I love a good, classic burger. High quality grassfed meat should be able to stand on its own. But sometimes I like to get creative. Sauteing some maitake mushrooms, adding bacon strips and BBQ sauce, throwing on some grilled chile peppers. You name it, I've probably tried it. My newest creation, however, trumps them all. Sweet & Smoky Bacon-Onion Marmalade. It’s hard to describe how good this stuff is. When one of my friends tried it for the first time last night it was one of the best culinary experiences in my life. He took a heaping spoonful, chewed slowly and swallowed. His face went momentarily blank and then, all of the sudden, he lit up in a huge smile and exclaimed, “That was the best bite of anything I’ve had in my entire life!”. We all started laughing and I knew it was really as good as I thought it was.
It also helps that the burgers are pretty damn good. I take ⅔ ground beef (100% Highland grassfed) and ⅓ ground pastured pork (Berkshire) and add salt liberally. That’s really all the meat needs. For cheese I prefer a medium-aged cheddar (4-9 months). Last night I used Prairie Breeze, which comes from Milton Creamery out in Iowa. Milton is operated by a Mennonite family (the Mussers) that collects only hand-stripped milk from nearby Amish farm families. It’s the best cheddar I’ve ever had, period.
I grill the burgers to about medium or medium rare, lightly melt the cheddar on top and serve on top of a layer of bacon jelly. Usually, I like a nice, soft sesame bun, but for a more savory burger like this a toasted potato roll works best. You may have noticed that I said to put the marmalade beneath the burger meat. I've tested these burgers with the marmalade on the top only, on the bottom only and on the top and bottom. Surprisingly, a slathering of the marmalade on the bottom is really the best. Your teeth sink into the potato roll, you get a taste of the slightly salty and buttery cheddar, the juicy meat flavor comes next and then there's a burst of the sweet and smoky bacon-onion marmalade. The sequence of flavors is literally unbeatable. With the marmalade on top the cheese will get a bit lost. I've tried it with goat, alpine and other strong cheeses, it's really better on bottom.
I suggest you make a batch as soon as humanly possible, you don’t know what you’re missing. Be warned though, it is highly addictive, and versatile. We put it on an omelet this morning and I’m debating warming some up and adding to vanilla bean ice cream tonight.
4 strips thick-cut bacon (smokier the better) - diced
2 lbs White Onions (I used organic Walla Walla sweet onions) - diced
½ cup Balsamic Vinegar
1 cup red wine (I used a cheap Malbec)
¾ cup white sugar (I’m going to try substituting honey in a future batch)
¾ cup dark brown sugar
10 drops liquid smoke
1. Place a pot over medium heat. Add the diced bacon bits. You want to render the fat. Get the bacon crispy (the bacon fat will get a bit foamy, that’s a good indicator). Sift out the bacon bits with a slotted spoon and put to the side.
2. Turn up the heat to medium-high and the onions. Stir well, covering the onions with the rendered bacon fat. Cook until the onions are golden brown.
3. Add the sugar, brown sugar, red wine, and balsamic vinegar. Cook over medium/low heat until it thickens. I usually start at a higher heat and slowly crank it down until it’s quite thick. I just take whatever I’m stirring with and run it through the marmalade. If no liquid fills the void, or if it fills really slowly, then it’s pretty much done. I like it thicker, but if you could easily leave it more runny if you wanted. Be sure to stir regularly and avoid the sugar burning the pan (also why I like lower heat at the end).
4. A couple minutes before it fully thickens you can add back in the bacon bits. At this point I also like to add the liquid smoke. I don’t want to cook the bacon further or evaporate the liquid smoke, so I wait until it’s just about done, but still give it some time to stir in and meld the flavors together.
5. Once thickened you can remove from heat and fill up some glass jars. From the recipe above I get about 18-20 ounces, or a little over a pint. Given the high acidity and sugar this should store well. Refrigerated, I’d think it would store for at least a couple months, if not longer, but lets be honest, there’s no way it’s lasting that long!
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