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It’s name is fancy and French, but it’s definitely something we’ve seen our grandmothers use as their “secret ingredient” in some Sunday supper, and it’s called a panade – a what? The French name is the only thing fancy about a panade, which is a ratio of bread and milk smooshed (a very technical term) together to form a rough paste. Classically panades are used as a binder for things like fish cakes and soufflés, but in America, we’ve found it fits just right with our good old meatloaf or meatball recipes, and that’s it…or is it? Actually this not-so-familiar mixture is the secret to making cheap ground meat taste like it’s from the fancy part of town and not from the wrong side of the tracks.

Via: Unsplash

There are many reasons as to why we don’t use panades, but I think the main reason is that classic panade calls for fresh bread, which depending on our house, isn’t always fresh and isn’t always the right type of bread (nothing screams savory like cinnamon raisin bread). We also only use a panade in (at most) two ground meat recipes, but adding this mixture can really change up the taste of America’s classic food – the hamburger.

Via: Unsplash

I know bread in a hamburger sounds weird, but it is the secret ingredient to making cheap ground meat taste like luxurious cuts of tender prime meat, if anything, a panade is even more essential in hamburgers than one might think. Unlike meatloaf which is baked or meatballs which are seared and then cooked in a sauce, burgers take more abuse in the kitchen – we sear burgers on high heat or expose them to the raw flames of our backyard grill – and this can make even the best of burger meats taste horrible. When we expose meat to very high heat, the proteins of the meat contract and shrink, and since we should be cooking hamburgers with a minimally pink interior, the hamburger taste becomes very grim, crumbly, and dry – sound familiar?

Via: Flickr

So how can we use a panade to get hamburgers that are moist even after we cook them through? A mixture of panko and milk are the keys to getting a top-quality tasting hamburger. Panko is better than classic bread because these crumbs have a specialized jagged shape absorbing the right amount of water and any excess liquid drains right out of the panko structure. When you use classic breadcrumbs or bread, you may face a soggy, heavy hamburger, remember – panko puffs up, bread crumbs condense together. The panko panade ratio by Cook’s Illustrated seems to be the most consistent – for every 1 pound of ground meat, you use ¼ cup of panko with 3 tablespoons of milk.

Via: Unsplash

It’s not just ground beef that benefits from a panko panade – hamburgers made with lean ground meats like turkey, chicken, or pork taste so different when they have a mixture of panade inside the patties. Try this out with your next hamburger, and you’ll see the difference right away!

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