September 02, 2011
Welcome back to the kitchen. My, how quickly the seasons change. We are just entering into September, and right on schedule we’ve got cooler, crisp nights and much milder days.
But I am nowhere near ready to relinquish summer. We’ve got to still got some heat ahead of us, gull darn it. So let’s eat like it! The Labor Day weekend is traditionally the third and final of the classic American barbecue day trifecta, along with Memorial Day and the 4rth of July.
Many folks will gather with friends in back yards, cold beers in hand, to wring one more day in the sun out of the season. Others will pack up the family in the station wagon, cram a cooler full of favorite foods, and head out on a car camping trip. Regardless of exact location, many of us will find ourselves spending the holiday near a barbecue grill, so today’s recipe is geared towards that.
Here on cooking local we seek out a lot of creative, new and experimental recipes, and today no exception. But in all the variety and creativity I realize that we have left out one absolute American classic: the hamburger. I can’t believe we made it almost all the way through summer without throwing some on the grill. Now, some of you are groaning, thinking you’ve had a million burgers and they are dull and unexciting. Others probably have a Pavlovian response and are drooling just at the mention of hot and juicy grilled burgers.
I’m guessing that most of you out there are already capable of forming ground meat into a patty and grilling it until done before serving it between bread and topped with veggies. We all get the basic concept. So today I want to celebrate this late summer holiday by expanding our burger horizons and trying a few unique twists. While we’re at it we will learn a few burger method tips plus a bit of the elusive history of this dish that has so come to represent our country and culture.
So today I want to make a trio of burger sliders, little one or two bite burgers that make for an awesome party snack or of course you can eat several of these to make a meal. And if you don’t want to bother with sliders then you can of course just make regular sized ¼-1/3 pound burgers.
For our slider trio I’m thinking of doing a beef burger teriyaki style with grilled pineapple, a spicy pork sausage burger Italian style, and a curried chicken burger with mango chutney and red onions. Yum! I think these three burgers will make for a nice platter presentation and a great variety of flavors. But of course I am really just trying to open the door to your creativity. So try to think up your own crazy burger varieties too.
Now, before we get into the recipes, I want to share some of the research I’ve dug up on the mysterious origin of the hamburger. You see, it really all depends on what you count as a burger, because people have been eating meat between bread for a very long time, and cultures throughout the world cook ground or minced meats in a variety of ways.
According to wikipedia, “The exact origin of the hamburger is unknown and may never be known with any certainty. Most historians believe that it was invented by a cook who placed a Hamburg steak between two slices of bread. It is difficult to determine who first had the idea for the hamburger, because there is no written record about its creation, as only verbal descriptions and direct statements to the local press exist to support the various claims of invention.
However, all claims made by the potential inventors of the hamburger occurred between 1885 and 1904, focusing all attention of its creation onto these two decades. Despite the various stories about the origins of the hamburger, there are common elements in all of the narratives, most notably that the hamburger was born as a food associated with major events such as amusement parks, fairs, conferences, and festivals. All the hypotheses also share the presence of street vendors.
It seems that hamburgers were likely a food that gained popularity in this country as a mark of the changing of the culture. People got busier, traveled further from home, and sought easy and delicious food that could b eaten on the go. A hamburger certainly fits that bill.
Of course we most typically think of using ground beef, but I think for our slider trio we should make things a bit more interesting. So for a big platter of hamburger sliders three ways, let’s start with the pineapple teriyaki burgers. We’ll need:
-1 to 1.5 pounds lean ground beef
-1/2 onion, peeled and diced fine
-2 tablespoons ginger teriyaki marinade
-1 can pineapple rings, drained and juice set aside
-1 teaspoon wasabi paste
-3 tablespoons mayonnaise
-1 teaspoon soy sauce
-1/2 cup finely shredded green cabbage or bok choy
-1/4 cup sliced picked ginger
-garlic salt and pepper to taste
-about 8 to 10 mini slider buns or a baguette or other long thin loaf cut up into slider sized pieces
In a big bowl mix the beef with the diced onion, a splash of the reserved pineapple juice, and the garlic salt and pepper. Mix it all together really well. You can try to use a spoon, but I think eventually you are going to have to get in there and use your hands.
Because we are making sliders, we want to form a whole bunch of little miniature patties that are not too big, but still will have a little juiciness to them. Some people recommend chilling your burger meat before forming patties, which can make it a bit easier. I never had the patience. You can also lightly oil your hands so the meat will stick to them less.
In any case, divide the meat into about 8 equal balls. Flatten the balls into roughly 2 inch rounds. Remember that the burgers will shrink when cooked, so you want to make them a bit bigger raw than you want them to end up when they are finished. Burgers on the grill can be particularly vulnerable to plumping up and turning into a funny UFO shape that is hard to fit toppings on. To combat the over-plumping, leave a deep depression in the center of each patty with your thumb. This way they will cook up more uniformly flat.
And before we go further, I want to address a common burger controversy: to bind or not to bind. You see, like meatloaf, many hamburger recipes call for the addition of breadcrumbs and an egg to help hold the patties together. I used to be a huge proponent of this method, and I haven’t really got anything against it. But on the other hand I haven’t had a huge problem with my patties falling apart without using binders. So I leave this decision up to your preference and discretion.
