If you were to ask me what my favorite burger is, my answer would probably be the Au Cheval single cheeseburger. I say probably because one other place in Chicago, Owen & Engine, holds a tie with them in my book, but we can leave that conversation for another time. The Au Cheval burger is almost perfect in every single way. The soft, supple bun, the two juicy patties (yes, the single burger has two patties, the double has three!), the dijonnaise, the pickles and onions, the cheese, ohhhh the cheese.
Let me tell you, if you are anywhere near Chicago, stop reading this right now and go get the Au Cheval burger (or their homemade bologna sandwich). You don't need to make this at home. Absolutely not. But if, like me, life has taken you in other directions and far away from the second city, perhaps you'll find some joy in creating this glorious burger in your home kitchen.
Now, if there's one thing I've learned from testing this recipe, it is that simplicity trumps complexity. I went into this endeavor head first, overly ambitious, thinking that I would grind my own beef, make hamburger buns from scratch, and make my own homemade American-style cheddar cheese.
Oh boy was I wrong. The only complex step that ended up being worth the effort was grinding my own beef, even when I overcooked one of the burgers a little bit, it still tasted better than the patties I made from pre-ground beef. My homemade "hamburger buns" came out more like sad dinner rolls, so I ended up just buying some store bought burger buns, coating them in an egg wash, and toasting them in the oven to give them a shiny and chewy crust. And while J. Kenji Lopez-Alt from Serious Eats has an amazing recipe that can help you turn any cheese into an easy melting, ooey-gooey American-single-style cheese...it just didn't quite make it. It didn't quite have the silky-smooth texture and creaminess of the cheese on the Au Cheval burger, so again I went to the store to find that pasteurized, processed "cheese product" which ended up being pretty darn perfect.
The point is, I've learned my lesson. Simplicity > Complexity. The end.
Inspired by the single cheeseburger at Au Cheval
Update 6/20/2016: This recipe has been one of my most popular. However it was also one of my earliest, before I knew anything about blogging, so I've made a few small edits to the recipe and reshot some of the photos to give you guys the best post I can.
The recipe calls for grinding your own beef, however if you have a trusted butcher who will grind it fresh for you, that is also a great option.
This burger is cooked to medium. Adjust your cooking times as necessary if you'd prefer a rare or well done burger.
If you're a cheese purist and can't stand the thought of processed singles hitting your beef patty, Kenji's recipe produces a melty American-like cheese using your favorite real cheese, whatever that may be. I have included this as an option in the recipe below.
Any good quality, normal hamburger bun will do (no seeds, no pretzel bun, just your basic white), however if you want to add some extra pizazz, I like to toast the buns in the oven with a light egg wash on top (if it doesn't already have one).
2 lbs beef, with good marbling, at least 85/15 fat content, cut into 1 inch cubes, chilled in the freezer for 10 minutes
1/4 cup mayonnaise
1/4 cup dijon mustard
salt and pepper to taste
8 slices processed cheddar cheese, either store bought (e.g. Kraft cheddar singles) or homemade
4 regular hamburger buns, lightly toasted
1 whole dill pickle, sliced thin
1/4 cup very finely diced red onion
Grind your beef in a meat grinder according to manufacturer instructions. DO NOT salt at this point. Form ground beef into eight equal 4 oz patties, about 1/4 inch (or even a little less) thick. Transfer each patty onto a piece of parchment paper and place in fridge until ready to grill.
Mix mayonnaise and dijon mustard in a small bowl and set aside.
Heat up a cast iron griddle or wide-bottomed cast iron pan on medium high. Salt one side of the beef patties and place on griddle, salt side down. Salt and pepper the other side. Cook for 2 minutes, until the edges start turning light brown. Flip the patties and cook for 1 minute. Place cheese on each patty and cook for 1 more minute for a total of 4 minutes cooking time. Immediately remove from heat.
To assemble: place two burger/cheese patties, stacked on top of each other, on the bottom hamburger bun. Top with a few slices of pickle and some red onion. Smear some dijonnaise on the underside of the top bun and gently place on burger to finish.