected by Fleischman.
Dennis Lee's Namu Burger
Of all the Asian-influenced remakes of the hamburger – from L.A.’s shiitake-flavored Umami Burger to Chicago’s kimchee-and-cheddar-kissed BopNGrill Kimchee Burger – Dennis Lee’s Namu Burger stands above the rest. It’s little surprise considering the San Francisco chef’s specialty is Korean cuisine, a rich, rustic tradition that holds up as Asia’s great comfort food. Lee, who is Korean-American, grew up in his mother’s Japanese-Korean restaurant in Boston, mastering Asian flavors while also developing a fondness for McDonald’s and hot Italian subs. He grew his culinary bones in the upscale restaurant of Boston chef Ming Tsai and forged his own style pushing a hot dog cart around Golden Gate Park, experimenting with high-end sausages and kimchee and Japanese toppings. Now he runs Namu Gaji, a Korean street-food joint in San Francisco, where he has synthesized his experience into one of the all-time great burgers. Lee replaces the classic bread-and-butter pickles with the explosive flavors of kimchee and pickled daikon radish; red onions get turbocharged with a glaze of maple syrup, balsamic vinegar, and soy sauce. Spicy daikon sprouts sneak in a little heat, and the bun and beef fuse it all. The resulting masterpiece fits into what Lee calls, with a smile, “stoner food: crunchy, salty, and rich.”
Namu Burger at home
Most of the specialty ingredients here – like daikon radishes, aioli, and kimchee – can be found in any quality supermarket. For the rest, try an Asian specialty store or follow our listed alternatives.
Ingredients • 8 oz high-quality beef, ideally 20 percent fat and grass-fed • Little Gem lettuce, romaine hearts, or butter lettuce • Pickled daikon radish. To pickle daikon (the common white radishes available in most grocery story), peel and thinly slice, cover in rice vinegar, and lightly season with sugar and salt. Refrigerate for 48 hours. • Tomato • Extra-virgin olive oil • “Kaiware” sprouts (daikon sprouts). May be hard to find; alternatively, substitute raw, julienned daikon. • A dollop of aioli. You can buy this in a jar or follow a classic recipe using egg yolk, oil, lemon, garlic, salt, pepper, and vinegar. • Dijon mustard • Swiss cheese • Soy-glazed red onions. To make, slice 1 large red onion into 1/4-inch rounds, and sauté in a skillet in 1 tbsp canola oil over high heat. Add 1 tsp balsamic vinegar, 1 tsp maple syrup, and 1 tsp soy sauce. Set the heat to low and toss for several minutes. Set aside to cool. • Salt • Pepper • Kimchee relish • 1 tbsp pureed or minced kimchee • Brioche burger bun
Preparation Form beef into the shape of an indented hockey puck, with straight high walls and a thinner middle. (Burgers tend to blow up into balls when cooked.) Season both sides generously with salt only.
Cook in a hot iron skillet, flipping often until the meat has browned nicely. For a smokier flavor, grill over coals. Medium rare is best, especially with a grass-fed product.
Spread olive oil on the bun and grill both sides. Don’t let hot buns rest on each other – it makes them soft from the residual steam.
Assemble the burger from bottom to top: bun, mustard, onions, patty, cheese, kaiware, pickled daikon, lettuce, tomato, kimchee relish, aioli, bun. Place dollops of the aioli and relish so they spread naturally over the burger, rather than thinning across the bun. The same goes for the mustard on the bun bottom. As you build, drizzle the lettuce and tomato with olive oil, and season with salt and pepper.
The trick to more savory meat
The Namu Burger keeps its patty simple, with salt as its only seasoning. But you can add more savory goodness, or umami, before grilling. Here are the ingredients for making that everyday burger special.
Ingredients, for one 8 oz raw patty: • 1/2 tsp Vietnamese fish sauce (try Red Boat brand) • 1/2 tsp anchovy paste • 1 tbsp dried bonito flakes, minced • 1/2 tsp Worcestershire sauce