Wine Advisor FoodLetter: The Gourmet Burger

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 The Gourmet Burger There's no ham in a hamburger, so why not make one with fish? A coffee-table cookbook merits a second look.
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The Gourmet Burger

The Gourmet Burger
Click the cover image to buy "The Gourmet Burger" from for $16.47.
I'm rarely impressed by "coffee-table" cookbooks with their glossy paper, oversize heft, and impressive color photographs. Somebody has to be paid for all that art, and often the words around the pictures seem to have come almost as an afterthought ... sort of verbal grout tucked in to fill the spaces between the pretty tiles.

At first glance, The Gourmet Burger appears to fit this description all too well. Bearing a dual byline that gives equal credit to the author (London chef Paul Gayler) and the photographer (Gus Filgate), its lavish, full-color photography fills up much of a squarish hardcover volume on paper so heavy that it weighs in at nearly 2 pounds with only 144 pages, and it's limited to only 50 or 60 recipes for assorted burgers (plus side dishes), each displayed on a two-page spread that features delectable-looking if precariously constructed "vertical food" presentations.

Heavy on style, light on content? So it seemed, and quite frankly, after a careless flip through a copy sent in hope of a review, I set it aside, figuring I would decline the opportunity to tell you about it. But then, just as I was getting ready to take a stack of rejected freebies down to the public library as a donation, I flipped through it one more time.

Hey! These recipes are pretty good! Yes, the thing is full of froo-froo photography; and as a review in the Dallas Morning News accurately if rather snidely pointed out, Chef Gayler's idiosyncratic prose style called for, but apparently did not receive, serious editing.

But the guy is not paid to write, he's paid to cook (at London's Lanesborough Hotel in Hyde Park, which the book's PR materials invariably describe as "prestigious"). And he brings an innovative chef's sensibility to these recipes, which begin with the classics ("All-American burger" with coarsely ground beef, onion and mild American cheese), but quickly sail out onto uncharted waters with such international oddities as Bulgogi Barbecue Burgers with a Korean accent, wrapped in banana leaves; an ostrich burger; a New Orleans-style Po'boy with a burger fashioned from white fish and prawns; and even meatless burgers like Middle Eastern koftas made of black beans or lentils and a chickpea burger from Turkistan.

Recipes are subdivided into four categories - "classic beef," "more meat," "fish" and "vegetarian burgers" - with sidebars on compatible side dishes. Black olive tapenade to dress a chicken steak burger with a panko bound breading, for example; or a pesto-style parsley-and-basil salsa verde and white onion jam to go with a trattoria burger on foccacia. More side-dish and bread recipes are listed at the back of the book, and concise one-pagers on the history of the burger and basic cooking methods set very brief context at the start.

It's the recipes, though, that are the book's saving grace. While some of them call for ingredients that may not be in the average larder, from ostrich meat to fresh lemongrass to gammon ham (try Google for help with substitutions), my closer look revealed that just about all the burger recipes seem appetizing and well-thought-out, and a few seem likely to go into our regular dinner rotation. I guess the library won't be getting this book after all.

Here's one I tried recently, a delicious and fairly easy Thai-accented tuna-and-scallop burger that Gayler credits to Chef Marcus Samuelsson's Aquavit and the New Scandinavian Cuisine. I modified it slightly and passed on the suggested side dishes; more about that in the recipe below.

INGREDIENTS: (serves 2)

1-2 large cloves garlic
1/2-inch chunk fresh ginger
Dried red-pepper flakes
2 tablespoons peanut oil
8 ounces (240g) fresh tuna
6 ounces large sea scallops
1/2 lime
1 teaspoon (5ml) Thai sweet chile sauce
1 teaspoon wasabi powder
1 tablespoon (15g) chopped fresh cilantro
Black pepper


1. Peel the garlic and ginger and mince them fine. You should have enough to make a good heaping tablespoon of each. Heat 1 tablespoon of the peanut oil in a small skillet over medium heat, and cook the garlic and ginger with dried red-pepper flakes to taste, until the vegetables are translucent and aromatic; take them off heat before they start to brown. Set aside to cool.

2. Cut the tuna and the scallops into 1/4-inch (6 mm) dice. Squeeze the lime, chop the cilantro, and measure out the other ingredients.

3. Put the diced tuna and scallops in a bowl and mix in the garlic and ginger and their oil, the lime juice, cilantro, chile sauce, wasabi powder and cilantro. Let it stand for 10 minutes or so for the flavors to blend, then put it in a strainer to drain off any excess liquid. Divide this mixture into four equal parts and form patties, squeezing them to force out additional liquid.

4. Put the remaining tablespoon of peanut oil in a nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. When it sizzles, put in the patties, taking care that they don't fall apart. Cook for about two minutes without touching or moving them, then gently turn them once, using a large, thin spatula. Cook on the other side for 2 more minutes, taking care not to overcook. Assuming quality, fresh tuna and scallops, there's no harm in having a bit of semi-sushi in the middle of the burgers. Serve immediately while they're hot.

RANDOM NOTES: You'll notice that there's no binder in these burgers, and it takes a lot of care to keep the patties intact. It doesn't really matter much, as the few bits that fall off still make delectable crunchy bits. For more of a burger form, though, next time I might either try for smaller dice or use the food processor and try a coarse tuna-and-scallop blend in place of the dice; or possibly add 1 egg white to the mix to hold things together.

The cookbook suggested serving this on a square of foccacia bread with a slice of tomato and a dab of Greek-style napa cabbage and yogurt tzatziki sauce (for which it provided a simple recipe) on top. I didn't do that, choosing instead to serve them au naturel with steamed rice and a salad.

The combination of fresh fish and seafood and piquant but not fiery Asian spice calls for a rich, off-dry white, a Riesling, Gewurztraminer or Chenin Blanc. I chose the latter, and it made a fine match with the complex if fat'n'fruity Champalou 2003 Vouvray featured in yesterday's 30 Second Wine Advisor.

To read more about Paul Gayler's The Gourmet Burger on, and, if you wish, to order it online, click currently offers it for $16.47 (plus shipping), a 34 percent discount from its $24.95 list price. Orders made using this direct link will return a small commission to

Want a copy that's easy to use in the kitchen? You'll find a simple, plain-text version of this recipe, suitable for printing, online at

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Thursday, April 21, 2005
Copyright 2005 by Robin Garr. All rights reserved.

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