Friday, September 24, 2010

Chasing Prague's best burger

It seems that expats have a thing with chasing the best burgers in Prague. And unfortunately it isn't that easy to find one which deserves honourable mentioning.
Brewsta had made a top 16 list of his favourite burgers in Prague. BF and I have tried several from this list (and several others), but we still haven't been blown away by any of them. A few comments:

Brewsta's no. 13, Mozaika: You'll find plenty of people on the internet praising this burger. I had one recently together with my Dutch friend, Mr. Citroën. But even though we both found it pretty and inviting on the plate and liked the fries which went with it, we were still disappointed with the beef patty, which didn't taste of anything. The meat wasn't meaty. We tried seasoning it a bit extra ourselves, but it didn't help. I liked the onions, though (Brewsta didn't).
Brewsta's no. 10: Burger King. Nowadays where you expect the best brugers to be served in cafés and restaurant, how can Burger King belong to such a "hit list"? But I agree with Brewsta, it DOES belong there. Compared to a lot of the overpriced burgers you get elsewhere, Burger King delivers good value for money. Back when the only Burger King in Prague was in Cerny Most (or was it Zlicin?) BF and I sometimes found ourselves driving there - just for that.
Brewsta's no. 8: TGI Friday's. Here I must disagree. This burger isn't as good as the ones served in Burger King, but they charge the double (or more). And last time (really, it will be the last time) we were there, the service wasn't even good at all, unless waiting for a beer for 20 minutes and almost waiting an hour for your burger is your favourite pastime.
Brewsta's no. 6: U Maleho Glena. This one I haven't tried yet, I must admit. But as I like U Maleho Glena just as much as I like a good burger, this combo needs to be tested as soon as possible. Maybe tonight?
Brewsta's no. 3: Hard Rock Café: This one is really up there with the best. Big, juicy, fresh. But I refuse to go back and pay close to Czk. 300,- for a burger when the same money will buy me a large and juicy 300 g. steak with a side dish, a desert and a couple of Pilsners in Highland Steak House (where I can even smoke).
Brewsta's no. 1: Bohemia Bagel in Holesovice. First time we went there, we both loved the burger a lot and agreed that this would be our number one as well - and a lot cheaper than the others (Czk. 155,-, all included). But the last time we were there I was disappointed by a bun so chewy that I didn't really want to eat it. I am willing to go back and give them an extra chance, though.

Not included in Brewsta's list, but worth mentioning: Legenda on Legerova 39. Legenda is a restaurant on the top floor, and 2 floors further down a music club. On the middle floor it is more or less a noisy café on top of a music club :-)
On all 3 floors they'll serve the burger for Czk. 159,- including fries and some b-b-q sauce on the side. This burger is actually on our top 3 - but sometimes they use too much mustard. The place is mostly crowded, and it can be hard to get a table without a reservation. It does help that we can see it from our living room windows, so if it is full, we didn't walk too far in vain.
Milsnej Kocour, Belgicka 42. This newly opened restaurant (where Cheers used to be) has tankové Pilsner at Czk. 35,- which of course for us is a major plus. And smokers as well as non-smokers will love the place which has 2 different entries, and the 2 sections are completely separated. But their interesting menu (try them for their cheap and good lunch specials) also features 2 varieties of hamburgers: A Cheeseburger and a Beefburger. The main difference is in the dressing and the fact that the beefburger is supposed to be served with jalapenos. Both of them have cheddar cheese, and they both cost Czk. 165,-. First time we tried the beefburgers, we both loved them and instantly decided that we had found our new no. 1 on the hit list. Lots of flavour, beef cooked exactly right and therefore juicy and full of taste. So we went back next week. Different cook? Maybe. Completely boring - and without the jalapenos. I asked for some and was presented with thin slices of a mild red chilli which didn't resemble jalapenos in any way. We were disappointed, and as BF can also be very stubborn he has refused to go back for a third try.

So where to turn in these times of burger crisis?

To our own kitchen. I decided to do it myself and see, if I could hit no. 1 on BF's hit list. Below you'll see how I did it:

Make sure your burger buns are quite flat before you let them raise - you'll want to be able to actually eat the thing later.

Home made burger buns:

  • 3½ dl lukewarm water (best is 30-35 degrees)
  • 175 g of durum flour (if you can get it)
  • 450 g of plain flour
  • 1½ table spoon of oil
  • 25 g of fresh yeast
  • 1½ tea spoon of salt
  • 1 table spoon of sugar
Dissolve the yeast in the water together with salt, sugar and oil. Add the 2 kinds of flour and knead the dough thoroughly to make sure you have all the gluten working. If it is too sticky, add some more flour - but not too much.
I use my bread maker for this. It actually does a better job than I can do myself, and of course it is a lot easier. It'll also make a nice temperature for the dough to raise in. My bread maker is a "Tesco XXL", and I bought it for Czk. 999,- (they often make campaigns for it).
If you don't have the bread maker, simply let your dough rest in a warm place for 1½ hours, before you give it another work through (but not too much - just to be able to make the buns), divide it into 8 parts which you roll out to very flat buns, 13-15 cm in diameter. Let them rest on the baking plates for another 30 minutes before you brush them with water (or egg + sesame seeds) and bake them for 15 minutes in the middle of your oven at 225 degrees

I thought we'd have the excess buns for some time in the freezer. I was wrong. BF ate them all in 1½ days.

