If the archetypal hamburger is a Summer staple – a lamb burger is surely its Wintery cousin. While the former basks in the sun poolside, its gamey opposite is scowling on in brooding disapproval, reading Camus and drinking vermouth. Probably. Which is an overly verbose way of saying, a great lamb burger packs in oodles of grown up taste – bags more nuance than the processed cheese bedecked alternative.
It’s also a lesser seen burger around these parts. Seriously Utah, what’s with all the lamb wariness? A weekend visit to the Winter edition of farmer’s market yielded some of the best ground lamb (Lau’s Family Farms) I’ve had in the longest of time – and in turn – a reminder for your kitchen this Winter; a quality lamb burger is the perfect way to ward off the freezing sleet.
Forming the patty
Work fast and with a light touch. These are the same rules that apply to regular burgers, but few follow them. The ultimate goal is to avoid working the meat excessively. I break up a third-ish of a pound of raw lamb on a plate, sprinkle my choice of seasonings over, then form a rough patty together as gently as possible in my hand. Imagine you’re handling Uranium-235. Don’t press or squish or manhandle. Try to barely form the patty in the palm of your hand, almost to a comical point of worrying about integrity. Don’t fret about structural cohesion, the magic of protein contraction under heat will solve all your qualms.
There are few things in life worse than an overly worked patty. The result is tough and dense and without any of the joy of the very vest burgers; I wince when I’m out dining and see perfectly round shaped patty, right from the punishment of the press. Tightly packed burgers are also prone to puffing up too, moisture desperately struggling to erupt from the pressed disc.
Seasoning lamb burgers
This is the fun bit. I recommend you grab a copy of the Flavor Bible – it’s one of a select few books on my must buy books list for your kitchen. Lamb has an assertive taste, and can support some burly companions. Plenty of coarse salt and pepper is a must, and fine by itself, but a flip through the ‘bible yields plenty of fun flavor profiles:
- Lamb, cardamom, yogurt
- Lamb, garlic, olives
- Lamb, mint, mustard
- Lamb, clove, red wine
- Lamb, cilantro, dill, garlic, mint
Those are just a small handful from an encyclopedic volume, that I implore you to secure. You can throw out every other recipe book with it safely in hand. In the burger pictured above I went with a quarter teaspoon ground cardamom, similar amounts of ground coriander, then a good flurry of garlic powder. Powder not fresh you ask? In burgers, kofta, meatballs, I prefer to ditch the texture of chopped garlic, and the risk of bitterness. Powder brings the same funky fun just fine.
My preferred weapon of choice is a simple frying pan. Just a plain old boring non stick. A dash of cooking oil is good but there should be plenty fat in good quality lamb. Leave the olive oil in the pantry, you don’t need the extra flavor, nor the low smoke point and resulting burnt oil. Again a reminder to run away from any recipes that instruct you to cook over high heat with olive oil. Rubes.
Don’t smash your burger, whack it, prod it or otherwise scold it. The current trend of smash burgers has everyone letting loose with senseless anger – hold it in. The less you interact with your burger the better in my book. Cook one side for 3-4 mins, flip and repeat. While it sizzles away in the pan, I place a lid on top of the pan. This not only lessens splatter and messy cleanup later but also creates a lovely enclosed steamy space that cooks faster. Towards the end of the dish I’ll crank the heat to get some finishing crisp.
A solid kitchen thermometer is a must in my mind. Despite would be intimidators suggesting you should learn the feel of your patty, feel free to ignore them. There’s nothing wrong with a quick jab from an instant read to help you gauge how far out you are from ready. It’s an essential kitchen tool in my world. The FDA recommends 160F for ground lamb, much like beef, but hey, you do you.
For the love of all lamb, leave the brioche to restaurant chefs and their incessant futzing with a good thing (more on the devilry of brioche in a future story). Go with a good floury bun, something substantially weighty that will hold up to oozing fat. In the picture above is a ciabatta loaf from Crumb Brothers in Logan. Harmons’ ciabatta can be decent too, but CB are the best I’ve tasted. If you must head in an enriched direction like the dreaded brioche, don’t wander farther afield, like say a donut. Can we just stop that as well.
Is a burger ready without mayo? Not in my world. Reach for the Duke’s, you can find it in Smith’s pretty reliably around these parts. The lemony slap it delivers is a fun sharp edge to any dish. Alton Brown is one of a legion of fans, this guy included. Go ahead and make your own if you feel so inclined, but remember we’re in the eggpocalypse at present.
Caramelized onions are a must. I really like the sweetness balanced with the earthy meat. Pictured above, mild and sweet Patterson onions from Tremonton’s Blue Spring Farm. Thinly slice two, season with salt, pour over a tablespoon of oil and cook on a low-medium heat for 45-60 minutes. It’s crucial to cook low and slow, the onions turn a honeyed bronze, and develop a jamminess. If they start to blacken and bitter, you’ve gone too fast.
Some slightly bitter greens are the last ingredient in the picture above. On my trip to the market I found R&A Hydroponics of West Jordan offering some splendid looking salad greens with sorrel mixed in. A bit more sharpness to cut the fat.
And that’s it. No crazy sauces, layer upon layer of toppings. Just good quality lamb and some suitably hefty bread. After all, Winter is built for being fat and happy right?
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Hi, I’m Stuart, nice to meet you! I’m the founder, writer and wrangler at Gastronomic SLC; I’m also a former restaurant critic of more than five years, working for the Salt Lake Tribune. I’ve worked extensively with multiple local publications from Visit Salt Lake to Salt Lake Magazine, not least helped to consult on national TV shows.
I’m a multiple-award winning journalist and have covered the Utah dining scene for the better part of fifteen years. I’m largely fueled by a critical obsession with rice, alliteration and the use of big words I don’t understand. What they’re saying about me: “Not inaccurate”, “I thought he was older”, “I don’t share his feelings”. Want to know more? This is why I am the way I am.
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