Burger boom shows no signs of going bust
BURGERS ARE BIGGER THAN EVER across foodservice – encompassing all types of fillings from beef and lamb to pork, chicken, fish and plant-based patties, and served up on everything from a standard hamburger bun to Turkish rolls, potato buns, sourdough and brioche.
The sheer scope that burgers offer has made them a marketplace mainstay – and given their almost universal appeal, it’s no wonder that chefs are now stacking the menu with more and more choices.
At busy Blacktown Workers Club in Western Sydney, Executive Chef Kiran Arora features a variety of gourmet burgers on the menu. “Everybody likes burgers so you have to cater for them,” Kiran says. Centrepiece of the selection is an Angus Beef Burger with zucchini, pickles and housemade aioli on a toasted brioche bun, to which customers can add further toppings such as egg and pineapple. There’s also a Southern Fried Chicken Burger – “we buy the chicken from our butcher then soak it in buttermilk and dip it in a nice crunchy crumb which is packed with flavour. We use chicken thigh which is more tender than breast – the buttermilk softens the chicken and also coats the crumb, and we serve it up with coleslaw and spicy chipotle mayonnaise.”
Such is the popularity of burgers that even the club staple of a steak sandwich has had its presentation modified to more of a burger style. “We serve it in a Turkish sandwich bun, so it’s more of a cross between a sandwich and a burger. We marinate the beef steak in Worcestershire sauce – that breaks it down and makes it juicier. And we slice it thin so it cooks quickly in a hot pan with some onions and peppers, add a slice of cheese and then put it into the bun. It’s fast to make and you can’t go wrong with it.”
There’s even a vegetarian burger – “we make our own patties with butternut pumpkin, beetroot and goat’s cheese and serve it with onion, tomato, lettuce and aioli. We don’t sell that many but it’s important to offer the option – it’s a lighter style burger,” Kiran explains.
In the busy suburban Melbourne shopping strip of Toorak Road in Camberwell, Santucci's Cafe features a burger of the week to complement its regular menu items. At time of writing it's the Mexican Chicken Burger, which is a chunky piece of chicken breast topped with fresh house-made salsa, capsicum, cucumber, jalapeno peppers, chopped tomato and a dash of sriracha - not too much because as owner/manager Jen Wong explains, "It's very spicy so we only put a little in. Burgers are very big on the menu right now - in this area we get a lot of young people coming in and burgers, along with pasta, are in big demand."
Jen says customers have been asking for the Mexican Chicken Burger since its previous appearance as a burger of the week special, hence the decision to bring it back to the menu. Next week it makes way for a Roasted Pork Burger - "we roast the pork in the oven at 200 degrees, slice it and serve it with Asian style barbecue sauce, spices and coleslaw. And the week after that we're doing a fish burger. We do a different burger each week to keep the menu fresh and because customers enjoy the variety."
Gary Johnson, until recently National Food Manager and Group Executive Chef for Spirit Hotels which operates 90 pubs around Australia, says burgers are a must-have on the pub menu. “I often say burgers are like blue jeans – they never go out of fashion, as long as you stick to the basics. If you can provide a really excellent burger, then customers will trust the rest of the menu. We always offer both a classic burger plus something a little more trendy – it could be a Southern Fried Chicken Burger or a Char Siu pork burger. A classic burger is comfort food but there’s also room for creativity in your other burger offerings.
“When it comes to your classic beef pattie there are lots of interpretations about the ideal blend of meat, but my ultimate is an older, well-marbled sirloin of three to four year cattle, ground to 2-3mm, and then I add about 15 per cent fat and just mix it very gently with no salt or pepper, then press it into a mould.
The other important component is to make sure the pattie is perhaps half a centimetre wider than the diameter of the bun, to allow for shrinkage after it’s cooked. Then I gently oil each side of the pattie, put a little bit of salt and pepper on and that’s it.”
Gary adds that growing demand for pork on the menu has carried through to burgers. “We recently did a peanut butter and maple bacon pork burger which is delicious – and for Chinese New Year we had a pork burger with Char Siu pork collar butt slices with a nice pickled slaw, some cos leaves and sriracha.
Pork is definitely more prominent on the menu these days – people call it the other white meat and certainly pork, like chicken, lends itself to so many different flavours and textures, and with the breeding program we now have in Australia it’s a very good product. It’s a terrific meat to use and chefs enjoy the wonderful versatility that comes with it – you can use it for everything from stir fries to American barbecue and crisp braised pork belly.”
