The Alabama Crimson Tide vs. the Louisiana-Monroe Warhawks. Another week, another revenge game.
When possible, I like to have the week's recipe to have some relationship, no matter how tangential, to the week's opponent but that's not happening this time.
I spend a moderate amount of time in Baton Rouge and have a passing knowledge of New Orleans so it's not that I don't have any Louisiana-centric recipes. I do. But I'm holding on to them for LSU games or visits to the Sugar Bowl.
I know next to nothing about Monroe. Obviously I know the basics: population 48,815 per the 2010 census, seat of Ouachita Parish (that's "county" to you and me!), 3 star hotel rooms average $120 per night, and as of this writing it's 90˚F with a light 7 mph wind out of the northeast and humidity coming in at a respectable 41%. But everybody knows that.
So I'd rather write about a hamburger I had in Los Angeles last March.
My bullet points for this week's tailgate have "transit LA-Monroe/L.A in intro," but I'm not going to do that. The funniest part of the John Travolta and Nicholas Cage laugh fest Face/Off is the part where they try to explain the "science" behind the fact that they just wanted a to make the actors switch bodies in hopes that Travolta would try to express a few of Cage's more over the top mannerisms and vice versa. I'm not going to insult your intelligence like that. Besides, there is no amount of typewritten legerdemain to distract from the obvious: I'm referencing L.A. this week because LA-Monroe has an "L" and an "A" in the same order, caps and all. No other explanation necessary.
Back to last March.
Touching on a few L.A. (not to be confused with LA) clichés, we took an Uber up the 405 to 134 and then the 101 to Mulholland Drive to a friend's house. From there we barreled down the Hollywood hills in a Tesla, grabbing every opportunity to leap torque-lessly from 0-60 in under four seconds (seriously, it was a rocket) through traffic when we hit the valley below. Eventually, we arrived at Plan Check for "Sophisticated pub grub and cocktails," per their website.
I ordered their eponymous dish, the Plan Check Burger, mainly out of curiosity. I normally don't like ketchup on my burgers, but the menu listed "ketchup leather" among the ingredients. When I asked her about it, our heavily tattooed bartender/actress told us that the chef hated the way ketchup made the bun soggy so he started dehydrating sheets of the stuff. The end result was basically a ketchup flavored fruit roll up.
I've never had a better burger in my life.
The recipe is widely available online, but it is absurdly complex. There are seven ingredients in the cheese. You read that right.
What follows is an infinitely simpler version that may not be as good as the original, but it's a pretty decent methadone.
Ersatz Plan Check Burger
1 lb. Ground Sirloin
Wickles brand Jalapeno, Cucumber, and Bell Pepper mix or other mixed Spicy Pickles
French's or other brand Fried Onions (Do not use Funions.)
4 Buns - skip the bread aisle and go to the bakery for something with a little more weight to it
Ahead of time, at most a day, lay a bit of cooking parchment or wax paper on a cookie sheet and spread it with ketchup, about as thickly as the previously mentioned fruit roll up, and place in an oven set to 180˚ for about three hours.
When done, let cool and peel from the paper. If it sticks, place the paper in the freezer for a few minutes and it should come off more easily. Don't be tempted to grease the paper beforehand. I tried that with Pam and the result was completely counterintuitive. The ketchup and paper practically fused to each other.
Cut into squares or rounds, enough for four burgers, and store in the fridge.
Form four good sized burgers, roughly a quarter pound each (ignore the two small ones in the picture - those were for little kids) with a slight dimple in the middle to keep them from "balling" up and salt.
When the coals are ready, cook burgers like you always do.
Make fun of me all you want for trimming the American cheese into rounds. I like the way it looks and will not be dissuaded. Many of you are grumbling something about how American cheese is not real cheese. Good point comrade, but we want it to melt. Really melt with bubbles and such. That calls for cheese product rather than cheese. To steal a line from P.J. O'Rourke, nuclear breeder reactors won't melt real cheese.
So when the burgers are nearing done, add cheese product and melt. Toast the buns lightly.
Meanwhile, dice some dill pickles and mix together with an equivalent amount of the Wickles. This should be to taste so measurements are not necessary. Mix as much as you like for four burgers.
Add some pickle/Wickle mix (As I wrote that I had a vision of someone talking to a very tiny dog - "Is that my widdle Pickle-Wickle? Yes him is.")
Add some fried onions.
And finally, add a slice of the ketchup leather to the top. Oddly, at the Plan Check restaurant, despite all the talk about keeping the bun crisp, the kitchen sent my burger out with the leather on the bottom, directly under the meat. The hot meat melted the leather and made my bun soggy but it was still worth their trouble for the concentrated ketchup flavor.
At a tailgate you may have to settle for chips, but if you are cooking at home, try tossing some steak fries with sea salt, chopped flat leaf parsley, and a dash or two of truffle oil to realize your full gastro-pub-tential.
Since the game is set for a 3:00 pm kick off, you will likely have a few beers or cocktails in the afternoon. Add this little taste of L.A. on top of some daytime drinking and see what it must be like to be the head Coach of the USC Trojans.
Roll Tide, no injuries, and enjoy.