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Nick Solares

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Seamus Mullen Crafts a Farm-to-Table Burger for the Meatpacking District

Welcome to Burger Time, the new burger-centric column by Eater's resident carnivore Nick Solares. This week he reviews the burger at Seamus Mullen's El Colmado Butchery in the Meat Packing District.

Historically speaking there is no such thing as a farm-to-table burger. The hamburger is a post-industrial-age creation that is distinctly urban and commercial. It's a study in standardization, uniformity, and mass production. The notion of a grass fed patty topped with artisanal cheese, served on irregularly shaped buns, with greens and pickled vegetables from the farmers market is very much a 21st century and, somewhat paradoxically, urban trope. It springs from a mix of nostalgic agrarianism and concerns about sustainability coupled with the need to make money. Hamburgers end up on all sorts of menus because they sell well and provide a pedestrian alternative for finicky eaters, even if they don’t conform totally to the restaurant's concept.

Seamus Mullen’s El Colmado Butchery is a butcher shop/lunch counter by day and a tapas and wine bar by night, not necessarily the sort of place that one would automatically associate with a great hamburger. The meat at El Colmado is all natural, locally sourced, and grass fed, and all of it is also available for purchase. While the restaurant is ostensibly Spanish, there's no escaping the geographic and economic realities of the market. And so, perhaps inevitably, there's a hamburger on the menu alongside the tapas, Serrano and Iberico hams, exotic Spanish cheeses, and spit roasted chicken. The concept of a split-use space is not new, but it has not always proved successful. With NYC real estate prices being what they are, every square foot counts, and a counter displaying local produce doesn’t always make financial sense.

But to be fair, Mullen has invested more heavily in the concept than a mere counter. He is dry aging beef and ducks in-house, as well as chopping his own burgers. He has crafted a custom blend of beef shoulder clod and brisket that includes a significant portion of dry aged beef. This gives the burger a pronounced tang and minerality that helps to mute some of the grassy, herbaceous notes commonly associated with grass fed beef. While most of the burger-loving world depends on Black Angus, one of the largest cattle breeds, Mullen sources Belted Galloway cattle from Arcadian Pastures in upstate New York. It is a heritage breed, smaller than Angus, but also originally from Scotland with a similarly robust flavor.

Nick Solares

[Above: The hamburgesa. Below: Seamus Mullen, the butcher counter

Mullen employs a coarse chop for his burger, giving the six ounce patty a chunky texture. The raw patties (available for sale $3.75 at the butcher counter) have a dark magenta color and are studded with hunks of yellow fat, a far cry from the bright red patties you might encounter at a supermarket. The yellow hue is from the beta carotene in the grass; in comparison, grain finished animals develop a stark white fat. The fat content is quite high at around a 65/35 meat-to-fat ratio, and because grass fed cattle tend to be quite lean, Mullen adds beef fat back to bring up the levels as needed. The patty is aggressively seasoned with a mix of salt, black, white, and pink peppercorns, and coriander before being seared on the plancha. It develops a thick, dark crust, aided by being weighed down during cooking, which insures the maxim contact with the cooking surface. This impressive crust, rife with those deep flavors of browned meat, along with the chunky grind of the patty, makes the burger reminiscent of steak au poivre.

Despite the patty's considerable virtues — the steak-like flavor from the dry aging, the spice blend, and the hellacious sear — you can’t fight genetics. Grass fed beef is inherently leaner and less sweet than grain finished beef, and this patty is never going to be as juicy as a similar blend fabricated from grain finished meat. It's not just about percentages – the very nature of that fat is different. It is here that Mullen’s skill as a chef comes into play, balancing the flavors and textures to achieve synergy. A dense molten blanket of Mahón, a cows milk cheese from Spain, is a $1 additional option but should be considered mandatory. It adds moisture and a pleasing creaminess to the burger, as well as nutty, buttery notes. Speaking of buttery, the bun is a brioche from Grandaisy bakery that's slathered in beef fat and toasted on the plancha alongside the patty. While I tend to be prejudiced against brioche due to their sweetness, the bun works well here due to the savory nature of the grass fed beef.

The burger at El Colmado Butchery is not the juicy, sloppy, grease-running-down-your-arm gut bomb that you will find at a diner or bar. It is all together a tidier, more refined and considered hamburger that, by virtue of the grass fed beef, is lighter and more digestible than some. It is also fairly priced at $14 with cheese, especially considering it includes the dry aged beef. And despite being situated in the Meatpacking District, El Colmado Butchery is on a quiet enough stretch of street that it's the perfect place to escape the maddening urban crowds and revel in the myth that is the barnyard burger.

El Colmado Butchery, 53 Little West 12th Street, NY, NY 10014

El Colmado Butchery

53 Little West 12th St, New York, NY Visit Website
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