It was about 11.30 pm and we had just flown in on a 5 hr flight from Toronto and we were hungry. Normally when we hit Piarco International Airport we would get some KFC for the drive to my sister’s place. We Trinbagonians have a weakness for KFC, but ONLY the KFC in Trinidad and Tobago… supposedly there’s something unique about the taste that you can’t find elsewhere. KFC was closed, plus not everyone in our party wanted fried chicken.
The next option was to drive through St James and grab some fast food at one of the many food vendors that line the street. For those of you not familiar with the area, St James is west of the capital (Port Of Spain) and it’s a place that never sleeps. The two options we found were burgers and gyros. First the gyros or what is supposed to be gyro… basically they had some sort of sliced meat that they were putting onto a wrap you’d use for fajitas and topped with a sort of garlic mayo. Not my idea of a good gyro since I need genuine tzatziki sauce to even consider eating this, but you’d swear it was the real thing as the line was long.
The burger wasn’t a suitable option either, as it was dry, lacked any flavour and basically a cheap frozen patty that was cooked on a flat top in a ton of oil and it’s own grease. Yea, I gave it a try since as mentioned I wasn’t impressed with the gyro. However, they (same burger joint) had a shredded chicken sandwich they were calling a chicken burger that really stood out.
As a kid on the islands the only option for a burger was Wimpeys, then years later Mac Donalds came and left and now there’s several local joints where you can get burgers. Then there’s Burger King and many of the bigger restaurants include it in their menu. BTW the burger at Ruby Tuesday at Movie Town (opposite the national stadium) is well worth the price. We’re usually on the islands about 2-3 times a year and I’m still to find a local spot where you could get a decent burger. Maybe it’s due to the mentality of the people as burgers are not really considered “Trini” food, so it’s not widely accepted.
Here’s a “good” burger recipe I introduced to some friends during our last visit. (btw though you can’t get a good burger on the islands that’s affordable, the buns at the various local bakeries are amazing)
For the burger:
2 lbs ground beef (medium or lean works best as regular will have a lot of fat and will shrink when cooked)
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
2 tablespoon grated onion (or chopped fine)
dash black pepper
1/4 hot pepper diced very fine (habanero or scotch bonnet gives that true Caribbean twist)
1 tablespoon ketchup
1 tablespoon BBQ sauce (your favourite)
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
* The hot pepper is optional. If you don’t have fresh hot peppers, you can easily substitute your favourite hot sauce (pepper sauce). Use as much as you think you can handle.
For the topping.
1/2 cup diced tomato
2 table spoon rough chopped cilantro
2 table spoon fresh lime or lemon juice
1/4 cup diced avocado
2 table spoon finely diced red onion (or any sweet onion)
dash black pepper
1/2 cup diced ripe mango (try to get a ripe mango that’s firm)
* You’ll notice that I didn’t have any mango in my topping, as I basically used what I had in the fridge. It’s hard to get me outside (except to BBQ) during the winter months or I’d head over to the grocery and pick one up. Try to include the mango if you can.
In a large bowl, put all the ingredients for the burger and mix thoroughly. I use my hands to really ensure everything gets mixed properly. Then I move on to shaping the burgers. I place a piece of parchment or wax paper onto a baking sheet to make the burgers easier to remove when it’s time to grill. Then I form about 6 balls with the meat mixture and place them onto the baking sheet. Using my fingers I press down on the meat working from the inside out to form a burger shape. TIP – To ensure the burgers cook evenly and all the way through I usually make a dip in the middle so that part is a bit thinner (you should be able to see this in the pic below). Also note that the cooked burger will shrink, so try to work it a bit wider than the buns you’ll be using. This way when it shrinks during the cooking process it will still cover the entire bun. I try to form it about 1/2 inch thick. I then place the burgers in the fridge to marinate for about 1 hr. If you don’t have room in your fridge, you have 2 options. 1 grill immediately or 2. Allow the mixed meat to marinate before shaping the burgers.
The final step is to grill the burgers. I try to get the grill up to between 300-400 degrees ( I much prefer 300 to slow cook – a much juicer burger) and I allow them to cook on each side for about 5 minutes (each flip), flipping 4 times . So in total it cooks for about 20 minutes. But do keep an eye on things as depending on the type of ground beef you get (fat content) you may have flare-ups which can char the burger. Also note that if you use a 400 degree grill it will cook faster.
Though I’ve never used one, I’m sure you’ll get great results from one of those indoor grills like the George Foreman.
While the burgers grill, prepare the topping using the ingredients mentioned above. Basically all you’re doing is dicing/chopping and mixing well.
Here’s the finished burger topped with a slice of Swiss cheese and the fresh topping we made above.
Do you have a “Caribbean” burger recipe you’d like to share? Leave me a comment in the area provided below.