Julia Child was a friend of mine, and we had many things in common. We both loved France, French food and beets. Whenever I’d come back from Paris, Julia would ask: Can you still get those big, beautiful cooked beets in the market? The ones that are set out in cardboard boxes? (The answer is yes to the beets, sometimes to the boxes.)
We both loved cooking and meals with friends. We loved tuna fish sandwiches and Pepperidge Farm Goldfish, Julia’s favorite aperitif snack. We didn’t, however, share a love of the famous California In-N-Out Burger. We might have, had I ever had one. It’s on my list of culinary musts, if for no other reason than that Julia would tell me she’d have one as soon as she landed in Golden State territory.
I mention this not because my Tri-Pepper Burger is like the In-N-Out. It’s not. (Although inspiration did come from 3,000 miles away, but in the opposite direction.) It’s just that the first time I made a burger like this one, I called it the Inside-Out Burger and thought of Julia. My burger has lots of what you might put on top of a good burger, packed right inside it.
I started thinking about the inside-outer after I had a remarkable burger at my friend Hélène Samuel’s now-gone restaurant, the Café Salle Pleyel, in Paris. Yep, I had to go to Paris in order to return to BurgerLand with a fresh perspective. Hélène was opening a sophisticated modern restaurant in a historic concert hall in Paris, and she thought it would be a kick to have a burger on the lunch menu. Within weeks, the café was known for its burger. The one she created had cornichons and capers, thyme and tarragon (the last, that so-French herb) mixed into the meat. The creation was topped with cheese and served on a sesame-seed bun, with house-made onion marmalade on the side. I was among the many who loved it. (The recipe for it is in my book “Around My French Table.” Merci, Hélène.)
I made her burger at home for years. Then I started making my own renditions, based on the idea of packing as much flavor as I could into the burger from the get-go. It had to be as good pan-seared in the dead of winter as it is grilled in the summer; as good on a plate over salad as on a bun; as good with a bunch of toppings as with only salt and pepper; and as good with lean beef as with fatty (or with my favorite: a mix of ground chuck and brisket). It was a lot to ask from a quarter-pounder, but I got it with the Tri-Pepper Burger.
The three peppers that give the burger its name are: roasted red peppers (store-bought or homemade); Peppadews (sweet or hot); and jalapeño. They’re chopped, along with fresh basil and cilantro, seasoned with salt and pepper and then mixed into the beef with shredded sharp cheddar. I’m crazy about how the cheese is part of the burger, how the inside pieces melt and the outside ones char, and how you get the roastiness that’s the best part of a grilled cheese sandwich. If you’ve got time, make the patties a few hours ahead and refrigerate them; the chill time will allow the other ingredients to deeply flavor the meat. Just remember to pull the patties out about a half-hour before you’re ready to cook.
My favorite way to serve these is on buttered, toasted soft potato rolls with the fixings spread out on the table. Think burger bar. The other night when I made these, a friend mashed a couple slices of avocado on the bun before adding tomato, greens and onion. In that moment, when the burger was on one half of the bun and the avocado on the other, I thought: Way to go. You just made the trendy avocado toast even trendier. Tastier, too.
Photograph by Deb Lindsey. This story appeared originally in my Everyday Dorie column for the Washington Post.