Years ago, back when I had my bakery, I used to work the graveyard shift in a kitchen on the top floor of an 1890s warehouse. Nowadays, the warehouse complex is one of the most well-known gentrification projects in New York City, but for my entire life up until the day we were priced out, those warehouses were the spookiest place in Brooklyn.
Terrifying from the outside already, the warehouses were even worse on the inside, especially in the dead of night. The windows had shattered panes the wind would whip right through, and aggressive pigeons would often use them as an entry point while searching for cake crumbs. The prewar freight elevator had to be manually operated, rattling and shaking and shedding debris on its way to the top floor—you couldn’t use the stairwells, because the doors were all chained shut in order to, in the words of my landlord, “keep the night people out.” Though it’s said that New York is the city that never sleeps, it does go silent in the dead of night, meaning that most of the noises I heard while working were the sorts of things that would cause me to hide in the walk-in refrigerator and pray that I was not discovered by a either a crime syndicate or ghosts. When we’d finally wrap up work around 3 a.m., we’d dash to the right side of the highway, exhausted and starving.
When you cook for a living, it’s very hard to cook for yourself after a shift, and your dining options are limited. Luckily, there was a newly opened spot called Sunset Bagels, one of the most solid sandwich joints I’d ever been to, day or night. Of all the well-crafted sandwiches on the menu, the king was the Dominican Chimi Churri hero. It had nothing to do with the parsley-rich Argentinian chimichurri sauce that most of us know. In New York City’s Dominican community, a chimi is a seasoned beef burger stuffed into a soft bread called pan de agua, piled with tomatoes and an acidic cabbage slaw, and slathered with a mayo-based “chimi sauce.” No one looks good after working until 3 a.m., and the chimi burger is the perfect sloppy sandwich to dive into after a long, spooky shift.
Here in Baltimore, I cannot always find pan de agua to replicate those chimi burgers perfectly. No matter how I’m forced to improvise, though, they’re always delicious. In this recipe, I used large Portuguese sandwich rolls. You can also use long, soft hero bread and shape your burgers to match them. The most important thing, though, it not giving a damn about how you look eating this, or what it might do to the front of your shirt and pants.
Makes 4-8 burgers, depending on size
For the burgers:
- 2 lbs. ground beef
- 1 small yellow onion, peeled
- 4 fat cloves of garlic, Microplaned
- 3 Tbsp. soy sauce
- 2 Tbsp. Worcestershire sauce
- 1/4 cup minced cilantro
For the slaw:
- 1/2 small cabbage, finely shredded (about 2-3 cups)
- 1/2 red onion, thinly sliced
- 1/4 cup sour cream
- Juice of 1 large lime
- 1/4 tsp. black pepper
- 1/4 tsp. kosher salt
For the sauce:
- 1/2 cup mayonnaise
- 1/4 cup ketchup
- Juice of 1 large lime
- 1 gorgeous tomato, thinly sliced (optional)
- 1 small white onion, thinly sliced (optional)
- Pan de agua or Portuguese rolls
Put the ground beef in a large bowl and break it up with your hands. Use a box grater to grate the onion directly into the bowl, then add the garlic, soy sauce, Worcestershire sauce, and cilantro and mix with your hands just until everything is evenly combined. Put the mixture back in the fridge and allow it to rest for at least two hours (but no more than 24 hours).
Shortly before cooking the burgers, make the slaw by mixing all the ingredients in a bowl, then tasting for seasoning and adjusting as desired. To make the sauce, do the same thing: everything in a bowl, stir, season. Easy peasy.
Form the burgers into patties. For the photo above, I made four thick half-pound patties, but you can also make eight thinner quarter-pound patties. Cook the burgers on a grill or a cast-iron skillet until they’re done to your liking. Slather a bun (toasted or untoasted—up to you) oh both sides with chimi sauce, add the slaw, tomatoes, onion, and burger patty. Eat like there’s no one watching.