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Wednesday, August 16 Living

Spilling the secret sauce: CT native co-authors new book on Shake Shack success

Mark Rosati has eaten plenty of Shake Shack burgers, but he still savors every one.

“I tend to be a fast eater … but I find myself pausing a bit when I eat our burger,” says Rosati, culinary director of this popular modern-day, roadside burger-and-shake stand. Maybe it is the daily ground meat made of muscle, not trim, or the soft potato roll. “I still feel that experience of how it is done, how it is cooked and all that … and it brings me back in time, to that first one I had at Shake Shack before I worked there — how special it made me feel. It is kind of my touchstone, to remind me of the magic of the experience.”

Some 13 years later he and other people around the world still feel the magic, which has translated into restaurants in 19 states (including Connecticut with outposts in Darien, Westport and New Haven) and 11 international sites. What began as a hot dog cart in Madison Square Park in New York City in 2001, under restaurateur Danny Meyer’s Union Square Hospitality Group, became a beloved brand.

When the permanent Shake Shack opened in the park in 2004, it was a harbinger of the “fine casual” trend. Gourmet burgers could be found in fine-dining establishments, as celebrity chefs balanced high-end ingredients with a simpler presentation, decorations or menu. Shake Shack had fine dining in its DNA (USHG’s establishments include Gramercy Tavern and Union Square Café), but also a great love for roadside shacks. Meyer was influenced by burger joints and drive-ins of his St. Louis youth, while Rosati, 40, was inspired by seaside shacks he savored growing up in Stonington, such as Abbott’s Lobster in the Rough in Noank and the Sea Swirl, a seasonal seafood shack in Mystic.

More Information

The ShackBurger

Serves 4

4 hamburger potato buns

4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

4 tablespoons Not Quite Our Shack-Sauce

4 pieces green leaf lettuce

8 ¼-inch slices ripe plum tomato

1 pound very cold ground beef, divided into 4 pucks

Our Salt and Pepper Mix (see recipe below)

4 slices American cheese

Heat a cast-iron griddle over medium-low heat until warm. Open the hamburger buns and brush insides with the melted butter. A soft brush is helpful here. Place the buns buttered side down on the griddle and toast until golden brown, 2 to 3 minutes. Transfer buns to a plate. Spoon the sauce onto the top bun. Add a piece of the lettuce and two slices of tomato. Increase the heat to medium and heat the griddle until hot, 2 to 3 minutes.

Make the salt and pepper mix: Mix ½ cup kosher salt with ½ teaspoon freshly ground pepper. Evenly sprinkle a pinch of the salt and pepper mix on top of each puck of meat. Place the pucks on the griddle, seasoned side down. Using a large, sturdy metal spatula, firmly smash each puck into a 1/3-inch-thick round patty. Pressing down on the spatula with another stiff spatula helps flatten the burger quickly. Evenly sprinkle another big pinch of the salt and pepper mix.

Cook the burgers, resisting the urge to move them, until the edges beneath are brown and crisp, and juices on the surface are bubbling hot, about 2½ minutes. Slide one of the spatulas beneath the burger to release it from the griddle and scrape up the caramelized browned crust. Use the other spatula to steady the burger and keep it from sliding. Flip the burgers. Put the cheese on top and cook the burgers 1 minute longer for medium. Cook more or less depending on your preference. Transfer the cheeseburgers to the prepared buns.

ShackSauce

Makes about ½ cup

½ cup mayonnaise

1 tablespoon Dijon mustard

3/4 teaspoon ketchup

¼ teaspoon kosher dill pickling brine

Pinch of cayenne pepper

Fried Pickles

Serves 4

2 cups round kosher dill pickle slices, drained

1½ cups buttermilk

2 cups flour

½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Canola oil for deep-frying

Kosher salt

Soak the pickles in the buttermilk for 5 minutes in a large bowl. Whisk together flour and pepper in a deep wide dish. Set the pickles and seasoned flour aside.

Pour the oil into a heavy, deep pot to a depth of 3 inches. Heat over medium heat until the temperature of the oil reaches 350 degrees on a candy thermometer.

Working in batches, dredge the pickles in the flour, shaking off any excess flour. Use a wire spider or a slotted spoon to carefully lower the pickles into the hot oil. Deep-fry the pickles, turning them halfway through, until they are golden brown and crisp, about 3 minutes. Drain on paper towels. Salt and serve immediately.

Serve with variety of toppings, such as ShackSauce or ketchup.

“We had this notion that (Shake Shack) would only be open in the summertime, during the day and then shut its doors at night … and come back the next day and do it all over again. Maybe we’d cook 50 burgers a day,” Rosati says. “As we all know, that went very differently.”

Since its start, Shake Shack attracted long lines no matter where it opened and an excitement played out over social media, with photo-ready images of decadent shakes, eye-catching hamburgers and hot dogs piled high with tasty ingredients. While its success was well-known, the Shake Shack team had never truly recorded it.

Well, order up. With the release of the 240-page book, “Shake Shack: Recipes and Stories,” by Rosati and CEO Randy Garutti, fans and newbies get a peek into the chain’s “secret sauce.” Stories are interspersed with 70 recipes, hundreds of photos and other tidbits that will likely make fans hungry for more. There is even a recipe for the chain’s “ShackSauce,” well, not exactly, but close enough.

“We actually shied away from doing a cookbook for a long time,” Rosati says. “Every American cook cooks burgers and hot dogs, and sure, we have our own way of doing it. But we thought maybe this is not just recipes; this is also for us to tell the story … of how we have grown over the past several years … and the people who helped us to get there.”

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Shake Shack often has been put into the context of a happy accident, but as Meyer points out, the success was accidental, but “the idea was not.” It flows from the philosophy of an “enlightened hospitality” that works for a simple shack to a white-tablecloth dining room. It may be quick serve, but the ingredients, attention to presentation and taste suggest sophisticated intention. Great food is a must, Rosati says, but experience is just as important. He recalls early days at Abbott’s.

“There is just something about sitting on a dock, overlooking the harbor, eating a lobster roll in the middle of summer,” he says. “The lobster roll has to be good, but that experience, from the way you order, pick up your food, that is what makes it legendary. You cannot get that experience anywhere else in the world.”

What better way to differentiate than connect with culinary superstars. In 2014, five iconic New York City chefs, including Daniel Boulud and David Chang, created special burgers for a 10th year anniversary celebration. The recipes of all five are in the book. When asked whether the chain might ever reach out to Fairfield County’s top chefs, Rosati says it’s a possibility. “Maybe somewhere down the road, we’ll have the opportunity to do it,” he says, noting he already influenced one special burger, the Surf’NShack, with its heap of lobster salad atop a burger. It is sold in New England during the summer.

chennessy@hearstmediact.com; Twitter: @xtinahennessy

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