- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 25, 2004

Think about a Memorial Day menu and burgers come to mind. In days gone by, when we thought about burgers, beef came immediately to mind. Today, beef may still be king of burgers, but it’s no longer always the first choice of cooks or guests at Memorial Day celebrations.

Stores stock freezer shelves full of vegetarian patties. The meat case offers turkey burgers, chicken burgers and salmon burgers alongside ground beef. Some specialty markets stock frozen patties of ground buffalo, ostrich and venison. And beef patties themselves are available in fat contents of about 27 percent (30 percent is the legal limit) down to less than 5 percent, with some specialty beef patties, such as Kobe-style beef patties, claiming to have “healthier” fat. Free-range, grass-fed bison patties are sold at a number of local farmers’ markets with pamphlets touting their benefits both for the consumer, the animal and the Earth.

Whether you choose veggie burgers for moral, health or flavor reasons, most score lower in fat than even the leanest beef burgers. Many are cholesterol-free, except those made with cheese or eggs. They also provide fiber, while meat supplies none. But they may be higher in sodium than burgers made with beef or other meat, depending on what the cook adds to the recipe.

Some veggie burgers are made with soy protein, giving them a chewy texture, color and flavor similar to hamburger, although some tend to be dry, perhaps encouraging the addition of fatty condiments that may cancel their low-fat virtues. Others are based on combinations of beans, grains or vegetables, some with cheese or egg white as binders.

We tried frozen buffalo and Kobe beef burgers, grilling both. The buffalo seemed ordinary, much like domestic beef. But the Kobe beef was juicy (20 percent fat) with a big beefy flavor. Both were from Broadleaf Meats, whose 8-ounce Kobe-style beef patties are available at Costco for about $18 for a package of six patties.

They are unseasoned, and we found that just a bit of salt and pepper were all that was needed to finesse these oversized patties.

Broadleaf raises its cattle in Australia in the style of the wagyu beef pampered in the Kobe Valley in Japan. The Japanese cattle are reportedly raised on a diet that sometimes includes beer, and they live a life of luxury, including sake massages.

Perhaps it is the massaging that keeps them from growing a thick outer layer of fat, instead developing intramuscular fat. This results in juiciness and tenderness and has reportedly fetched steak prices up to $600 a pound. Domestically produced Kobe-style beef is available as well, at much more reasonable prices.

Trader Joe’s sometimes stocks Kobe beef patties in the freezer section. Mark Mitchell, president of Broadleaf, recommends grilling Kobe beef patties from the frozen state for the juiciest result with the most intense flavor. But whether you’re cooking up veggie, beef, chicken or even big portobello burgers, the urge to flatten them with the back of a spatula is a temptation most can’t resist. Don’t do it. You’re squeezing out all the fat and juices that make a burger really great.

The toppings, from the usual suspects (lettuce, tomato, onion and pickle) to some of the more fanciful suggestions with the patty recipes that follow, and the portability supplied by the bun help complete a happy equation that will make a memorable burger for any American holiday.

Here are a few recipes, all directly or adapted from “Totally Burgers” by Helene Siegel and Karen Gillingham (Celestial Arts).

Blue cheese Kobe burgers with arugula

4 8-ounce Kobe-style ground beef patties

Salt and freshly ground pepper

4 panini or other crusty rolls, split

2 ounces blue cheese, crumbled

Dijon mustard

Arugula leaves

Season beef patties with salt and pepper to taste. Grill over hot coals until done as desired. Do not press patties with spatula.

Grill panini or other rolls, cut side down, alongside patties, just until crisp and hot.

During last minute of cooking, scatter blue cheese over patties to melt slightly. Spread cut sides of rolls with mustard to taste.

Set patties onto bottom halves of rolls and to each add a generous handful of arugula leaves. Cover with roll tops. Makes 4 servings.

Black bean chipotle burgers

This vegan mixture is too delicate to cook on the grill.

