In these United States of America, the hamburger is close to an unalienable right. That the burger should be made with 100 percent beef, and the bigger, the better, are truths many hold to be self-evident, especially fast-food advertising agencies.
Can less be more, my fellow Americans? Can we unshackle ourselves from the chains, pull ourselves up by our own burger-bootstraps and make them our own enlightened, forward-thinking way?
We could make them more rarely, for less impact on God’s would-be-green earth. (And medium-rare, to actually taste them.) We could make them with good meat – good, meaning both high-quality and humanely raised.
And we could make them with less meat, substituting mushrooms for added sustainability, nutrition and tastiness.
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It’s a controversial proposal, no doubt. But a 2014 joint study by the Culinary Institute of America and UC Davis, published in the Journal of Food Science, found that blending finely chopped mushrooms into ground meat enhances both flavor and nutrition. Nothing convinces Americans more than science, right? So the good people at the James Beard Foundation embarked upon the Blended Burger Project last year, enlisting hundreds of chefs nationwide to create burgers replacing 25 percent or more of the meat blend with mushrooms.
They repeated it this year, with 347 restaurants participating, including three in the Charlotte area – Dogwood Southern Table and The Mandrake in Charlotte, and the String Bean in Belmont. (Five winning chefs will be flown to New York in October to cook their burgers at the James Beard House.)
You can join the Blended Burger party on your grill at home with recipes from Luis Brambila of Bar Dojo in Edmonds, Wash., and Maria Hines, of Tilth (and more) in Seattle. Brambila goes for a new take on the American classic, adding a little serrano pepper, and Hines, ever-loyal to the Pacific Northwest, skipped beef entirely, opting for salmon.
Depending on the recipe, beef partisans may not even realize they’ve crossed the aisle to the fungi side – only that their burger has a new level of umami greatness. It’s the kind of change we can eat, stronger together.
Dojo Burger (Shiitake Blended Burger)
2 pounds ground beef
10 chopped fresh shiitake mushrooms
5 serrano peppers, unseeded and finely diced
1/4 cup tamari
2 diced garlic cloves
1 whole shallot, diced
1 tablespoon sesame oil
1 tablespoon each salt and black pepper
Mix all ingredients and form into 5 (8-ounce) patties. Grill burger to your liking on high heat to create a nice char. At Bar Dojo, the patty goes on a brioche bun with sliced avocado, applewood-smoked bacon, fried onions, lettuce, cilantro aioli and a sunny-side-up egg.
Yield: 5 half-pound patties.
Salmon-King Oyster Blended Burger
2 pounds salmon fillet, skin off
12 ounces king oyster mushroom confit (see recipe)
1 egg, beaten
1/2 cup panko (Japanese breadcrumbs)
1 lemon, zested
2 to 3 tablespoons mayonnaise
3 green onions, finely chopped
Salt and pepper
Cut half the salmon fillet into 1/4-inch pieces and set aside.
Cut the other half of the salmon fillet into roughly 1/2-inch pieces; place in a cold food-processor bowl and pulse about five times. Add the egg and lemon zest, and pulse until combined, about three to five pulses.
Place the salmon mixture into a bowl and add the 1/4-inch pieces of salmon, mushroom confit, mayo and green onions. Season with salt and pepper. Using a gloved hand or spatula, fold the mixture together; it will feel a little tacky. Cook a small tester piece in an oiled skillet to check for seasoning, and adjust as needed.
Form into patties and fry in oil. Add a bit of butter into the pan when the patties are close to being done cooking (ideally around medium-rare to medium).
Mushroom Confit: Dice 12 ounces oyster mushrooms. Wrap some lemon peel, a garlic cloves, a few sprigs of thyme and a bay leaf and place in 1/2 cup olive. Warm to 170 degrees and add the mushrooms. Cook until tender, 5 to 10 minutes. Strain and season the mushrooms with salt.
Yield: 5 half-pound patties