Burgers are definitely big here in Toronto, in Canada, the US and yes burger joints are evening opening up in Greece! There’s burgers cooked on the flat-top, some fried but my fave is grilled (gas or propane) but the best is charcoal. The most common burger out there used beef but the lamb burger is an unsung hero of the burger and when done right, its unequaled.
The first rule of burgers is to ensure your burger has enough fat in the mix. You should be able to see speckles of ground white fat in your burger mixture. A lean burger means a dry burger and frankly that’s a bad burger. Regardless of what time of meat you’re grinding for a burger, you should aim for 20-30% fat, much like sausage making. If you’re concerned about fat then maybe you shouldn’t be eating burgers. It’s a decadent food, made proper with sufficient fat in it. No room for “skinny burgers” here.
When it comes to lamb burgers, the ideal cut to use is boneless lamb shoulder, which has plenty of fat but every animal is different and unfortunately lamb is being bred to be leaner. If you can’t find ground lamb shoulder or are unsure of the fat content of your ground lamb you may add more fat to thee mixture like fat-back from pork or olive oil or vegetable oil or my preferred method…grated ice cold butter.
I freeze the butter then I use the large holes on my box grater to add tiny nibs of butter into the meat mixture. The result? Juicy, flavourful lamb burger that’s never dry and a joy to eatat a summer BBQ. Just as important (almost) when building a burger is using a quality hamburger bunb and my fave is poppy seed or sesame seed buns.
Another facet of an enjoyable burger experience is are the toppings and condiments and although the trend these days seems to be “pile her on”, with the toppings, I prefer to taste my burger and have it complemented with a few toppings. In this case I’m serving the burger with some grilled slices of red pepper, a bit of grainy Dijon mustard and a sweet and tangy fig and caramelized onion jam.
The yin & yang of the sweet onions & figs are balanced with the grainy mustard and the grilled savory red peppers and burger. The crowning glory is a slice of smoked Mestovone cheese, a PDO product (distinct appelation product of Greece) from Metsovo, Epirus in northern Greece. Smoked cheeses (smoked anything) is one of my favourite flavours and it works so well with lamb, the mint, oregano, parsley, cumin and allspice. A good alternative to smoked Mestovone is a smoked Gouda, widely available in the cheese section of your supermarket or ask for it at your favourite cheese shop.
Grilled Lamb Burger With Smoked Cheese and Fig & Caramelized Onions
(makes 4-6 burgers)
1 1/2 (1/2 kg.) of ground lamb shoulder
2 medium onion, finely grated
2 slices of bread, soaked in water then squeezed-dry, crumbled with hands
3 cloves of garlic, minced
1 large egg
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
2 Tbsp. chopped fresh mint (or 1 tsp. dried)
2 tsp. dried Greek oregano
1 tsp. ground allspice
pinch of ground cumin
approx. 2 – 2 1/2 tsp. fine sea salt
1 tsp. ground black pepper
Optional: approx. 1/2 cup grated ice-cold butter
3 medium onions, sliced
2-3 Tbsp. olive oil
6 dried figs, soaked in hot water, chopped (plus reserved water)
2-3 Tbsp. Mousto-Balsamic Vinegar
salt to taste
Building the burger
sesame seed bun (toasted)
smoked Metsovone cheese (or smoked Gouda)
grainy Dijon mustard
grilled sliced red peppers
caper berry for garnish
- Add your ground lamb into a bowl along with the grated onions, garlic, allspice, crumbled bread, egg, parsley, mint, oregano, cumin and half the salt and black pepper and mix well with your hands. Form a small patty and fry-off in a pan and observe how much comes out of the meat. Taste, break-up the meat and if its too dry, you may want to add some ice cold grated butter. Adjust seasoning with more salt, pepper (or any other burger ingredients), add some more breadcrumbs if mixture is too wet and finally add the grated cold butter. Mix quickly with your hands and place covered in the fridge for at least a couple of hours to a day (overnight is fine).
- In the meantime, place your figs in a small bowl and cover with hot water and cover with a large plate for 5-6 minutes or until the figs have softened. Roughly chop the figs and reserve. Now add some olive oil into a skillet along with the sliced onions over medium heat and add a sprinkle of salt and sugar and sweat for 6-7 minutes, stirring occasionally. Once the onions are translucent, add the chopped figs plus enough of the reserved fig water and simmer uncovered until almost all the liquid has evaporated. The onions will soon caramelize and after a few minutes, add the Mousto-Balsamic vinegar and reduce until thickened and sweet. Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper and reserve.
- To grill your lamb burgers, prepare your charcoal or gas grill and brush the grill surface to free of of any residue. Form the burgers with your hands and just before placing on the grill, wipe the grill surface with a towel treated with vegetable oil (to lubricate the grill surface and reduce chance of meat sticking).
- Grille your burgers for 3-4 minutes side and place the smoked cheese on top of each burger. In the meantime, grill your red peppers and lightly toast your burger buns and once the cheese has begun to melt, remove from the grill.
- Place some lettuce on the bottom bun followed by the grilled red peppers then place the burger on top followed by a mound of fig-onion jam. Smear some grainy Dijon mustard on the top and serve with a caper berry spiked into the burger.
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