In theory you can easily freeze the excess buns. Make sure to put them in a plastic bag before they are completely cold - then they'll be nice and soft when you defrost them and carefully reheat them.

While the buns are in the oven, you can prepare the trimmings
I used: 
  • Pickled peppers
  • Mild pickled chillies
  • Lettuce
  • Sliced tomatoes (DON'T use "boats" of tomato)
  • Raw onion rings
  • Sliced cucumber
  • A good mayonnaise (I bought a jar of Hellmann's, being too lazy to make my own)
  • Ketchup
  • Pickled cucumbers (the home made Danish variant - you can use the jarred ones as well)

For the beef patties, use freshly minced beef. 200-250 g per person. Avoid the fatty ones from Albert and buy something with 12-15 % of fat. That'll still be juicy without being too fatty. I always mince my own beef, as it is fresher, faster, easier and often even cheaper.
First you shape the meat in the right size, and then you must brush it with oil (important - or it WILL stick to your grill pan) and season it with salt and pepper. Easy on the salt if you also plan to use the home made b-b-q sauce.

Heat your grill pan until it is very hot and grill the patties to your liking (of course even better if you can use a real barbecue - but we can't in our apartment). While you're grilling one side, apply plenty of the sauce to the other side.If you like cheese, put a couple of nice slices of your favourite melting cheese on top of the patties for the last 2 minutes of grilling them.
  • ½ dl of vegetable oil
  • 2 dl of ketchup
  • 2 table spoons of sugar
  • 2 table spoons of soy sauce
  • 1 table spoon of Worcestershire sauce
  • 2 cloves of crushed garlic
  • some good chilli sauce. I buy mine at the SAPA market, but I am sure your local Vietnamese green grocer will have the right stuff as well. I use SRIRACHA HOT CHILI SAUCE
  • Salt and pepper
Basically you just mix all the ingredients together. If you have a blender, use that. I use a hand blender. It needs to be hot, but not too hot, so careful with the chilli. Taste it and stop in time. It needs to go as a dip for the French fries as well.

While grilling the beef, crisp some bacon in another pan. I found a good quality of bacon in Tesco. It was a 200 g package, so I thought it would last for some time in the freezer. I was wrong. BF ate it.

While cooking the beef and the bacon I prepared some French fries in the oven. I don't like deep frying, so I bought the best I could find in Tesco. They were good.

And then all you need to do is assemble the burgers:

Split the buns with a sharp (bread) knife, cover the bottom part with mayonnaise. Ad some onions and then the beef. Decorate with tomatoes, cucumber, the pickled stuff and finally the lettuce. Serve with some of the veggies on the side as well. And of course a small bowl of your home made barbecue sauce.

Serve with a couple of chilled Pilsners.

How did it go? Well BF found the local burger to be no. 1 on his hit list - and that was basically what I was aiming for.

Dobrou chut!


  1. I want to come to your house for dinner! ;-))

  2. Great post; I love burgers and cooking though I have to admit it had never even occurred to me make my own buns. I can't say that I'll run out and do it as even though the buns I've found thus far here are little more than acceptable, I'm lazy. Feel free to invite me around the next time you whip some up though ;-p

    May I suggest you get some Branston relish and French's [American] mustard from Robertson's to try on your next batch of burgers? Yum.

    Burgers in restaurants here? The one I've liked best here was at Bohemia Bagel in Holesovice. I've never had a burger disaster there, though sometimes their fries are dry or limp. But it's just too far away from me to visit very often.

    Hard Rock Cafe Prague's burger is the real deal. When I want a burger that would be at home in a cafe in America, this really is it, right down to proper (and properly cooked) American bacon. Yes it's expensive, but if you want authentic, there is no other that I know of in town and it really pains me to say that as I would never set foot in a tourist mecca such as HRC unless I really really had to.

    Potrafena Husa also makes a great burger, though I've had some bad ones there from time to time. They are much more convenient with their various locations than BB or HRC, of course.

    I can't immediately think of another burger in town that I'd travel for, though several places now do have burgers that don't suck, so I guess that's an improvement.

    At home your insistence on grinding your own beef is key; beef mince here is cut with something or other (offal, I'm assuming) that adds a flavour that just should NOT be in beef mince. Unless you've got yourself a butcher who will agree to mince the beef in front of you -- and I know of only two that will do that -- grinding your own is the only way to go. Prepackaged mince here is to be avoided if at all possible.

    It doesn't surprise me in the least that locals who've never had the real thing think we're completely insane devoting so much time to burgers. But I also know from personal experience that when such people visit my flat and eat a fresh burger with carefully locally sourced and cooked ingredients, they all love them.

  3. So maybe I should start having burger parties at home - bring your own drinks :-)

    Thank you for the idea of the relish and mustard

  4. Nice blog post Laus. I've always liked the ones at Jet Set across the road from Jama, but never see anyone ever mention it.

  5. We'll have to try those as well :-)