THE PERFECT BURGER: The grill’s aflame at The Oak Door
Stripes Japan | .
published: May 10, 2016
Scan the Tokyo landscape and you’ll find burgers everywhere. Well, not literally on the ground, but in shops. And not just of the Wendy’s, Lotteria, and Mickey D’s variety, but towering, creative, and mouthwatering sorts that turn the simple patty-on-bun into a work of art. Just as the city has seen an explosion in craft beers, so too have craft burgers descended on the culinary explorer.
Some of the most creative burgers are being produced by the shops and restaurants highlighted in this issue’s special burger section. Amongst those leading the way in brainstorming are the chefs of The Oak Door, one of the dining venues found at The Grand Hyatt Tokyo.
The Oak Door has become a favorite of locals as well as visitors, known especially for their standard eponymous burger (shown on our May 2016 issue’s cover). But this imposing stack of goodness isn’t the only thing on the menu. This team of cooks prides itself on creativity, and is always pushing for the next great sandwich. And to find out what makes them tick, Metropolis went behind the oak door.
At the Heart of It All
With anything you create, there’s a critical starting point—that one thing that can’t be missed, or else the whole endeavor fails. When it comes to burgers, word from the Oak Door kitchen is that there are two critical elements: good bread and a good patty mixture. While that may sound obvious, the point is that you need both. You can have a so-so patty and good bread—or the other way around; but in either case, you’re only halfway there. A great burger is a tango of wheat and meat that must play off of one another perfectly.
OK, so the bread doesn’t have to be wheat, but whatever you choose, it needs to be good. If it’s too hard or dry, the bun won’t deliver the right flavor component to go with a burger. Finding just the right balance is key. After all, it takes two to make a thing go right.
Winning the Popular Vote
Building the burger you see on the cover of this issue of Metropolis was Chef Tim Larimer, a native Californian who loves the stuff. We chatted with Tim as we watched the step-by-step progress take place against the backdrop of wood-fire ovens. It was hot! But not as hot as some of the seasonal creations that he and his fellow cooks have put on the Oak Door menu.
“At the moment, our most popular burger is the Dixie Burger,” Larimer explained, “with whiskey bacon jam spread, pimento cheese, and fried green tomatoes.” Although this burger is available only during March, it’s a great example of the kind of collective thinking that defines the restaurant’s approach to the American—no global—favorite. In this case, however, the twist is most definitely American, taking inspiration from the flavors of the Deep South to create a burger you’d never expect to find in Japan.
“The one before that I personally really liked,” Larimer continues, “was the Mexican Burger. Nice spicy jalapeños, smoky chili sauce, and of course, fresh avocado. I’m from California, so I love those flavors.”
Other unique offerings include beets, blue cheese, salmon, and even mac‘n’cheese.
So how do all of these unique ideas come to be? It’s the result of a collaborative effort. Just as fine athletes play off of one another’s strengths and experience, the chefs of The Oak Door do the same—but with food. Everyone has their own idea of the perfect burger, and everyone has certain flavors that hit close to home, that bring back memories of childhood and places they’ve been.
Getting together to talk about what flavors they want to incorporate into seasonal menus is the starting point. From here, anything they grew up with that we really enjoyed back home is game. Or anything that may be experimental. It’s all about exploring the possibilities, and that’s how they come up with things like the Dixie Burger, for example. A chef had spent time down in the South, where intake of pimento cheese and fried green tomatoes is required by law.
Japan loves its seasonal cuisines, so burgers tied to spring, summer, winter, and autumn are a must. But what is it about a season that shapes a burger?
According to The Oak Door, it’s all about the produce. The season dictates certain ingredients, and on those, a chef can put a special twist. Beets, for example, are big in winter, thus The Oak Door’s beet burger was born.
Hotter weather calls for stronger flavors: peppery flares, and maybe even a bit of greasiness. The odds and ends of summertime may lead toward a sweeter take. In the end, seasonal produce is the engine that powers the seasonal burger.
Do You Take This Burger…?
Given the variety of burgers The Oak Door has created, we wanted to find out if there was anything truly crazy in the kitchen’s past. Larimer recounts the time a wedding party went for an unorthodox cake … made of meat. It came in the form of the giant, one-kilogram burger that has graced the menu in the past, and will again be available for the duration of May. Only this one was much, much bigger. “There was a wedding that was about 50 or 60 people,” the chef explains, “and the burger itself was 54 centimeters! We cut it like a big cake. That was a huge challenge to cook a perfectly medium 54-centimeter-wide hamburger. But it was perfect, and they were very happy.”
While The Oak Door menu is great, you can’t eat there every day. So how do you create a better burger at home? Chances are you don’t have a giant wood-burning oven in your kitchen, or a meat grinder to turn your favorite cuts of beef into patties. Never fear, the Oak Door team has some advice for the home cook.
Start with the right bread. Get good bread from your local bakery, or if you have a bread machine you can make your own bread. For the patty, if possible, avoid using ground meat (“menchi”), because it’s too fine-grained and will become too dry. If you can, hand-cut full pieces of beef and form the minced meat into patties. You’ll get a much more delicious burger using cheap, tough cuts. If you have your own barquette grill, even a small grill on your patio, it makes a difference. And to get the perfect flavor, use sakura or plum wood.
The options for enjoying burgers in Tokyo are almost unlimited. Celebrate the warming weather by exploring the menus of the wide range of eateries the city has to offer. The Oak Door Burger is a perfect starting point, and from there the sky’s the limit!
Find out more about The Oak Door burgers at http://meturl.com/oakdoorburgers.