2 15-ounce cans black beans, well drained

2 tablespoons chopped cilantro

to 1 chipotle chili, rinsed

Salt and freshly ground pepper

Cornmeal for coating

3 tablespoons mayonnaise

1 to 2 teaspoons adobo sauce from chipotle chilies

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

4 burger buns or other rolls

Lettuce leaves and tomato slices

Quick confetti corn relish (recipe follows)

Place half of beans in small bowl and mash to a smooth paste. Stir in remaining beans along with cilantro and chipotle chili. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Form into 4 patties. Dip in cornmeal to coat lightly. Refrigerate on waxed paper-lined tray, at least 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, in small bowl, blend mayonnaise and adobo sauce.

In large skillet, heat oil over medium heat. Carefully add bean patties and saute about 1 minute. Carefully turn and saute 1 minute longer or until heated through. Spread bun or roll bottoms with mayonnaise mixture. Top with lettuce, tomato and hot bean patties. Top with quick confetti corn relish and bun or roll tops. Makes 4 servings.

QUICK CONFETTI CORN RELISH:

3 cups fresh corn kernels

1 red bell pepper, seeded and diced

1 green bell pepper, seeded and diced

3 tablespoons diced red onion

1 bunch of fresh chives, sliced

1/4 cup red wine vinegar

1/3 cup olive oil

Salt and freshly ground pepper

Tabasco sauce

Blanch corn in rapidly boiling salted water until water returns to a boil. Drain and rinse with cold water. Transfer to mixing bowl. Add bell peppers, onion and chives and mix.

In small bowl, whisk together vinegar, oil, salt and pepper to taste and 2 to 3 dashes Tabasco. Pour over corn mixture, toss well and serve, or store in refrigerator. Makes 3 cups

Chicken and fennel burgers

Try serving this unusual patty on a panini roll with thin slices of orange and red onion.

1 pounds ground chicken, preferably thigh meat

1 teaspoons minced garlic

1 tablespoon fennel seeds, roughly chopped

teaspoon Dijon mustard

Salt and freshly ground pepper

Olive oil

Hamburger buns or panini rolls

Thin slices of orange and red onion

Lightly combine chicken, garlic, fennel and mustard. Gently form into patties. Season all over with salt and pepper to taste.

Preheat grill or place cast-iron skillet over high heat. Lightly coat grill or skillet with olive oil. Sear patties until very brown on bottom, refraining from pressing. Flip and cook second side until well-browned. Serve hot on hamburger buns or panini rolls, topped with orange and red onion. Makes 4 servings.

Lamb and feta burgers

These rich, tasty burgers are delicious served on grilled buns brushed with olive oil and sprinkled with herbes de Provence and garlic.

11/2 pounds ground lamb

1 tablespoons minced garlic

3 tablespoons chopped oregano

2 tablespoons chopped Kalamata olives

2 to 3 ounces feta cheese, crumbed

Salt and freshly ground pepper

Olive oil

Grilled buns

Herbes de Provence

Minced garlic

Tomato, lettuce, sliced cucumber, optional

Lightly combine lamb, garlic, oregano, olives and cheese. Gently form into patties. Season all over with salt and pepper to taste.

Preheat grill or place cast-iron skillet over high heat. Lightly coat grill or skillet with olive oil. Fry or grill patties until charred on bottom. Flip and finish cooking, refraining from flattening with spatula. Serve hot on grilled buns sprinkled with herbes de Provence and garlic and topped with tomato, lettuce and cucumber, if desired. Makes 4 servings.

Salmon-ginger burgers

Serve this pink patty with watercress or coleslaw on thinly sliced, toasted country bread spread with a mixture of mustard and mayonnaise.

1 pound skinless salmon fillet

1 tablespoon freshly grated ginger root

1 egg yolk

teaspoon Dijon mustard

2 teaspoons soy sauce

teaspoon sesame oil

2 teaspoons vegetable or peanut oil

Watercress or coleslaw

Thinly sliced, toasted country bread

Mustard and mayonnaise

Finely chop salmon by hand. Transfer to mixing bowl with ginger root.

Whisk egg yolk in small bowl. Whisk in mustard, soy sauce and sesame oil. Add to salmon and combine well. Gently form into four patties.

Heat vegetable or peanut oil in large nonstick skillet over high heat. Carefully slide patties into pan with spatula. Reduce heat to medium-high and fry until golden all over, about 4 minutes per side.

Serve on country bread spread with a mixture of mustard and mayonnaise and top with watercress or coleslaw. Serve hot.

Makes 4 servings.

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