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 some mushrooms for added sustainability, nutrition and tastiness.
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.
Now, in year two, 347 restaurants are participating, with 10 in Washington state making Blended Burgers from Seattle to Spokane. The people can choose their candidate in an online election cycle that goes through July 31. (Five winning chefs will be flown to New York in October to cook their burgers at the James Beard House.)
Meanwhile, and in perpetuity, you can join the Blended Burger party on your grill at home with these two recipes from local chefs Luis Brambila, of Bar Dojo in Edmonds, and Maria Hines, of Tilth (and more) in Seattle. Brambila is going for a new take on the American classic, adding a little serrano pepper for our borderless taste buds. Hines, ever-loyal to the Pacific Northwest, has chosen to forgo beef entirely, opting for salmon. (If you want to forgo cooking entirely, you can try their burgers at Bar Dojo or Tilth through July 31 and maybe beyond.)
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)
Makes about 5 half-pound patties
2 pounds natural ground beef
10 chopped fresh shiitake mushrooms
5 serrano peppers, unseeded and finely diced
¼ cup tamari
2 diced whole garlic cloves
1 whole shallot, diced
1 tablespoon sesame oil
1 tablespoon salt
1 tablespoon black pepper
Mix all ingredients and form into 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, Bar Dojo’s signature cilantro aioli and a sunny-side-up egg.
Maria Hines’ Salmon-King Oyster Blended Burger
Makes about 5 half-pound patties
2 pounds salmon fillet, skin off
12 ounces king oyster mushroom confit (see recipe)
1 egg, beaten
½ cup panko (Japanese breadcrumbs)
1 lemon, zested
2 to 3 tablespoons mayonnaise
3 scallions, finely chopped
Salt and pepper
1. Cut half the salmon fillet into ¼-inch pieces and set aside.
2. Cut the other half of the salmon fillet into roughly ½-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.
3. Place the salmon mixture into a bowl and add the ¼-inch pieces of salmon, mushroom confit, mayo and scallions. Season with salt and pepper.
4. 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.
5. Form into patties and pan 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).
12 ounces king oyster mushrooms
Lemon peel, garlic cloves, thyme and bay leaf
Cut king oyster mushrooms into ¼-inch dice. Heat up olive oil with a cheesecloth sachet of lemon peel, garlic cloves, thyme and bay leaf to 170 degrees. Add the mushrooms. Cook until tender, about 5 to 10 minutes. Strain and season with salt.
For information on the Blended Burger Project and the restaurants involved, go to jamesbeard.org/blendedburgerproject
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