Don’t let the name fool you: While Napa Kitchen and Wine certainly takes its inspiration from the namesake NorCal vineyards and its long-standing locavore movement, it’s in Virginia where Culinary Director Tyler Barbaro is flexing his creative muscles. That means his burger begins with top-notch beef sourced from Army vet and American Akaushi Association member Mike Moorman’s Clint’s Cattle.
Barbaro loves this beef for a number of reasons. Not only does it fit the locavore mindset of the restaurant, but the mixed-breed Akaushi (Japanese Brown) and Black Angus cattle renders “incredible meat,” with loads of marbling paving the way for a rich yet beefy burger base. But while at home, Barbaro likes to keep his burgers simple, with smashed patties cooked on a hot pizza stone set over the charcoal grill; at the restaurant, he takes things to the next level by filling the patties with gorgonzola cheese and topping them with house-made bacon jam.
The jam is the first order of business, beginning with a pound of chopped bacon — Hormel Black Label Applewood is Barbaro’s fave. Slow cooked in the oven with red onion, brown sugar, black pepper, red wine vinegar and a touch of red pepper flakes for some heat, the resulting jam is sticky and savory, perfect atop a burger — or indeed, Barbaro says, on a breakfast sandwich with over-easy eggs.
While the bacon slowly caramelizes in the oven, Barbaro takes thinly sliced onions on the same low-and-slow journey on the stovetop. Caramelizing onions is above all an exercise in patience, though the chef does have a few tips.
“Ensure that the oil is hot before placing onions in the pan,” he suggests. “Also, add some butter for additional flavor, and make sure you are only stirring occasionally to get that beautiful color.”
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Once the toppings are ready, it’s time to turn your attention to the burgers. Each eight-ounce burger is stuffed with a whole ounce of crumbled gorgonzola cheese and carefully sealed so that the char-grilled burger spills molten blue cheese only once you take a bite.
While brioche buns may be en vogue, Barbaro prefers a classic burger bun, sesame seeds and all.
“There is definitely a nostalgic factor behind that decision,” he says. “But I feel that brioche buns tend to be thick and overwhelming. It often feels like you’re eating more bread than burger.”
And with a burger this good, you want the beef, bacon and blue cheese to do all the talking.
Prime Wagyu Bleu Cheese Burger
- For the bacon jam:
- 1 lb. bacon, chopped
- ¼ medium red onion, chopped
- 4 tbsp. light brown sugar
- ¼ tsp. crushed red pepper flakes
- ½ tbsp. black pepper
- ¾ cup red wine vinegar
- For each burger:
- 1 oz. gorgonzola cheese, crumbled
- 8 oz. Clint’s Cattle 80/20 ground beef
- 1 tsp. kosher salt
- ½ tsp. black pepper
- 1 sesame-topped burger bun
- 2-3 leaves Boston Bibb lettuce
- 1 oz. caramelized onions
First, make the bacon jam. Preheat the oven to 375ºF. Add bacon to a large sauté pan, then add the remaining ingredients. Toss the mixture by hand until the bacon is evenly coated.
Place the pan in the preheated oven, and bake for 1 hour, using a rubber spatula to stir the mixture from the bottom every 15 minutes to promote even browning. When the mixture is deeply caramelized but not burned, carefully remove the pan from the oven and set aside to cool slightly.
Transfer the warm mixture to a food processor and process until smooth. Transfer to a heat-safe container and chill.
Form 1-oz. balls of gorgonzola cheese and chill while making the burger patties.
Weigh 4-oz. portions of beef and lightly work into round patties, ensuring that the meat is not handled too much or it will become tough. Season patties evenly with salt and pepper.
Lay one 4-oz. patty on a clean work space. Place a chilled gorgonzola ball in the center of the patty. Top with remaining patty. Gently press the patties together around the cheese ball, ensuring that it stays whole in the center of the meat and that the line between the two patties is smoothed out to make a whole burger. Chill at least 10 minutes.
Preheat the grill. Place the chilled patty on the heated grill, and cover with a lid. Cook for four minutes on the first side, or until slightly charred, then remove the lid and flip gently. Press lightly with the back of a metal spatula to help keep the patty together.
Place the lid back over the meat, and continue cooking for 6-8 minutes. The burger is ready when cheese begins to melt out of the sides.
When the burger is nearly finished, toast the bun. Spread an ounce of the chilled bacon jam on the inside of the top bun, and arrange the lettuce leaves on the toasted bottom bun. Place the burger on top of the lettuce, and finish with the caramelized onions. Place the top bun on the burger and enjoy.
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