A great burger goes beyond simply ground meat and a bun. A so-so burger becomes memorable, arguably, based on how it’s dressed.
At Plan Check Kitchen + Bar, an L.A.-based comfort-food concept soon to have three units, burgers take on some pretty wild personalities, thanks to executive chef Ernesto Uchimura’s imagination.
Uchimura, who helped put Umami Burger on the map, is perhaps best known for using “leathers,” dehydrated squares of ketchup and Sriracha reminiscent of a fruit rollup, as a condiment. Why leathers?
“When you cook a nice juicy medium-rare or rare burger, the juices flow through the bun, so halfway through eating it the bun ends up soggy,” Uchimura explains.
He tried using mayonnaise as a barrier, but wasn’t happy with the result, then he realized taking some of the moisture out of ketchup and Sriracha would yield a similar flavor without the mess. “I started experimenting with it and realized it fit in perfectly with the burger build and the flavors,” he says.
Ketchup leather is probably one reason Plan Check’s signature burger, the PCB, is also its best seller. Besides the leather, PCB layers include Americanized dashi cheese, schmaltz onions and mixed pickles on a crunch bun.
Traditional sauces and dressings also have been rethought at Plan Check, often pairing familiar Western tastes with Asian notes. The Blueprint Burger—a combination of smoked blue cheese, “pig candy” (caramelized bacon), fried onions and peppercress—is laced with a house-made roasted garlic steak sauce that gets a surprising flavor boost from raisins.
“They give it the sweetness and viscosity I’m looking for, and they add a depth of flavor, but the sauce doesn’t taste raisiny,” Uchimura says.
It seems unworthy to call them condiments, but other creations that punch up Plan Check’s burger menu include:
• A soy truffle baste for the Truffle Mushroom Swiss Burger;
• Chlorophyll mayo on the Shillelagh Burger (Waygyu beef, pastrami bits, green gruyere cheese);
• Schmaltz onions and fried onions top both the Pastrami Gravy Fries and a smoky/spicy version of the PCB; and
• Kumquat gastrique on the Funky Chicken Burger (jidori chicken, jidori chicken liver pate, wild baby arugula, chicken skin cracklings).
Each burger is listed with chef-specified condiments and ingredients, but Uchimura says customers can have it their way.
“If they want to add or subtract something, we are more than accommodating,” he says.
And that ketchup doesn’t just come in leather form; Plan Check Kitchen also offers a more conventional, pourable variety, along with one made with apricots and peaches.
“Everybody automatically gets regular or fruit ketchup with their fries, but they often ask for the bacon spread (diced candied bacon mixed into a housemade thousand island spread) or salt & pepper mayo,” Uchimura says.