july fourth has come and gone, but it did not leave without stamping it's indelible mark on me. the backyard BBQ tradition of burgers and dogs left me feeling nostalgic and all a'buzz about one of my favorite foods....the burger. when i think back on my life there is almost always a good memory that somehow involves a burger. sitting at the counter of seymour's luncheonette in flushing, queens eating a burger and drinking an egg cream. laughing with my dad at the candlelight diner in commack over a twin burger deluxe - that, by the way was two burgers with fries and all the fixins - and yes, i could put it all away by the time i was 9 years old. i will never forget enjoying a juicy, rare cheeseburger and a cold pint at the corner bistro in the west village at 1am after a gig with my band and on the very morning of the day i got married. like a good friend, a delicious burger has always been there when i needed it.
the burger is a simple, yet complex dish. it can involve many different ingredients but usually takes the same "form." the patty. it can be a convenient hand-held sandwich or it can stand alone on a plate, sometimes on a lovely pile of well dressed greens or properly prepared grains. sometimes it's not even called a burger when there is no bun but a chopped steak! imagine that.....it can be served hot, straight off the grill, out of the broiler or crusty and seared off of a cast iron skillet or griddle -- but sometimes it makes it way into lunch boxes, bags and tiffins as a cold, day old delicacy to be dipped in tasty condiments like ketchup (tomato sauce in our house), dijon mustard, pickled relish or eggy house made mayo. honey mustard, chili mayo, herb mayo, caper & dill pickle mayo -- aka tartar sauce, russian dressing, vinaigrette, vegetable & herb puree, tapanade, salsina, ranch dressing, caesar dressing, blue cheese mousse, demi glace...i think you get the idea.
a great burger can be made from grass fed beef, pastured meats like lamb, turkey, pork, veal, venison, elk, bison, wild boar, wild salmon, tuna, organic beans, seeds & nuts etc. fish burgers are amazing and we ate them all the time as kids. our mum called them salmon croquettes and we enjoyed them with spaghetti and tomato sauce. the burger possibilities are endless really because guess what.....the best burgers are the ones you grind yourself. really....no kidding. if you have a kitchen aid, the grinder attachment is a must have. if you don't have a kitchen aid there are a few inexpensive table top grinders that will do nicely. i still have a hand crank grinder that attached to the end of a table just like my grandmother sylvia used to make her famous chopped calf's liver. can i tell you something else...burgers are fun to play with. organic fresh or dried herbs, spices and aromatic vegetables are all ways to make the burger stand up and receive the applause it deserves. you can even combine your ground meats for a more interesting flavor and nutrient dense burger. For example, we here at chez duff do something fun with our burger in that we grind grass fed beef, beef liver, beef or bison heart and bacon all together to make an outrageously delicious amalgam of savory meat and fat and cook it just right -- medium rare in my humble opinion -- we also cook our burgers very often in bacon grease for even more smokey goodness. of course there is not as much ground liver in the mix as there is heart because liver is very strong in flavor. but this is a great way to get liver into your kids or even adults who have an aversion to liver but are in need of the very essential nutrients that liver provides. it also reminds me of a dish i used to do in a restaurant where we would sear a sushi grade tuna steak that had foie gras inserted into the center of the steak -- which is basically an unground burger with liver in the middle. it was beautiful!
playing with your burger ingredients will allow you to find the perfect blend you prefer and will help you to explore the possibilities. for instance, building your perfect burger could be as easy as dried sage in ground turkey meat and searing in a pan or grilling on the BBQ. top with a good quality, organic ketchup or homemade fermented ketchup and you're good to go. or, you could be that person who goes for what we call "burger with the lot." i am married to an aussie and discovered this burger while cooking at a mulberry street restaurant dedicated to australian cuisine. burger with the lot is a perfectly cooked patty of the protein your choice on a bun, topped with......melted cheese, bacon, a slice of pineapple, thinly sliced sweet red onion, roasted beet root slices - can be fermented or pickled, dill pickles and a fried, sunny side up egg. did i forget the ketchup? i am sure there are a few of you who are making a face right now as if this sounds like the weirdest most not tasty burger ever but i implore you to try this combo. not only is it delicious but it is fun! the egg on the burger is one of the best treats ever. as a matter of fact a fried egg in butter on top of anything is just plain awesome! try it next time you make pizza...holy runny yolk yum!
some of my favorite burgers are oregano crusted lamb burgers stuffed with feta cheese, sage crusted turkey burger, spicy pork burgers with chipotle mayo, wild salmon burgers with tarragon or with dill mayo, tuna and basil burgers with wasabi mayo, grass fed beef & bison heart burgers with curry pickled red onions and raw cheddar. playing with the condiments is always a fantastic idea to zing things up without muddying the flavor of the protein. people always ask me what i put in my meat and i say...meat. i do not do onions, garlic, breadcrumbs, egg, etc. i save that for meatloaf and let the burger speak loud and clear. i tend to gussy up the condiments or get wild with my toppings. herb roasted vegetable puree is a lovely touch on a burger -- a ratatouille that will not slide off. sauerkraut and other fermented vegetables, sprouts, sauteed greens, raw cheeses plain and melted, cooked and raw onions, sliced avocado, guacamole, cole slaw, dried tomatoes, raw tomatoes, oil & herb cured tomatoes....you think i like tomatoes?
major important reminder: do not cook grass fed meats on a very high flame or high heat. you can start these burgers on a high-ish flame to get some color on them but them reduce the heat or find a cooler spot on the grill and cover to finish. grass fed meats cook differently than grain fed meats and you do not want to ruin this beautiful, nutritious product. If you would like to learn more about grass fed meat cooking i suggest reading any of shannon hayes' wonderful books -- or searching out her blog at grassfedcooking.com. now get thee to the greenmarket and pick up some quality grass-fed, pastured, organic or wild caught protein and build those burgers. simple or fancy your burgers will get the Family2Table with an energy that has raised generations of healthy, happy folks who hold the burger in high esteem and continue to build life long memories around the culinary tradition of good eating. enjoy!