Tuesday, May 12, 2009

The Best Fresh Ground Lamb Burger Period

If you read this blog on a regular basis, you might have noticed that I keep the titles of my posts simple and to the point. In other words, my post titles are almost always the name of a recipe. But not today. Today my post title could inspire contention, controversy, even slap fights. I've chosen to accept these consequences because this is the best lamb burger period.

I'm even going so far as to say that it's my favorite burger ever. It's not because I made it from locally raised baby lamb that I rubbed with cocoa butter for 6 months and slaughtered (humanely) myself. Nope. Nor is it packed with bells and whistles like an oozing cheese center, homemade brioche bun or half a pound of candied bacon. The reason why this burger is my favorite is deceptively simple: good technique.

I never buy ground lamb. It's hard to find and if it is available it looks suspiciously gray and fatty. After noticing lamb burgers on a few restaurant menus out in the Pacific Northwest (do they raise lamb out there? or is beef just too "middle America"?), Mike and I have been fixated on the idea since we returned from our trip. Thanks to an article I wrote on pâté a few months back, we had already acquired a meat grinding attachment for the Kitchen Aid. It all seemed so easy...

And it really was the simplest thing. We bought some boneless leg of lamb at Whole Foods (sold chopped for stew meat), trimmed the excess fat and ran it the larger holes of our grinder. Then we gently mixed in some herbs and spices by hand and formed the meat into loosely packed patties. You'll have no problem getting the patties to stay together, just don't over work and squish the meat, do it fast and then refrain from pressing, patting or flattening.

This resulted in a silky-tender texture (which is how the best lamb should be anyway), where the bits of freshly ground lamb were able to retain their structural integrity, yet still somehow melt in your mouth. Flavor is hugely important, but great texture makes all the difference when you bite into a hunk of meat.

We used arugula instead of the usual spinach leaves or lettuce. It's delicious, but other greens would be okay too. I also made caramelized onions, which I love and could make even mediocre burgers highly palatable, and an easy Feta sauce. Buy good Feta (NOT pre-crumbled) that you can't stop eating on its own. If you're like me and believe that every detail does indeed matter, the buns are wheat hamburger buns from the Whole Foods bakery.

So that's the best lamb burger ever. Got a problem with that? I don't mind. Bring it on!

Fresh Ground Lamb Burgers with Feta Sauce
The seasoning you use is frankly secondary to the meat here. Use whatever spices appeal to you, but I'd recommend sticking with the Greek/Middle Eastern theme. Cooking these in the broiler works best because it requires minimal fussing and flipping. An outdoor grill is fine, but no pressing with your spatula. If your market has very lean lamb, you'll probably need a little less than a pound. You will need your own meat grinder to get the full effect.

Serves 2, may be doubled

1 pound boneless leg of lamb/lamb stew meat, trimmed of excess fat
1 Tbs (packed) chopped fresh parsley, plus a fat pinch for the Feta sauce
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/4 tsp ground sumac
1/4 tsp dried oregano
Freshly ground black pepper
Coarse salt
1 Tbs olive oil
1/2 red onion, sliced
2 ounces Feta cheese, crumbled
4 ounces plain Greek yogurt (I used Fage nonfat)
Fresh arugula leaves
Wheat hamburger buns

Cut lamb into chunks if it wasn't cut when you bought it. Put through the large holes of a meat grinder and into a large bowl. Add parsley, cumin, sumac and oregano. Season liberally with black pepper. Season to taste with coarse salt (I recommend a 1/4 teaspoon). Gently mix the spices in with your hands, taking care not squeeze and pack the meat. Form lamb into 2 loose patties, handling the meat as little as possible. Set aside until ready to cook.

Heat the oil in a skillet over medium-low heat. Add the onions, season with salt and pepper and cook until very soft and lightly browned, stirring occasionally. Lower the heat if onions brown too quickly. Set aside.

In a small bowl, stir together the Feta, yogurt, remaining parsley and a bit of black pepper. Set aside.

Preheat broiler to high and place oven rack 8 to 10 inches from heat source. Place burgers on a foil-lined baking sheet and broil until lightly browned on top (Ovens differ widely so I'm not giving an exact time. Watch the burgers carefully.). Turn and broil until opposite side is lightly browned. Burgers should feel slightly firm to the touch, but still have some give when you press the center with your finger. It's okay to take a peek by cutting into the center with a paring knife if you're not sure. These are best at medium-rare to medium (pink to light pink). Let burgers rest 3 to 5 minutes.

To serve, toast buns in a skillet if desired (I toast, Mike does not). Layer onions, lamb patty, Feta sauce and arugula on buns (you may have extra Feta sauce). Serve with ketchup and/or mustard if desired (I've gotta have some ketchup on my burgers!).


The Hojnackes said...

Here in Oregon, there is a local free range farm/ranch that raises lamb. We get it in a local meat market. It is nice and fresh. The meat monger cuts it and will grind it in front of you. It is great! It must be a Pacific Northwest thing!
Thanks for the recipe. I am always looking for new ways to use lamb.

Julie said...

Hojnackes: I figured they had local lamb in the area. You guys have fabulous food out there...I hope it's clear that I'm jealous! Having your butcher grind it is an excellent option!

Anonymous said...

You're just learning of ground lamb now?? Don't mean, in anyway, to sound negative or controversial - I am just amazed. I buy ground lamb ALL THE TIME - I can't even remember the last time I bought hamburger except for my chili recipe!! Lamb is the only red meat I eat. LOVE IT, LOVE IT, LOVE IT.

Ground lamb is the best - I am able to duplicate my beloved souvlaki from Athens - which is NOT gyros or soulvaki made from MYSTERY meat!

Of course, it helps that I have been shopping at a Greek family-owned grocery almost exculsively for 30 years!! I don't even have to worry about grinding it myself. I'm all set to go with the prepackaged packages in the meat counter. HOW LUCKY am I???

Julie said...

Anonymous: Your comment made me giggle. Um, yeah, I've cooked with ground lamb lots of times in the past, but have tapered off b/c it never looks great at the store and is often higher in fat content than I prefer. Grinding my own was the solution and the definitely the key to the perfect lamb burger. I think my favorite way to cook lamb is braised shanks...actually, not burgers are my fave!

Joey said...

I'm on a huge meat grinding kick. I ground about 5 pounds of lamb and froze what I didn't use. I'm thawing a portion out to try your lamb burger recipe. My wife is making the bread for our "slider" version.

Sarah@AlpinePoppy said...

I just grilled some lamb sliders on Saturday, they disappeared in no time, even my mother inlay approved. I bought the ground lamb at the farmers market that morning. I served mine with field greens and tzatziki sauce. SO GOOD!!!

Katie Thacher said...

Delicious recipe, but I may have another recipe to compete for (or perhaps share the position of) best lamb burger ever.

I think you were right about the Northwest having a lot of lamb burgers for a while, but I think by now it's spread to the midwest--I see them aroudn St. Louis a fair amount.

Anonymous said...

I absolutely love Lamb Burgers. Take your recipe and instead of the yogurt/feta topping...make a mint pesto and add some super fresh goat chevre. You will do back flips trying to make more room in your stomach for another burger!

Jan Davidson said...

Didn't have yogurt or feta but they were delicious.