Fish is also a popular choice as a burger filling – leading seafood supplier Pacific West says its Southern Fried Barramundi Burger, comprising slices of wild caught barramundi encased in a classic southern style batter, has proven very successful with foodservice professionals. Pacific West also offers a Panko Blue Eye Tristan Medallion burger pattie, an all natural wild caught fillet hand-breaded in a fresh panko crumb and weighing in a 85g, the perfect size for a burger filling served up on a brioche bun with accompanying Asian coleslaw. “Not only are burgers big business, but their smaller cousins sliders are also taking off,” points out Pacific West Innovation Manager Neil Cane, “so we’ve introduced Tempura battered all-natural school whiting fillets in 35g portions, which are ideal to use in sliders on an Asian style bao bun.”
The need to cater to all customers has expanded burger fillings to include vegetarian options, as exemplified by the Cattle Country range of frozen burger patties available from Marine Product Marketing, which – brand name notwithstanding - includes not only Angus beef and lamb burgers but a flavoursome vegie burger in an 80g pattie. “Angus beef is a real selling point,” confirms Marine Product Marketing’s Harry Peters, “but it’s also important to offer a vegetarian alternative, especially when it’s packed full of visible vegies and presents as well as it tastes.”
The growing demand for vegetarian burgers has led plant-based proteins producer the Alternative Meat Co to create its own vegetarian burger pattie. “We have a large inhouse new product development team that put a lot of effort into this,” says Business Manager Robert Lowrey. “When it comes to creating a vegetarian pattie, flavour is important but that’s actually fairly easy. Appearance is a little bit harder, and aroma, texture and mouthfeel are harder again – in fact they are the most challenging areas. But through steady innovation and investment in the latest technology we’ve driven the concept forward and we now have a product with mouthfeel and texture that delivers a very meatlike experience, and for many foodservice professionals that is new and exciting.”
Robert explains the vegetarian pattie is designed not only to present and taste but to cook like meat – “As you put it into the pan it starts to sizzle – you can see the fat bubbling – it turns from pink to brown and it even bleeds. How we’ve achieved that is to use a combination of plant-based colours like beetroot with plant-based fats and oils. It’s the way all the ingredients have been combined which allows us to mimic animal meat. The older vegetarian pattie products tended to be glutinous and breadlike, but this new generation really delivers on texture, mouthfeel and performance.”
Robert says the takeup from the marketplace has been “phenomenal – especially considering we’re only going to fullscale commercial production next month, the initial interest has been unbelievable; our production team have their work cut out for them with the number of customers we’ve already signed up. We’ve seen products like this out of the US, but now there’s one here in Australia which is just as good if not better, with 70 per cent of its ingredients grown here as well. So it’s a local product you can get quickly and it’s supporting Australian farmers and producers as well.
“We see the opportunity for this product being much larger than simply catering to vegetarians and vegans – that market will continue to grow as more people make that lifestyle choice, but what is becoming even more commonplace is your average Aussie choosing more plant-based meals and less meat, especially when they know there’s a viable alternative which delivers on the meat style experience. I think the opportunity is huge for this to be a mega trend over the next five to ten years.”
The wide range of choices in burger fillings is matched by the variety of buns available to house them in, thanks to a trend towards premiumisation which shows no sign of slowing down, according to Fiona McRostie of specialist bakery supplier Aryzta Food Solutions Australia. “It may even increase and become the norm in the market,” she says. “What foodservice professionals have realised is that the bun is not just the carrier for the filling – you can use brioche or milk bun to add a distinctive flavour and a more rounded meal experience. Why just use premium filling when you can have a premium bun as well to complement the experience?”
Fiona cites the growing popularity of Artisan style buns like sourdough along with relative newcomers to the market such as potato buns. “You can use buns as a ‘wow factor’ – an Instagram-worthy creation, and this is where the coloured bun shines through. As customers like to know what they’re eating, we’re now using natural colouration – beetroot colouring for red buns, turmeric for orange, squid ink for black. It’s all about capturing the consumer’s attention, drawing them into your business by encouraging them to stop and try something new and different.”
Brioche has been widely adopted as a burger bun, but as Fiona points out, “it’s traditionally made with milk and eggs, but there is a lot of brioche on the market today that may not contain eggs. It’s popular because it’s a little sweet and quite soft, but still holds its shape and brings through a buttery flavour, which means it works particularly well with fillings like fried chicken. For customers who want something less buttery, the potato bun is the next generation product after the milk bun – it has supersoft texture and holding power, but it’s not sweet or buttery. All these different buns complement different types of meat, but the important thing is to choose buns which are strong enough to hold the burger together.”