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Monday, June 29, 2009

Burger Bonanza

Ohh, there's nothing as American as a burger...grilled over charcoal...on a warm summer day. And since Fourth of July is right around the corner, I think I'll share my two, all-time-favorite recipes for the best 'weird' burgers you'll ever make. Go ahead and mock me -- these are not the standard, good ol' ground chuck burgers you salt and pepper, shape into patties and throw on a grill. I'll admit it. Yuppie burgers. Quirky burgers. Call them whatever you like. They are simply DELICIOUS and you're going to love them.

*The photo above is a burger from a local institution--Taylor's Refresher. If you can't make your own, this is the next best thing.

First up, we have the finest turkey burgers known to man. Trust me on this. I have been making these since my days at Oprah, where Art Smith taught me how to make them early one morning, in a tent we had set up out front of our studio to do a Summer Entertaining show. Art says the key to keeping a turkey (or ground chicken) burger moist and flavorful is in the veg and the man knows what he is talking about. The main trick here is a beautiful confetti of finely chopped vegetables--mushrooms, tomato, shredded carrot, etc...) that create the most deliciously moist and flavorful turkey burger you'll ever come across. Some breadcrumbs in the mix help keep the juices in. Top it with some peppery arugula, a nice cabbage slaw and/or melt a little blue cheese on these burgers and you're in business.

Next, is a recipe I am now officially addicted to -- lamb burgers.

My dear friend, K, gave me my current most favorite cookbook--Big Small Plates--by SF area chef, Cindy Pawlcyn as a birthday gift last year. It's one of those beautiful books where you flip through the recipes, drooling and planning to make everything. K and I had a Sunday cooking date last fall, where we chose several recipes to make from the book and then had a fun evening of cooking together, chatting and drinking wine before sitting down to an extraordinary feast. The lamb burgers from that night were my absolute favorite and I've been making them ever since. They are so wonderfully bright tasting with some Asian ingredients that give them a light, almost exotic quality. Spring them on any one you know that may not be a fan of lamb -- and they will be converted, I guarantee it. The burgers are accompanied by a refreshing herb salad, drizzled with a vibrant tamarind vinaigrette. It's a fantastic combination unlike any I have ever come across. I serve the burgers on top of the herb salad--hold the bun--and toast up some store-bought naan on the side.

The burger -- it can be anything you want it to be. So, American, isn't it?

1. I would recommend grilling over charcoal, but hey, I spent the past ten years living in an apartment with no outdoor space, so broiling is okay too, or a ridged, cast iron pan accompanied by an extremely powerful exhaust fan. If no exhaust fan, disconnect those smoke detectors and open up the windows!

2. All burgers benefit from a 'rest' -- a couple hours in the fridge before cooking for the flavors to meld.

Grilled Turkey (or Chicken) Burgers
adapted from Art Smith
Makes 6 servings

1 small red onion (or half a large red onion), finely chopped
1/2 small red bell pepper, seeded and finely chopped
4 oz white mushrooms, finely chopped
1 medium carrot, peeled and coarsely shredded
1 garlic clove, finely chopped
1 ripe plum tomato or a handful of cherry tomatoes, finely chopped
1/4 cup seasoned dried breadcrumbs
2 tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1 large egg, beaten
1 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 1/2 pounds ground chicken or turkey

For serving:
6 soft hamburger buns
blue cheese or Swiss cheese, optional
arugula leaves
avocado slices

Spray a large, non-stick skillet with oil, or heat a teaspoon of olive oil,, and heat over medium-high heat. Add onion, red pepper and mushrooms and cover. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables soften, about 3 minutes. Add the carrot and garlic and stir, uncovered for 1 minute. Add the tomatoes and cook just until heated through, about 2 minutes. Transfer to a large bowl and cool completely.

Add the breadcrumbs, cheese, egg, salt and pepper and mix well. Add the ground chicken or turkey and mix just until combined. (Do not overwork the mix.) Cover and refrigerate for at least 1 hour and up to 4 hours.

Meanwhile, build a charcoal fire in an outdoor grill and let coals burn down until medium hot, or preheat a gas grill on high, and then turn to medium. The key is not to grill at super high heat.

Shape the chicken/turkey mixture into six 4-inch wide patties. Lightly oil the grill. Grill the burgers, turning once, just until they feel firm when pressed in the centers, about 12 minutes.
Add cheese, if you're into that, for last minute or two of cooking.

Spicy Lamb Burgers with Vietnamese Herb Salad and Tamarind Vinaigrette
Serves 6

Tamarind paste and oyster sauce are some of those interesting ingredients one can easily find in Asian markets, but are more and more commonly available in the ethnic food section of certain larger grocery stores. I've had various adventures searching for tamarind paste and let me just advise you not to buy the tamarind pods that come in a brick -- keep looking until you find the paste. You'll be glad you did.

Tamarind Vinaigrette
4 tablespoons brown sugar
3 tablespoons water
2 tablespoons tamarind paste
1 tablespoon soy sauce
6 tablespoons olive oil

Lamb Burgers
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 1/2 tablespoons oyster sauce
1/2 Serrano or jalapeno chile, seeded and minced (and you know the drill...where gloves or make some makeshift ones like I do, with a small plastic baggie, or go barehanded and DO NOT rub your eyes right after chopping)
2 tablespoons chopped fresh mint leaves
1 1/2 tablespoons minced cilantro leaves
1/2 sweet onion, minced
juice of 1/2 lime
1 pound ground lamb

Vietnamese Herb Salad
2 scallions, white and light green parts only, cut into 1 1/2 inch julienne ( a pain, I know, but it looks really nice)
2 Thai or Serrano chiles, seeded and julienned
1/2 bunch basil, any kind, small leaves only
1/4 bunch cilantro, leaves only
1/4 bunch mint, small leaves only
1/2 bunch chives, cut into 1/2 inch pieces
1 bunch watercress, leaves only, or arugula

To make the vinaigrette:
combine the sugar and water in a small saute pan. cook over medium heat, stirring until the sugar has dissolved. Add the tamarind and soy sauce, and stir until smooth. Remove from heat and whisk in the olive oil. Reserve until needed.

To make the lamb burgers:
First combine the garlic, oyster sauce, chile, mint, cilantro onion and lime juice in a large bowl and mix well. Then mix in the ground lamb meat, making sure everything is well combined. Divide the mixture into 6 equal parts, or 12 if you want to make mini patties. Moisten your hands with water before forming the patties--makes things easier. Shape the patties and make them flat, but not too thin. You don't want them to over cook before they have a chance to caramelize on the outside. Regular patties should be 2 to 3 inches in diameter.

Cook the burgers about 2 minutes per side for medium. combine all the ingredients for the salad and toss it with just enough of the vinaigrette to coat. Serve the dish with the salad piled on a platter and the lamb burgers placed on top, with an extra drizzle of vinaigrette over all.

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