My cooking life has been a weird one. Most people start out making things like burgers and mac and cheese; me, I started with braises and roasts and only now (almost ten years later) have I started getting comfortable making the stuff that most people make at the beginning of their cooking careers. Burgers are a good example. I had only cooked burgers once before in my life and it was in the oven. Never had I shaped a patty, plopped it on to a grill or into a cast iron skillet and lifted it on to a bun. And, true to form, even last week, when I finally did this thing that most cooks–most American cooks–do all the time, I didn’t just make normal burgers. I made lamb burgers and I served them with Greek salad.
The idea came to me at the grocery store. Lately, I’ve been really reluctant to buy ground beef–with all the horror stories of E. Coli and images I can’t shake from Food Inc.–I mostly stick to chicken because, as diseased as chicken is (a good percentage of the chicken you buy from the store has antibiotic-resistant bacteria…yum!) you know what you’re dealing with and also, this may be terrible, I just don’t feel as bad for chickens as I do for cows.
Lamb, however, I put in a separate category as ground beef. You just don’t hear as much about tainted lamb and, also, while some of my friends won’t eat lamb because they’re killed so young, I have the opposite reaction: I think it’s kinder to kill them young so they don’t have to suffer a life on an industrial farm. Is any of this making you hungry?
So at the store the other day, I saw ground lamb and I thought: lamb burgers! And Greek salad!
Here’s how it went down: at home, I read several recipes and decided to start by cooking an onion in lots of olive oil for a bit on low heat until translucent. Then I added 3 chopped cloves of garlic and some Aleppo pepper and cooked for another minute more.
I set that aside to cool (actually, I put it in the refrigerator to speed up the process); meanwhile, I made a burger topping by mashing together Feta cheese and Greek yogurt.
After that, I mixed up the ground lamb (about a pound of it) with most of the onion mixture, salt and pepper, mixing it all together with my hands, but not overworking it. I heated up my cast iron skillet, poured in a little oil and made a test burger–a little meatball, really–to test the seasoning. When it was dark brown all over, I popped it into my mouth and realized the meat needed a little more salt. I added another dash, worked it in, then shaped the meat into 3 large patties, putting a dent at the top because I read somewhere online that you should do that.
I kept the heat high on the cast iron skillet and poured in another splash of canola oil–just enough to coat the bottom of the pan, I didn’t want to fry the burgers, mostly wanted to “grill” them–and when it was really hot when I held me hand over it, I added two burgers. The loud sizzle meant I did everything right. About 4 minutes in, I lifted the burgers up with a spatula, saw the wonderful sear, and flipped them over:
Meanwhile, I toasted Sourdough English Muffins in the oven (yes, I served these burgers on English muffins, something I first experienced at Prune) and prepared a simple Greek salad by slicing large cherry tomatoes in half, and tossing them with thickly sliced English cucumber, olive oil, red wine vinegar, salt, pepper, crumbled feta and, at the end, a dash of oregano.
When the burgers were done on the other side–the burger cooks for about 8 minutes total; you’ll know it’s done when you press down on the top and it’s pretty firm (or take the internal temperature; it should be about 160)–I lifted the patties on to the English muffins and allowed them to rest for a bit before serving.
Topped with the yogurt/feta spread, these burgers were as good as anything I’d pay twice as much for at a restaurant. I mean, just look:
The Greek salad offered up all the acidity you’d crave from a pickle; and a glass of red wine makes you feel like the most sophisticated lamb burger-eater of all time.
So the next time you’re at the store, and you see ground lamb, give this a go. Making burgers at home is a lot easier than making Beef Bourguignon. Who knew?