Shallot-Basil Burgers

Few things in life conjure up such positive associations as burgers. They are classic American summer fare, and are inextricably linked to thoughts of freedom, blue skies, warm weather, cold drinks, and good company. No matter how hard things might be at the rat race, knowing that you can always come home and stoke the barbecue flames till they lick the sky is a source of constant comfort. Everyone has something to complain about, but the solace of the backyard kitchen is an eternal refuge for the work-weary. Over the coals, worries melt away like fat dripping from juicy patties, and after that first tender bite, the savoury trinity of char, spice, and smoke brings repose to troubled hearts, and satiety to rumbling bellies.

Recently the LA times ran a feature on the best burger recipes from reader submissions. Some of the burgers selected in this little contest sounded so mouth-watering that I could not help but be inspired to craft my own burger recipe. Now, all of the recipes ran in the feature had slightly ethnic twists to them – the german-cuban pork, the southwestern, the mexican. To me this really demonstrates the versatility of a burger. If the thing itself weren’t such a solid foundation, then it wouldn’t support all the variations on a theme so well. But, because a burger is such a classic, it is important to not stray too far, or else that underlying greatness might get lost in the enthusiasm and confusion of experimentation. After I had read that article, I realized I had some leftover Thai basil, and shallots, from the kohlrabi salad earlier this week, and was taken with a flash of inspiration.

The results were delicious, and balanced. The basil-shallot combination, which is so common in the southeast asian kitchen, took on a different tone in the absence of fish sauce, and lime playing supporting roles. Instead, the aji pepper paste picked up the slack on the acidity front, and really brought all the other flavors together in a quiet way, where no one taste dominated.  The combination really showcased the humble hamburger’s ability to be a platform for the subtle display of exotic flavors, just like a great melody lends itself to frequent, and delicate harmonization.

The real secret to these patties though, is not the spices, or herbs, but the bacon – the bacon is the bass line! In my mind, no great burger fails to include bacon in its ingredients. Once upon a time, thick, marbled pieces of beef were ground for hamburger meat, but alas, no more. These days, the scourge of lean beef has taken the land. Making a patty with lean beef alone will inevitably result in a charred and eviscerated disappointment of a hockey puck, fit more to be a doorstop than for human consumption. By dicing a few slices of bacon, and adding them to the mix, you guarantee a juicy, tender burger every time, regardless of what spice, or flavor profile you intend for the burger. From classic plain patties, to exotically spiced, bacon is what makes every burger.

Shallot-Basil Burgers:

(makes from 15-20 patties, depending on their size)

  • 2 pounds highest fat ground beef available
  • 2 pounds ground pork
  • 6 slices of bacon
  • 7 shallots
  • 1 green onion
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • 2/3 bunch of Thai basil (sweet basil would be great here too, but I would probably use one whole bunch, or slightly more, as it is not as pungent)
  • 3 eggs
  • 2 teaspoons of Aji pepper paste
  • 3 tsp soy sauce
  • 2 tsp honey
  • a dash of cumin
  • salt and pepper to taste

Before anything else, place the bacon in the freezer. Bacon is very fatty, slippery, and quite hard to cut finely, unless it is at least partially frozen. This trick will really save you a lot of effort.

Dice the shallots, basil, and garlic.

Slice the green onion thinly.

Remove the bacon from the freezer, and cut into pieces as small as possible. I find it easiest to leave the stack of slices whole, and cut very thinly across the short side. Once you’ve done that, cutting those thin strips in the other direction is a cinch.

Put all of the ingredients in a large bowl.

Now, here is where the fun begins. Wash your hands thoroughly, and, then, dive into the mess and start mixing, until the meat and the ingredients are evenly distributed and well-mixed. Don’t be afraid of getting dirty, and be sure to use your hands rather than a spoon or some other tool. Really getting in the mix will get the job done faster, and with less effort, whereas overworking the meat will result in much tougher burgers.

Form the mixture into patties. The size I made patties ended up with about 15 patties.

Stoke up the grill! Of course, you could bake these, or fry them in a pan. But, seriously, why would you?

Once your grill is hot, put the burgers on, and cook till done. Now, as with most things I do, and everything I do in the kitchen, I’m an amateur in grill technique. I’m sure there’s a surfeit of competing grill theories out there, but I doubt it is an objectively resolvable question. I do believe, though, that fretting cooks will often overwork, overstir, and overcook their dishes, so I subscribe to the minimal intervention, or one-flip theory of grilling. No pressing, squishing, squeezing, moving, or constant flipping. Just put the burgers on the grill, close it, let them roast on the first side ’till as done as you like. Then, flip, and repeat. One turn on the heat per side – just one flip total – then the burgers are done. Not only does this sear the meat quickly, it also conserves a lot of juices that would otherwise be lost were the patties to be constantly tampered with. I also lean towards this kind of grilling because grills are really a lot like ovens. When the kettle is left closed more heat builds up, and better cooking results. And, of course, each lifting of the lid is a substantial loss of heat, even in the heat of summer. But, you all know your own grills, and tastes best, so cook the patties to your taste, and I’m sure they will come out well.

Once the burgers are done, remove them from the grill, and let them sit covered for about 2 minutes before serving. This allows the juices to settle, and really locks the flavors in.

Breathe deeply, open some cold, hoppy beers with good friends, take in the stars studding the summer sky. Savour the first smokey-savoury-sweet bite of your burger, and enjoy the realization washing over you that no challenge can keep you from coming back to who, and what really matters most.

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4 Responses to “Shallot-Basil Burgers”

  1. Kenton Fico Says:

    Looks absolutely delish! thanks!

  2. Fanny Miles Says:

    And what, Socrates, is the food of the soul? Surely, I said, knowledge is the food of the soul. Plato

    • pavaarsmunters Says:

      Thanks Fanny! Those Greeks definitely knew a thing or two about the good life – what with their honeyed wines and elegantly spitted meats sumptuously roasted served to facilitate contemplation and conversation.

      I really like your paleo blog too. The layout is really elegant. I also like consider myself a quasi-paleo devotee. Though, I let myself have as much real dairy as I like, and honey in measured amounts. Dairy is a stretch, but honey has surely been eaten since Paleo times, and has so many benefits. But, as even Socrates would admit, moderation is a fine virtue.

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