Wine Advisor FoodLetter: Juicing up burgers

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 Juicing up burgers
The humble hamburger gets a flavor boost in a couple of offbeat preparations I've tried recently.
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Juicing up burgers

The humble hamburger, like its cousin the meatball, rarely rates as gourmet-style fare; but a burger can certainly be comfort food, and provided you start with quality meat and prepare it well, it need not be a guilty pleasure.

I swore off cheap supermarket ground beef years ago, right after noticing that the fat it exuded in the frlying pan was a fluorescent orange color not found in nature.

Fortunately, we live in an era when quality, locally produced meats and produce are becoming increasingly available. Access to fine, natural, hormone-free local product has put ground beef back in my diet, with nary a trace of orange fat in sight.

I recently picked up a stash of fresh ground beef from Green River Cattle Co. of Greensburg, Ky., and it inspired me to think outside the burger bun to come up with a couple of dinner dishes in which, to my taste, burgers came mighty close to the satisfaction level I would expect of a steak.

Both preps followed similar roads to different destinations: In both cases, I infused bite-size mini-burgers with aromatic flavors. One recipe got a distinct Italian accent with green peppers and onions; the other curried favor with Indian spices.

The Italian-style burgers were almost too simple to need a formal recipe: I seasoned 12 ounces (360g) good ground beef with salt and pepper and plenty of chopped garlic, then formed them into a dozen small burgers, taking care not to over-handle the beef. I made a judgment call to use neither a bread crumb filler nor egg binder in order to take advantage of the good, simple beef. I quickly sauteed sliced sweet onion and green pepper in a little olive oil, then put in the burgers, seared them on both sides - these undersize bites don't take more than a minute or two to cook to medium rare - and finished off the job with a splash of beef broth and tomato paste in the pan, cooking it down to a thick glaze. Served on small ciabatta buns, it made a delicious burger with an Italian touch, and a fine match with an Argentine Malbec.

The Indian version, a simple variation on South Asian kofta, went like this:


(Serves two)

2 cloves garlic
1/2-inch length fresh ginger
1 medium sweet onion
12 ounces (360g) good quality lean ground beef
Black pepper
Dried red-pepper flakes
2 tablespoons (30ml) peanut oil
1 teaspoon (5ml) Madras curry powder
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
4 ounces beef broth
2 ounces yogurt


1. Peel the garlic and the ginger and mince them very fine. Peel the onion and cut it in half, then cut each half vertically into thin slices.

2. Put the ground beef in a bowl, season with salt, black pepper and dried red-pepper flakes to taste, and gently stir in the minced ginger and garlic. Gently form the beef into 12 to 16 small patties, or if you prefer, pat it out into a fairly thin rectangle and cut the meat into 1-inch squares. (The latter approach amused me because it turned the beef into a tongue-in-cheek imitation of White Castle or Krystal burgers.)

3. In a large skillet, heat the peanut oil to sizzling, then saute the sliced onions until they're well browned. Take off heat and remove them to a bowl, seasoning them with the curry powder and cumin.

4. In the same skillet, sear the mini-burgers on both sides, just a minute or two on each side. Put the seasoned browned onions back in the pan, add the beef broth, and bring the liquid back to a simmer. Stir in the yogurt, remove from heat and serve with steaming white rice and hot sauce for seasoning at the table.

WINE MATCH: An earthy Malbec went nicely with this dish; if you make it on the spicy side, though, I would go with a Riesling or good but affordable bubbly such as a Prosecco or Spanish Cava.

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