The burger: It’s not often that one of Minnesota’s gifts to the culinary universe — in this case, the cheese-stuffed burger known as the Juicy (or Jucy) Lucy — lands in the TV spotlight. But that’s what happened earlier this month, when Jack Riebel took a quick detour from his kitchen at the Lexington in St. Paul and spent 14 hours in a New York City television studio shooting an episode of the Food Network’s “Beat Bobby Flay.”
For the cooking showdown, Riebel devised and prepared a whopper of a Juicy Lucy. The all-important cheese is a Wisconsin-made Gouda from cheesemaker Marieke Penterman, a raw cow’s milk cheese infused with bits of black truffles — and black and white truffle oil — and aged a few months. It was chosen out of necessity, but it works, big time.
'“We already had it on the menu,” said Riebel. “And of course the show wanted five recipes, and they wanted them tomorrow, you know? So I used what I had.”
Riebel puts that flavorful cheese through a reduction process — using sodium citrate, an anti-coagulant, then tossing in a few herbs and spices — to give it a sturdier melting point.
“That’s one of my knocks on the Juicy Lucy,” said Riebel. “The cheese is always so hot, and the beef is always so overcooked. I wanted to cook the beef to medium, and still have the cheese melt.”
Eureka: the revised Gouda isn’t volcano-level molten and oozy. It’s warm, yet it holds together -- a blob, not a gusher -- an inspired improvement.
As for the beef, wow. The majority is trimmings from the kitchen’s prime steaks, with some fatty chuck trimmings tossed in. Riebel estimates that the mix hovers somewhere near a rich 70/30 meat/fat ratio.
That’s not all. The ground beef is enriched with a secret seasoning mix: porcini mushroom powder, dried and ground onion and chipotle powder, among other goodies. “I want to give it as much umami as I can pack in,” he said. Yeah, no kidding.
That thick, cooked-to-medium-rare patty isn’t the hard-pressed hockey puck that is often the case with a Juicy Lucy. It’s looser, and, well, juicier.
“That’s the trick to any burger,” said Riebel. “You don’t want to handle the beef too much. The heat from your hands denatures the fat.”
It’s crowned with a blanket of soft caramelized onions. Riebel uses a technique he credits to British star chef Heston Blumenthal, a confit formula that uses sage, cracked pepper and star anise to their best advantages.
Last but not least is the lightly toasted, sesame-studded bun. It’s baked on the premises and fairly close to perfect: tender, with airy holes in its interior, but sturdy enough to hold up to that weighty, juiced-up patty.
No pickles (“Not on a Juicy Lucy,” said Riebel), but there is a representative from the vegetable family, a small bed of arugula slipped under the patty. The finishing touch is a liberal swipe of truffle aioli on the bottom bun.
“That’s for moisture,” said Riebel. “No one wants a dry sandwich.”
But everyone — certainly Juicy Lucy fans — will want a crack at this diet-busting beauty (and yes, it’s OK to eat this towering monster with a knife and fork; you’re seated in the paneled, patrician Lexington, after all). Don’t delay: it’s available only through March 1st.
Price: $25. Yeah, that’s some sticker shock, but justified (see, Steak Trimmings, above). But it also includes fries as well as any tap beer or glass of the house red or white wines.
Fries: Included, and cruelly addictive. They’re the bar’s garlic-parsley fries, and usually the scent of truffle on a French fry has me bolting in the opposite direction. Not here, where the scent taunts the nose but the flavor doesn’t overwhelm, a rarity.
Ready for his close-up: At the start of the tailgating-themed episode, Riebel makes one of the series’ better I-Mean-Business entrances, giving a football the mic-drop treatment. Following the show’s format, he and another chef — Paul Malvone of Boston Burger Co. — duke it out in a 20-minute segment showcasing an ingredient of Flay’s choosing, which in this case was bratwurst. Riebel won. No surprise, since he (accurately) described himself as “one of the sausage kings of Minneapolis.”
That victory advanced Riebel to the 45-minute challenge against Flay, who showed his Juicy Lucy chops with a green chile-pimento cheese rendition, with honey-glazed bacon, a green chile-red onion relish, red onion pickles and a smoked chile barbecue sauce. Flay was the victor, but to this viewer, Riebel was robbed.
“No sour grapes,” he said with a laugh. “It was a great experience. With these competitions, what I’ve learned is that it’s not how well you cook, it’s how few mistakes you make.”
The episode, titled “Bobby Gets Sacked” (it’s season 15, episode 3), is currently available on demand on Xfinity, and is scheduled for rebroadcast on March 22 at 9:30 p.m. and March 23 and 12:30 a.m. Check it out.
Where he burgers: “I’m not much of a burger guy, I’m more of a sausage guy,” said Riebel. “I like the burger at Kelly’s Depot Bar & Grill, because it’s a St. Paul dive bar, and I have a propensity for St. Paul dive bars. I’d have to say the best burger I’ve had recently was at Bull’s Horn. It was awesome.”
Address book: 1096 Grand Av., St. Paul, 651-289-4990. Riebel’s TV star of a Juicy Lucy is available through March 1 (“we might later add it to the patio menu,” he said), and take note: it’s only served in the bar. Doors open at 4 p.m., and quantities are limited. “We always sell out,” said my very personable bartender.
Talk to me: Do you have a favorite burger? Share the details at firstname.lastname@example.org.