OK, enough tips, lets get back to our sliders. So once we’ve formed the teriyaki burger patties, let’s set them aside on a covered plate in the refrigerator. I want to grill all three types of sliders at the same time. Mix up the soy sauce, wasabi and mayo together for a tasty burger topping. We will also grill the pineapple slices to get a nice, caramelized char on them before cutting the rings in half to make slider accompaniments.
Now, for the Italian style sliders we will need:
-1 to 1.5 pounds loose ground spicy Italian pork sausage
-1/4 cup chopped olives, preferably a strongly flavorful variety
-1 teaspoon honey
-3 tablespoons basil pesto sauce
-2 tablespoons marinara tomato sauce
-about ½ cup mozzarella cheese, preferable whole slices but shredded will do
-1 red pepper
-1 teaspoon olive oil
-slider buns or small slices of bread
Mix the chopped olives and honey into the meat well. The honey may seem like an odd addition, but I really like the balance of sweet and hot sausage together. It is totally optional if it seems to strange to you. You probably won’t need much more seasoning, because Italian sausage has lots in it. But you could add fresh oregano and chopped garlic if you’d like. Form the seasoned pork Italian sausage into 8 or so small slider patties and set them aside on the plate in the refrigerator.
Rub the red pepper with the olive oil, and we will roast that on the grill as well for a topping.
Finally, as we conclude our three stop burger tour, we head from Japan to Italy to India. For these curried chicken sliders we’ll need:
-1 to 1.5 pounds ground chicken (ground turkey will do in a pinch, though it tastes pretty different
-a small handful (or a few spoonfuls) of raisins
-1 tablespoon spicy curry powder
-1 teaspoon turmeric
-1 teaspoon minced garlic
-4 tablespoons plain yogurt
-salt and pepper to taste
-2 tablespoons prepared mango chutney, available in the ethnic food aisle of most grocery stores this sweet, spicy, and tangy topping is truly delicious
-a few very thin slices of sweet red onion for topping
-lettuce leaves for topping
-very thinly sliced cucumber for topping
In a bowl, mix together the ground chicken, raisins, curry powder, turmeric, 2 tablespoons of the yogurt, the garlic, and the salt and pepper. The yogurt will hopefully make these burgers even juicier when we cook them. Form about 8 or so small slider patties and set them aside on the plate in the fridge.
OK, so now we have our 3 types of burgers all made up and ready to go. Let’s heat up the grill to medium high. Use your wire brush or a sauce brush to lightly oil the grill, which will help keep the meat from sticking.
We want to cook the burgers quickly over a fairly high heat. These little patties won’t take more than a few minutes per side to cook all the way through to a safe temperature of 160 degrees in the center. A food thermometer can really be your friend in this case.
So load up the grill with the teriyaki beef burgers, the hot Italian pork sausage burgers, and the Indian curried chicken burgers. If there is any extra room, also toss on the pineapple rings (at least 4) and the olive-oiled red pepper to roast.
When the burgers have a nice char to them but are still juicy, its time to pull them off the grill and assemble our sliders. It is probably easiest to do this assembly line style. So have all your ingredients ready to go and within reach. You can warm up all your buns or small bread slices before hand if you’d like.
So for the teriyaki sliders, put a few slices of pickled ginger on the bottom bun, underneath the patty. Then top with ½ ring of grilled pineapple and a bit of the shredded cabbage or bok choy. Spread some of the wasabi soy mayo onto the top bun and you are done (with one of many, many sliders). I find toothpicks can really be your friend to keep these all together.
Next we’ll assemble the Italian sausage sliders. First, remove the stem and seeds from your roasted red pepper, along with as much of the blackened skin as you can slide off. Slice the pepper up into thin strips. Spread some pesto onto the bottom bun of each burger and curl on a few of the roasted red pepper strips. Lay on a spicy pork sausage patty on each bun, then top with a few whole basil leaves and a slice of mozzarella cheese. Smear a little bit of tomato sauce on the top bun before topping the Italian sliders off.
And as for the Indian curried chicken sliders, put a small smearing of plain yogurt on the bottom bun, topped by the curried chicken patty. On top of that layer a little sliced red onion and cucumber, plus a piece of lettuce. On the top bun generously slather some of the mango chutney and viola, these beauties are complete!
Wow, we’ve got a glorious mountain of mini burgers. These sliders are sure to be a hit at any labor day gathering, or really any get together at all. By the way, I know I may be committing a sacrilege for some. Yes, we have created three types of burgers today and none of them have catsup, pickles, tomatoes, or other classic toppings. But that is kind of the point. We are trying to make something fun and unique out of a fairly standard dish.
And of course, make use of as many local ingredients as you can find. The higher quality the meat you use, the better your burgers will be. I’d love to hear how you celebrate the grill this Labor Day weekend, and some of your favorite wacky burger creations. The skies the limit, so get cooking! Send me any questions or comments to firstname.lastname@example.org. Cooking local in the KOHO Kitchen, I’m Isaac Kaplan-Woolner.