Hugh Acheson’s sous vide cheeseburger from Sous Vide.

Hugh Acheson’s sous vide cheeseburger from Sous Vide.

Nearly a year after we moved to Baltimore, a new restaurant opened up on Cross Street: Bookmakers Cocktail Club. On a street littered with variations on the traditional pub and/or biergarten, Bookmakers was decidedly different: a quasi-speakeasy with gothic decor, an extensive cocktail list, and upscale takes on Southern fare. It was one of the few places in the neighborhood where you could get a drink and not have TVs on everywhere you looked–though they would make exceptions and bringTVs out for local games–and you felt at least somewhat compelled to get a little dressed up to go there, though it was never compulsory. 

While their cocktail menu, divided by a rotating seasonal list alongside a selection of year-round staples, was the main draw, for me it was also the prospect of trying their sous vide burger made with local Roseda ground beef. Being that it was 2015, immersion circulators were not readily available to home cooks at a reasonable price just yet, making the sous vide technique much harder to get right at home, and I was really excited to try one of these burgers for myself. The catch, though, was that there would only be 25 burgers available each night–you’d have to get there early to get your name on a list to claim one, and they would make it whenever you wanted that night.

The sous vide burger from Bookmakers Cocktail Club that is terrible because cell phone photography in 2015 was terrible.

Those burgers were so damn good, I would drag Michael around the corner on more than one Friday evening at happy hour so I could get  my name on the list, and it was worth the effort. Eventually the gimmick seemed to wear thin and they stopped the sous vide cooking process and did it on a cooktop, and while it was good, the magic by then had also vanished. It didn’t help that I was pretty sick of burgers then anyway, as I went on this rampage to try as many local burgers as possible and I definitely overdid it myself. 

As the years went on and the restaurant would bring in fresh chefs and menus, our patronage tended to wane save for when we would bring in out-of-town friends who were in the mood for a really good cocktail. Other, more accessible places had cropped up in its wake, and unfortunately the closure  of Bookmakers due to the pandemic was its death knell as it was sold and has since turned into a French bistro that we have on our list to try once the weather turns decidedly warm. 

By the time Bookmaker’s met its untimely end, I had an immersion circulator in my kitchen, and thanks to Hugh Acheson’s Sous Vide cookbook, I had a way to recapture why I loved those Bookmaker’s burgers so much. He has you season the meat simply with kosher salt, pepper, and Worcestershire sauce, and you can top it as you would top any burger, and the results are simply perfect. It’s all about the sous vide process here—by cooking the meat at 120.5 degrees F, you keep that burger at a perfect medium-rare and then you finish them in a screaming-hot pan that gives the burger a delicious crust that takes all of one minute on each side. 

As for topping this burger, well, the sky’s the limit here. You could easily whip up some sun-dried tomato ketchup from Ed Lee, or you can go for a more traditional combination of lettuce, tomato, onion, and pickle and your cheese of choice. (I went with Tillamook’s sharp cheddar slices, and though I used a culinary torch to help melt the cheese as the slices are on the thicker side, it was totally worth it.) While it wasn’t the exact Bookmaker’s burger in terms of accouterments, it brought me back to those Friday nights in a dimly-lit bar and why I made such a fuss to get those original burgers in the first place.

Sous vide cheeseburgers

Lightly adapted from Sous Vide: Better Home Cooking by Hugh Acheson

Makes four burgers

  • 1 lb ground beef, either 80/20 or 85/15 (the latter works if you can get a grass-fed ground beef)
  • ½ tsp kosher salt
  • ½ tsp ground pepper
  • ! TB Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 tsp canola oil
  • 4 slices cheese of your choice (I prefer sharp cheddar, but you go your own way on that)
  • 4 brioche burger buns
  • 4 leaves of butter lettuce
  • 4 slices of red onion (optional)
  • 4 slices of tomato (optional)
  • Condiments of your choice: mustard, ketchup, mayo, pickles, etc.

Special equipment: immersion circulator, Ziploc freezer bag

Set a water bath to 120.5 degrees F using the immersion circulator, and allow it to come to temperature. As it’s working towards that, season the meat with the salt, pepper, and Worcestershire sauce in a medium mixing bowl, and use a clean hand to mix the meat to distribute the seasonings. 

Add the meat to a gallon-sized Ziploc freezer bag, and gently pat the meat down until it is ¾ inch high and the meat has filled the corners of the button of the bag. Use the back of a butter knife and carefully press down on the meat to make four patties–first make one indentation in half, and then make an indentation in each half to make four patties total. 

Seal the bag by pushing as much air out of the bag as possible, and place in the water bath when it has come to temperature and let the meat cook for 30 minutes. While the patties cook, set up a wire cooling rack on a paper towel. When the burgers are finished, move the bag out of the water and place the patties on the cooling rack for 10 minutes to rest. While they rest, get a cast-iron skillet on the heat and set to high heat. Brush the oil on both sides of the patties, and when the pan is very hot, carefully place the patties to sear, 1 minute on each side. Place the cheese on the second side of each patty, turn off the heat, and cover to let the cheese melt on the very hot patties for a minute or two. Transfer the patties to buns, and dress to your preferences with the toppings and condiments of your choice. Serve immediately. 

Note: any sous-vide burgers that you don’t sear can be stored in the fridge for up to 5 days.

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