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The Return Burger Recipe

For the first time in nearly a year, we’re bringing you an American recipe, based on a traditional American sandwich. We call this the “Return Burger” recipe because we have a tradition of getting burgers whenever we “return” from…well…anything! Whether we’ve been in across the ocean in Europe, as in this case, or off in the woods on a multi-day hike, the Return Burger marks the end of away, and the return to wherever we were before.

Today’s post is a little different than usual—it’s focused on us, on one of our own traditions, a piece of our own personal culture. The thing is, burgers are such a ubiquitous part of the American landscape—everybody has a burger tradition of their own—that we figured our story would be more interesting, or even serve as a more instructive illustration of personal food cultures, than a rehashing of the hazy origins of yet another enormously popular sandwich. We hope you enjoy—let’s dive in!

The Return Burger Recipe

Background/History

The Return Burger is a tradition that Jeremy actually hit upon while hiking with some friends in Inyo National Forest in California. They’d spent a full day ascending to the base of Mt. Whitney, and once they’d made their way back to camp from the summit—the prospect of a burger at the little shack at the trailhead was so enticing—they raced all the way back down the mountain, despite having another day left on their use permit.

On our first hiking trip together in Big Bend National Park, we kept that tradition alive by returning to have a burger at the park’s restaurant in the Chisos Basin, and thus made it our own. Now that we’ve been traveling more internationally, we’ve extended the tradition to include our returns from those trips as well. When we returned from Mexico, we enjoyed our return burgers in the Houston airport, and most recently, when we arrived back in the US from Europe, we got our return burgers at the Mill House Brewing Company in Poughkeepsie (pictured below)—you may also remember them from our New York-Style Hot Dog post, from last summer.

The Return Burger Recipe

Procurement

Part of returning to Poughkeepsie for us is a visit to Adams Fairacre Farms, the best grocery store in the world (Have your own favorite grocery store? Let us know! We’d love to check it out!). We last featured Adams in our Meatball Sub Sandwich Recipe post, and we’re featuring it again because for us, no stay is Poughkeepsie is complete without a visit to Adams. They’ve got a wonderful selection of produce, much of it local, and a wide variety of meat from various levels of sources, which is why we were happy to source our ingredients for this Return Burger from them. They’re also locally owned and operated by the Adams family, with four locations in the Hudson River Valley, and in these days of mega corporation grocery stores, every dollar you can spend to support a local grocery store, and the local farmers they source from, is money well spent!

The Return Burger Recipe

Ingredients

For today’s burger, we decided to use pre-made burger patties. When you return from somewhere, you don’t want to do a lot of work; you just got back! If you make this recipe yourself, you’re welcome to make your own patties, but it’s hard to beat simplicity when you’re jet lagged or trail beaten. Because we used pre-made patties, we didn’t have to allow the burgers to rest before cooking–if you’ve ever made burger patties and didn’t let the patties rest before cooking you know what we mean: dry, tough burgers. A pre-made patty solves this problem because it’s been resting for at least a few hours to a day beforehand (always check the date on your burgers–you want them fresh!).

The Return Burger Recipe

As for buns, use what you like but we prefer a softer bun like brioche or a regular sesame seed-studded white bun. Some people, especially in the Northeast, prefer Kaiser rolls, but we find them to typically be a bit dry and overly large. You’ll want to match up your burger patty size and your bun size to ensure that you don’t end up with a mouth full of bun only–no fun!

The Return Burger Recipe

Finally, the toppings: this burger features Jeremy’s favorite toppings–a mixture of sautéed onions, mushrooms, and jalapeño peppers with a slice of melted Swiss cheese. When he has his choice of anything on his burger, this is what he likes. We’ll talk more about how to prepare this mixture in the next section.

The Return Burger Recipe

Preparation

All in all, preparing this burger (or any burger, really) is very easy. The most time-consuming part is cooking the vegetable mixture, and that’s pretty easy, too. You want to just lightly caramelize the onion and then just soften the mushrooms and jalapeño slices (we find that overcooking jalapeños kills their spiciness). Temperature control and paying attention to the sizzle are the keys to success here. That’s really all there is to it.

