Just shy of ten years ago, I was a first year at university and finally getting the chance to cook to my heart’s content. I was quite an avid calorie counter at the time, and as such I soon came across the popular trend at the time of making ‘diet coke chicken.’ It was something that was initially balked at by many of my peers, but within a few short years you couldn’t move for finding the odd “coca cola ham” or “sprite cake” recipe. Despite the initial concept seeming odd, these all boil down (literally) to the same culinary concept – when you evaporate the liquid of a soda you are left with a sweet, flavourful concentration. Add some salt, umami and acid to these (usually by way of ketchup) and you get an easy well-balanced sauce. Use diet fizzy drinks and you get a low-cal variety.
This recipe works in very much the same vein. I was eager to not just make this another BBQ sauce wherein the featured drink simply serves as a pseudo-molasses. I wanted to really feature the aromatic cherry-vanilla quality that makes the drink so brilliantly distinctive, and as such only used minimal additional flavourings. While I’ve gone for the ever-popular brioche bun and typical salad, the trimmings are entirely your own.
Ingredients – For 4 x 1/4lb burgers
- 1 330ml can Dr. Pepper
- 1 tsp tomato puree
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 star anise
- 2-3 cloves
- 2-3 tsp cornflour
- Splash malt vinegar
- Sprinkling salt
- Cheese of your choice
- 1 lb beef mince (if making your own patties)
- Buns and trimmings
- Add the Dr. Pepper to a small saucepan with the bay leaf, star anise and clove. Simmer on a low heat until reduced by half and remove the solid pieces.
- Add 1 tsp tomato puree and simmer for a further 10 minutes or so. It should be noticeably thickening, but not necessarily be syrupy yet – if it seems to get to thick, add a splash of water. You do, however, want to take off the raw tartness of uncooked tomato puree.
- Add a small splash of vinegar and light sprinkling of salt. Taste, and continue to add as necessary. It should have a floral caramel-like flavour, but with noticeable sourness so that it isn’t too rich.
- Mix 2-3 tsp cornflour with equal parts water in a ramekin. Spoon into the simmering Dr. Pepper sauce 1 tsp at a time. Stir through and allow 10 seconds or so for it to thicken. Keep doing so until it’s a similar consistency to treacle/fish sauce. Not as thick as ketchup, but not going to run all over the plate.
- If making your own burger patties, weigh out 1/4lb beef mince at a time. Roll into a cohesive ball, then flatten and shape on a chopping board/plate. I press down with my palm until it’s around 1cm thick, then gently run my hand around the edge to guide it into a circle. Season the top and bottom generously, then fry for 2-3 minutes each side in a very hot, lightly oiled pan.
- When your patties are nearly fully cooked, use a pastry brush or the back of a spoon to lightly cover with a little of the sauce. Cook for a further minute or so. At this stage I like to put the cheese on top and cover with a large metal bowl/lid to help it melt nicely.
- Place the cooked burgers on your dressed buns and spoon over 1tsp more sauce in the middle (or more!) As you can see, I also decided to add a little bit of crunchy bacon.