The perfect burger

Using bold flavors can make for some mighty delicious burgers.

Burger (photo credit: Thinkstock)
(photo credit: Thinkstock)
‘That was the best burger I ever ate,’ several of my American friends exclaimed after a cooking demonstration.
We were not in the US, the land of burgers, but in Paris. The French chef happened to be teaching how to make steak tartar. When he saw that the students were not tempted by the classic dish of raw beef, he asked, “Who would like his portion cooked as a burger?” Everyone lined up at the stove. The burger’s superb flavor was due to the excellent quality of the meat and the seasonings – Dijon mustard, capers, onion and plenty of freshly ground black pepper.
Although some purists prefer burgers that are lightly seasoned, using bold flavorings can make for some mighty delicious burgers. Rachael Ray, author of The Book of Burger, suggests ways to prepare all sorts of out-of-the-ordinary burgers.
One way to do this is to create burger versions of familiar dishes. Ray makes burgers based on French boeuf bourguignon (beef stew in red wine sauce) by mixing ground beef with wine, chopped shallot and fresh thyme and serves the burgers on mustard-spread rolls topped with pâté and cornichons (small cucumber pickles).
The recipe is on the right.
Based on a childhood favorite, she makes even more unconventional patties – spaghetti-and-meatball burgers, which she prepares by mixing cooked spaghetti in garlic-basil tomato sauce with the meatball mixture and forming it into burgers; she serves the cooked burgers in garlic rolls.
In her husband’s honor, Ray cooks a hearty meat-lover’s burger from beef mixed with salami, other cold cuts and smoked meats. On a more exotic note, she makes satay sliders, or mini-burgers, based on Indonesian-Thai kebabs that are usually served with peanut sauce. The burgers are made from ground chicken flavored with peanut butter, soy sauce and garlic and served in small rolls with cucumber-mint relish.
Fresh ginger, soy sauce, garlic and sesame oil flavor Ray’s Hawaiian turkey burgers, which are topped with hoisin sauce and fresh pineapple slices.
Her Middle Eastern lamb burgers are sandwiched with baba ghanoush (eggplant tehina salad).
Of course, burgers don’t have to be made from meat. Ray’s “everything bagel salmon burgers” are flavored with poppy and sesame seeds and dill and set on cream cheese-spread poppy seed rolls. To make Mediterranean veggie burgers, she combines lentils, chickpeas and couscous with pine nuts, currants, mushrooms and other vegetables sauteed in olive oil, and serves the vegetarian patties with provolone cheese and arugula in a ciabatta roll.
While Ray prefers to cook her burgers on a griddle or in a cast-iron skillet, Karen Adler and Judith Fertig, authors of The Gardener & the Grill, focus on the outdoor barbecue. To make burger sandwiches appealing, they advocate adding plenty of grilled vegetables. For their tandoori turkey burgers, they sandwich the patties with thick slices of grilled red onions and grilled tomatoes in a roll and moisten them with cumin-flavored sauce. To embellish their beef burgers, they grill olive oil-brushed tomato slices and add them to the rolls; the rolls are first spread with garlic chive pesto.
Adler and Fertig turn grilled vegetables into sauces too. Chicken burgers gain pizzazz when served with their rich romesco sauce made from grill-roasted red peppers, ground almonds, red wine vinegar and extra-virgin olive oil. They smoke tomatoes on the grill to make tomato aioli (garlic mayonnaise), a flavorful sauce for spreading on fish or turkey burgers. Their grilled green onion mayonnaise, which they flavor with lemon juice and zest and fresh basil, is perfect for fish burgers.
FOR SUCCESS in burger making, writes Ray, “I have very few rules, but I am true to them.”
• If using a griddle pan or skillet, let the pan get hot over medium-high heat before cooking the patties.
• For more even cooking, when forming patties, make the center of each patty thinner than the edges, because patties plump when you cook them.”
• Before you form patties, bring the meat to room temperature and pat off the excess liquid with a paper towel. Form an even mound of meat in a bowl and score the meat with the side of your hand into equal portions to help form burgers of equal sizes.
These burgers are enriched with olive oil, seasoned with Middle Eastern spices and served in rolls with hot pepper garlic relish. If you like, spread the rolls with thick tehina sauce instead of mayonnaise.
You can cook the burgers on the barbecue or in a skillet.
Makes 4 servings.
Hot Pepper-Garlic Relish (see note below)
4 garlic cloves, minced
1⁄2 tsp. salt
1⁄2 tsp. ground black pepper
1 1⁄2 tsp. ground cumin
1⁄4 tsp. turmeric (optional)
1 1⁄2 tsp. ground coriander
1 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
600 gr. (11⁄3 pounds) ground turkey or chicken (about 3 cups)
4 round rolls, split, toasted lightly if desired Mayonnaise (optional)
Lettuce leaves (optional)
Thin cucumber slices (optional)
Grilled red pepper strips (optional)
Pitted green or black olives (optional)
Prepare relish.
Mix garlic with salt, pepper, cumin, turmeric and coriander.
Add to turkey. Add olive oil and mix lightly to blend. Shape into 4 patties.
Prepare grill with rack about 15 cm. (6 inches) above glowing coals; or brush a heavy skillet lightly with olive oil and heat it over medium-high heat. Grill patties, turning once, about 7 or 8 minutes, or until they are springy when pressed and cooked through; if using a skillet, cook patties about 3 to 5 minutes per side. If you’re not sure, cut one and check the color inside; the burgers should be completely cooked.
Spread rolls lightly with mayonnaise. Put lettuce leaves on the roll bottoms, then add burgers. Top each burger with a dab of relish, a few cucumber slices, pepper strips and olives. Set roll tops in place.
Serve remaining relish separately.
Note: Hot pepper garlic relish: Puree 3 garlic cloves and 1 or 2 jalapeno or other hot peppers in a blender or mini food processor until finely chopped. Add 1⁄4 cup small sprigs of cilantro (fresh coriander) and process until chopped. Add 450 gr. (1 pound) ripe tomatoes cut in pieces and puree just until blended. Transfer to a bowl. Add salt to taste and, if you like, 1 tsp. cumin.
This recipe is from The Book of Burger. Author Rachael Ray prefers to make beef burgers from chuck (shoulder meat) and notes that if you are using a leaner cut, it’s best to reduce the cooking time by 1 or 2 minutes so the meat doesn’t dry out. Instead of the shallot, you can use a green onion.

Makes 4 servings.
700 gr. (1 1⁄2 pounds) ground beef chuck (shoulder)
1⁄2 cup red burgundy wine
2 Tbsp. fresh thyme, finely chopped
1 shallot, finely chopped or grated Kosher salt and pepper Extra-virgin olive oil, for drizzling
4 round rolls, split and toasted
1-cm. (1⁄2-inch) slice (about 110 gr. or 1⁄4 pound) mousse-style pâté, cut in 4 equal pieces
4 tender lettuce leaves
Grainy mustard or Dijon mustard
4 cornichon pickles or baby gherkins, thinly sliced lengthwise
Heat a griddle or large cast-iron skillet over medium-high heat.
In a large bowl, combine the beef, wine, thyme and shallot; season with salt and pepper and mix thoroughly. Score the mixture into 4 equal portions and form them into large patties.
Drizzle the patties with olive oil. Cook the burgers 10 minutes, flipping once, for medium. (Adjust the timing for rarer or more well-done burgers).
Place the burgers on the roll bottoms; top with pâté and lettuce.
Spread mustard on the roll tops and scatter the sliced cornichons over the mustard. Set the roll tops in place.

Faye Levy is the author of Faye Levy’s International Chicken Cookbook.