Ravens Center Matt Birk Wraps His Hands Around Morton's 'Two-fisted Burger'

August 12, 2009|By ROB KASPER

Matt Birk is the new center for the Baltimore Ravens. He is a big man - 6 foot-4 and 309 pounds - working in a beefy world, so it is not surprising that a large, ground sirloin burger sandwiched between two slices of thick bacon is one of his favorite foods.

"I like almost anything with bacon on it," Birk told me. The recipe for this "two-fisted burger," so called because it takes two hands to grasp it, bears Birk's endorsement in the new "Morton's The Cookbook," published by the Morton's restaurant group.

Birk said he became a fan of the Morton's burger because he likes to cook, and because he had Ivy League connections. When he was getting his undergraduate degree in economics at Harvard, one of Birk's college friends was James Castle, whose father, John, was on Morton's board of directors. When Castle's father visited his son at college he met Birk, and, as Birk said, "learned I like to eat."

Birk said he has cooked the Morton burger at home on his backyard grill. Before signing with the Ravens this year, Birk played for the Minnesota Vikings, where he was a six-time All-Pro center.

"I have fired that grill up a few times this summer," Birk said. "I cook the usual things, ribs, roasts, burgers."

Of the two-fisted burger, he said, "It is somewhat healthy. It tastes good. It is large, but if you have it every once in a while, and take care of yourself, it is OK."

A father of three girls and a boy, Birk, 33, spoke to me by telephone a few weeks ago as he was taking a carload of kids to an amusement park to celebrate a daughter's 7th birthday.

Birk said his stomach had no trouble handling a two-fisted burger, but he wasn't sure how it would cope with the helter-skelter rides at the amusement park.

"Do you think this is a mistake?" he asked as I heard the squeals of young children in the background.

The burger recipe has a few quirks. It calls for adding eggs and tomato juice to raw, ground sirloin, then forming the meat into thick patties.

It is the creation of Klaus Fritsch, the German-born chef who, along with Arnie Morton, founded the steakhouse restaurant in Chicago in 1978.

Fritsch told me he came up with the burger recipe in the early 1970s when he was head of food and beverage operations for the now-defunct Playboy Clubs. Stationed at the Montreal Playboy Club for several weeks, Fritsch began experimenting with variations on the standard hamburger.

One incarnation of this two-fisted burger he came up with pleased his boss, Morton. When Morton and Fritsch opened their first steakhouse, they brought the burger recipe with them.

"The egg and the tomato juice make it juicy," Fritsch told me. Adding these ingredients to the raw beef also makes a very wet meat patty. I discovered this one night when I made the two-fisted burger. The raw burgers were so slick I was worried they might slide off the plate as I carried them to the charcoal grill in my backyard.

Following Fritsch's explicit instructions, I had used a thick tomato juice, a raw egg and had formed the meat, 80/20 ground sirloin, into thick patties.

Using natural charcoal I had built a very hot fire. These burgers were so wet that when I placed them directly over the coals, they did not smoke or catch fire. Unfortunately when I flipped them about 6 minutes later, I saw that their bottoms had burned. All that tomato juice and egg had kept the interior moist, but the exterior was charred.

When the burgers came off the fire, they were OK, but not stellar.

The next day I called Fritsch and pumped him for tips.

He told me that when he grills these burgers he uses a sear-and-slide technique.

"I put them over the fire so they get a good crust, then I move them to the side, put the cover on the grill and let them finish cooking," he said.

So the next night, I made the two-fisted burgers again. This time I used plain old ground beef instead of ground sirloin. And this time, I seared them, and then shifted the burgers away from direct heat.

The result was an improvement.

These two-fisted burgers had good moisture and flavor. The buns, lightly toasted on the grill as Fritsch instructed, held the meat without getting soggy.

The cheese topping, cheddar flavored with horseradish, gave the sandwich a pleasing bite. I happen to like horseradish. If you don't, try a sharp cheddar.

The experience proved that in cooking hamburgers, as I guess in playing football, you get better with practice.

Even though Birk is fond of these burgers, he told me that he probably won't be grilling them after a Ravens game.

After playing a game, he said, he rarely feels like cooking. "After a game, you sit on a sofa, eat pizza and try to recover," he said.

Matt Birk's Favorite Two-Fisted Cheeseburger

Makes: 6 burgers

4

pounds ground sirloin 80/20 mix

4

large eggs

3/4

cup thick tomato juice

1

teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

6

large hamburger buns

6

tablespoons unsalted butter

Seasoned salt to taste

12

ounces horseradish cheddar cheese (sold at supermarket delis)

12

slices thick-cut bacon, cooked until crisp

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