The Return Burger Recipe

Once the veggie mixture is complete, the next step is to cook the burger. We prefer our burgers medium well (unless we’ve managed to score some particularly exceptional meat) so we cooked ours for five minutes on one side and two minutes on the second side to complete the process. Check out this chart for burger cooking times (it says it’s for steak but it works for burgers, too). Also, you want to flip the burgers only once–this way you’ll get great browning on the outside, like you see in our photo below. Messing with the patty too often will just result in additional loss of moisture anyway, and you’ll end up with a drier burger.

The Return Burger Recipe

Now that everything’s done, you’re ready to assemble and eat! Yay!

The Return Burger Recipe

Cultural Importance

The significance of the Return Burger is a matter of tradition and rituals. It’s one of the special things we do for ourselves as a family. Going to unfamiliar places, whether nations or environments, can be stressful. “Going” in general can be stressful. A life of movement, as rewarding as it can be, is accompanied by exertion both physical and mental. It’s important to mark the ends of exertion, to make a statement that one phase of life is complete and another is beginning. So each time we return, we re-center and re-immerse ourselves in our regular lives with a burger. It’s the ultimate reset button, a big check-in that reminds us that wherever we’ve found ourselves, we’ve been here before, and so we’re back home. Cheers!

The Return Burger Recipe

Yield: 2 burgers

The Return Burger Recipe

Ingredients:

  • 1 tablespoon light oil
  • 1 small onion, thinly sliced
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon cracked black pepper
  • 1 large jalapeño pepper, pith and seeds removed, thinly sliced length-wise
  • 3 large (or 6 small) button mushroom caps, thinly sliced
  • Non-stick spray or a swipe of light oil in a pan
  • 2 each (4 to 6 ounce) burger patties
  • 2 slices Swiss cheese (or your favorite sliced cheese)
  • 2 hamburger buns
  • Optional: mayonnaise, to taste
  • Optional: spicy brown mustard, to taste
  • Garnish: 2 pickle spears
  • Garnish: your favorite potato chips

Method:

Cooking the Onion, Mushroom, and Jalapeño Topping:

  1. Add the oil, onion, salt, and pepper to a skillet and heat over a medium-high flame. Stir well and cook until onion is softened, about 5 to 7 minutes. Stir occasionally to prevent stick and ensure even cooking.
  2. Add the mushrooms and jalapeño slices and stir well. Continue to cook another 3 to 5 minutes, until mushrooms are shiny and have shrunk a bit. Stir often to ensure even cooking.
  3. Transfer the veggies to a small bowl and cover with foil to keep warm. Wipe the skillet clean to use for the burgers.

Cooking the Burgers:

  1. Heat the skillet over a medium-high flame, and allow it to heat fully. You should feel heat radiating off of the pan.
  2. Coat the skillet with a light layer of non-stick spray or lightly wipe it with oil on a paper towel.
  3. Add the burgers and cover the skillet. For medium-well burgers, cook for five minutes on the first side. Flip the burger and continue to cook for an additional two minutes on the second side. (Use this chart for additional doneness levels.)
  4. Once the burgers are done, turn off the flame and top each patty with a slice of cheese.

Assembling the Burgers:

  1. If you like toasted buns, use your oven's broiler or the bagel setting on your toaster to toast buns to desired doneness.
  2. If you're using mayo and mustard, add them to the buns, as desired.
  3. Place the burger patty atop the bottom bun and carefully top with the desired amount of onion, mushroom, and jalapeño topping.
  4. Add the top bun and serve your burger with a pickle spear and your favorite potato chips.

Prep:10 min

Cook:20 min

Total:30 min

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  • P~

    I love everything about The Return Burger! Everything. What a great ritual. Isn’t life really about creating those important moments that we both look forward to experiencing, and remember fondly? Beautiful! P~

    • Thanks, P! It’s one of our favorite rituals! 🙂 And we 100% agree: making the ordinary into something meaningful what life is really all about! I knew you’d get it!