In the city of Torreon in northern Mexico, the burgers come topped with slices of seared pork instead of bacon or some other variety of meat. Fermin Nunez, the chef behind award-winning Austin restaurant Suerte, grew up eating those ham-topped burgers, and when he was tasked with coming up with the cuisine for a new watering hole inspired by the bar cultures of Spain, France and Mexico, he knew an homage to the hamburgers of his youth needed to be on the menu.
“In northern Mexico, the fast food burger is not as prevalent as it is in the States. The burger is actually more of a luxury than a commodity, but that doesn’t mean there is a shortage of great burgers,” Nunez who moved to Austin in 2009 and was named Eater Austin’s Chef of the Year in 2018, tells InsideHook. “A lot of the burgers I grew up eating in Torreon were from stands that popped up in family garages. All of those burgers always had some sort of seared ham in them. Recreating this memory was a no-brainer for me.”
Christened La Smashburguesa, the hamburger at Bar Toti, the first one that Nunez has ever put on one of his menus, is served on a sesame bun and comes topped with white American cheese, chipotle burger sauce, escabeche relish and, of course, seared ham.
“For whatever reason, Mexicans tend to put ham on cheeseburgers. I don’t know where that came from but maybe something was lost in translation.” Nunez says. “When I had the opportunity to have a burger on a menu that had my name on it, I thought of adding ham to make it Mexican. As far as the escabeche spread, I’ve never been a big fan of pickles on cheeseburgers because they’re sweet but I love the acid you get from pickled food. So to me, it was natural to spread it over the top. Typically you would have the escabeche on the side and you’d take a bite of the burger and then have a bite of the pepper and the cauliflower and the carrot. I put it on top because that’s how I would eat it.”
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Though Nunez enjoyed a version of La Smashburguesa, which he likens to a muffuletta, as a kid, he’s found a different reason to enjoy his adaptation of the specialty burger as an adult. “Growing up, it was a treat to go have a burger on a Wednesday night. Then when I was in my 20s, it was a treat to have a burger with ham on it after a night of drinking,” he says. “I think as you get older, that’s definitely when you eat it most. If you’re at a bar having some drinks and you want something greasy that’s going to make you happier than before you got it. That’s always the goal when people eat this cheeseburger.”
And Bar Toti’s customers have been eating La Smashburguesa.
“People love burgers and they go crazy for it. It blows their mind that they’ve never seen a burger with ham on it,” Nunez says. “It changes people’s perspectives. As a chef, you’re constantly doing the same thing over and over in repetition food-wise. I’ve eaten this burger so many times now and I’ve never gotten tired of it. eating it. I’m always excited, just like the first time I tried to eat it. I love this burger.”
Here’s Chef Nunez’s recipe along with a primer on how to smash your burger properly before adding ham.
Chef Femin Nunez’s La Smashburguesa
Servings: Four burgers
- For the Burger
- 8 beef patties
- 4 slices of sliced ham (preferred brand is FUD)
- 4 sesame seed potato buns (preferred brand is Big Marty’s)
- 4 slices of white American cheese (preferred brand is Kraft)
- Escabeche (preferred brand is Big Marty’s)
- For the Burger Sauce
- 4 tablespoons of garlic
- 1 qt. sunflower oil
- ½ can of canned chipotles in adobo
- 4 egg yolks
- 1 whole egg
- 5 tbsp. of lemon juice
- Salt to taste
For the Burger Sauce
Fry whole garlic in oil until brown, but not burnt.
Strain garlic out of oil, set aside, and allow oil to cool down.
Add cool garlic, chipotle chiles, and eggs to a 4 qt. container.
Blend together with a hand blender until a homogenous texture has formed.
Stream in cool oil, emulsifying to make aioli.
Add lemon juice, season to taste with salt and emulsify all together.
Store extra sauce in the refrigerator in a sealed-tight container.
For the Burger
Toast both sides of the buns.
Smash burger patties on high heat using a cast iron pan at home or a flat-top griddle.
While heating burger patties, sear the sliced ham on the same griddle. Flip the patties and put one slice of cheese on top of each patty allowing the cheese to melt.
Place seared ham in between patties.
Brush burger sauce on both sides of the bun.
Top with chopped-up escabeche.
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