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Swimming outdoors is amazing.  Especially in cold water.  I’ve had many a dip in remote mountain lakes, the perfect reinvigouration after a sweaty climb.  It’s an indescribable feeling of exhilaration, though it’s time to get out when your toes just start to tingle.  The first time I wore booties we were in a icy sea for a good half an hour before we realised that we were swimming at a snail’s pace because our hands were frozen into claw-like talons…  Ahem, nothing a whisky couldn’t cure. 

When I was a student in London, I used to trek all the way from Brixton to Kenwood Ladies pond (by far the best of the three) on Hampstead Heath to join a like-minded friend for a late afternoon paddle.  Swimming is guaranteed to work up an appetite and it before long it became a ritual to end our session with a beer and burger at the finest of Wetherspoons establishments in Highgate.  Nowadays I swim daily in the tropical balminess, secretly wishing that the South China Sea was just a bit colder and always craving a juicy burger afterwards.

Today was an extraordinary day.  A fridge inspection revealed minced chuck steak, a wedge of stinking stilton and a perfectly ripe avocado.  My heart skipped a beat as it dawned on me that I had all the ingredients for a black and blue burger.

Black because I adore steak au poivre, so I encrust the patties in coarsely cracked black peppercorns, and blue because the burger is barely slapped on the griddle before being smothered with a blue cheese dressing.  Pile on the caramelised onions, a couple of slices of avocado and a smear of chilli jam and you’re onto a winner.

One thing was missing.  The burger buns.  A granary loaf could not sandwich so majestic a filling. I’d never made burger buns before, but as luck would have it our sporadic internet connection was working and a quick googling stumbled on a recipe for light brioche burger buns by Smitten Kitchen.  I’m not very good at following recipes and I whilst I apologise profusely for the bastardisation, time was of the essence as our tummies were rumbling.

I whacked all of the ingredients straight into the mixing bowl, substituting yoghurt for milk, and started kneading furiously.  When the dough was smooth and elastic I formed them into mounds and left them to rise on the baking tray, as I’d made a conscious decision to only do one rising.  When it came to putting them in the oven, I realised that one of the eggs I’d chucked into the dough was meant to be reserved for brushing.  I crossed my fingers as I slammed the oven door shut for fifteen minutes…

Phew!  One day, I’ll try out the proper recipe, but until then I’m more than happy with the short-cut.

RECIPE: BLACK AND BLUE BURGERS WITH CARAMELISED ONION, AVOCADO AND CHILLI JAM

Makes 4 hefty burgers

For the burgers

500g of minced chuck steak

2 cloves of finely chopped garlic

A teaspoon of wholegrain mustard

A dash of Worcester sauce

A sprinkling of salt and a generous grinding of pepper

A tablespoon or two of coarsely ground black peppercorns for coating

For the blue cheese dressing

50 g of your favourite crumbly blue cheese

A tablespoon of mayonnaise

A tablespoon of crème fraiche

For the buns (a short-cut method adapted from Smitten Kitchen)

One and a half tablespoons of yoghurt

A teaspoon fast-acting dried yeast

One and a half cups of strong white bread flour

A beaten egg

A tablespoon of sugar

A tablespoon of butter

A sprinkling of salt

Sesame seeds to sprinkle on top

INSTRUCTIONS: Start by making the brioche dough.  Mix all the ingredients in a large bowl and knead for ten minutes or until smooth and elastic.  You want the dough to be on the tacky side of sticky so try not to add too much flour.  Form into four bun shaped rounds and leave to rise on a baking tray until doubled in size (this took an hour in my stifling kitchen).  Glaze the tops with an egg wash, sprinkle with sesame seeds and bake in a pre-heated hot oven for 15 minutes or until golden brown. 

Whilst the dough is rising, start forming your burgers.  Combine all the burger ingredients and form four patties using your hands to press the meat together gently.  Completely coat each burger in the coarsely ground peppercorns, lightly pressing them in, and leave to chill in the fridge until cooking. 

Whisk together the mayo, crème fraiche and crumbled blue cheese until smooth and season to taste with salt and pepper.  Fry some sliced onions in butter until caramelising, adding in a splash of balsamic vinegar and a scattering of thyme leaves. 

As the meat was freshly ground, I was confident in chowing down on ‘blue’ or rare burgers, but the consensus is that burgers are best served medium rare.  Just make sure your griddle is as hot as you can get it, slap on a burger and listen to the sizzle.  Cook for two to four minutes each side, depending on how thick you’ve made your patties and how rare you like your meat.

Split the burger buns in half and toast in the pan that the burgers were cooked in.  If I’d had lettuce in, I’d have put some shreds on the base before plonking the burger on top.  Add slices of tomato and avocado, spoon over the blue cheese dressing and top with caramelised onions.  Smear chilli jam onto the brioche top and squish down.  The black and blue is best served with oven-roasted chips and a Weiss beer.  Enjoy.

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