While living in the South, I have come to enjoy some of the best local food traditions and combinations that Southerners have enjoyed for decades.This recipe marries simple ingredients that are well-known and utilized with the best of “Southern hospitality” throughout the region: smoked bacon, sweet Vidalia onions, bold and spicy Cajun seasonings, sun-ripened local red tomatoes – and the indulgent goodness of fried dill pickles! Together, these favorite tastes of mine create a true comfort food that reminds me of a welcoming, spirited part of America I am proud to call home.
1 lb pound sirloin roast, freshly ground
1 lb boneless short ribs, freshly ground
1/2 cup finely diced Vidalia onion
1/3 lb thick-cut bacon, diced
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon fresh cracked pepper
1 extra-large Vidalia onion, sliced into very thin rings
1 tablespoon canola oil
1 cup prepared buttermilk ranch dressing
1 tablespoon salt-free Cajun seasoning
1/2 tablespoon Tabasco sauce
1/2 quart jar kosher dill pickles, sliced ¼ inch thick
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup buttermilk
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1 quart canola oil
Vegetable oil for grill rack
6 bakery fresh, old fashioned hamburger buns
1/4 cup butter, softened
6 slices muenster cheese
6 butter lettuce leaves
6 slices ripe red tomato, 1/4 inch thick
Prepare a medium-hot fire in a charcoal grill with a cover, or preheat a gas grill to medium-high.
In a heavy skillet over medium-high heat, cook the bacon until just crisp, about 5 minutes. Transfer to plate with kitchen paper to drain. Set skillet aside and do not drain. To make the patties, combine the sirloin, short ribs, onion, salt and pepper in a large bowl, handling as little as possible. Gently fold in cooked bacon. Shape into 6, 3/4 inch thick patties, forming a slight depression in the center of each one so that the edges are thicker than the center. Loosely cover with plastic wrap and set aside.
With same skillet used to cook bacon, heat to high. Separate the layers of the thinly-sliced Vidalia onions and add to the skillet and turn heat to medium. Turn the onions to coat evenly with the bacon fat. Continue to turn the onions with a spatula until the onions begin to wilt. Add the canola oil. Continue to turn the onions and scraping the browned bits from the bottom of the pan frequently, until the onions are golden brown, about 15 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside.
To prepare the spicy ranch sauce, combine ranch dressing, Cajun seasoning and hot pepper sauce in medium bowl. Set aside.
To prepare the dill pickles, heat oil in a deep, heavy skillet or dutch oven to 350 degrees. Combine flour, salt and pepper in a medium bowl, mixing well. In a separate medium bowl, add buttermilk. Toss pickle slices into flour mixture to lightly coat, then drop in buttermilk, then back into flour mixture. Add pickles to the hot oil, deep frying until they float to the surface and are golden brown. Drain on plate lined with kitchen paper.
When the grill is ready, brush the grill rack with vegetable oil. Place the patties on the rack, cover, and cook, turning once, until done to preference, 5 to 7 minutes on each side for medium. In the last 2 minutes of grilling, top each burger with a slice of muenster cheese. Place the buns, cut side down with each half spread with equal portions of butter, on the outer edges of the rack to toast lightly during the last 2 minutes of grilling. To assemble the burgers, place one portion caramelized onion on bottom bun, then a cheese-topped patty, one portion of pickle slices, one portion ranch sauce, then butter lettuce leaf and tomato slice. Add the bun tops and serve.
Makes 6 burgers