Sunday, August 7, 2011

Elk Burgers

I am sometimes jealous of San Francisco locavores.  Okay, I am ALWAYS jealous of San Francisco locavores.  OKAY, I am ALWAYS VERY jealous of San Francisco locavores.  How hard is it to be a locavore when your local diet can include oysters, crab, Atlantic salmon, and Napa Valley wine?  And your growing season is all year round?  It's not fair!

On the other hand, living in WI isn't all that bad.  WI has cheese, and beer (if you're into that), and sausage.  California has cheese too, though... so they probably will win this fight.

But it's not a blood bath.  WI loses on seafood and wine, which are both very important my personal happiness, and on length of growing season... but we can hold our own on almost every other kind of meat.  Within 100 miles of my house, I can find beef, pork, and chicken, obviously, but also ducks, quail, pheasants, lamb, goat, elk, buffalo, emu and ostrich.  I haven't tried all of these yet, but I intend to.  Some are easier to find, since they're at my local market, but my goal is to get a chest freezer so I can order larger quantities of meat directly from the farmer.  I also hope, as this blog continues, to actually get out to some of these farms.  I need to figure out a way to be just a little less busy.

Today's meat of choice was elk.  Actually, I had just intended to have regular burgers, but the ground elk was less at the farmer's market than the ground beef.  My husband and I had recently gone to a local burger bar, Stack'd, and I had gourmet burgers on the brain.  I'm just recently learning that I like burgers, and I wanted to see what kind of gourmet burger I could come up with.  Also, I recently bought a bunch of hamburger buns (local of course) for a party I went to, and the leftovers are taking up way too much room in my freezer.  If only I had that chest freezer!

Mushrooms with secret cheese melting
on the grill.
Like everything else, this burger was a compilation of what I had on hand, but it was really good.  At first, my husband wasn't sure about the cheese, which I melted into the hole left by removing the stems of the portabella mushroom - like a stuffed mushroom.  When I then flipped it onto the burger, you could just see the mushroom, and the cheese was completely hidden.  I'm sure that doesn't make it taste any better, but it was fun to have the cheese be a surprise.

One problem I've always had with burgers is that they are either tough, dry, unevenly cooked, or some combination of the three.  I started some research on this, and learned that a burger needs to be made in the exact opposite way of everything I've learned about cooking meat.

Hours of Food Network watching has taught me that you want your meat room temperature before you cook it.  Put cold meat into a hot pan and it will drop the temperature of the pan and your meat won't sear properly.  You will be left with gray, steamed meat.  Same thing with the grill.  Everything I read says don't throw cold meat on the grill.

Unless it's a burger. 

Burger meat should be as cold as possible.  It should be as cold as possible while you're mixing it, and your hands should be as cold as possible.  This makes sense to me.  You don't want the fat to start melting until it gets on the grill.  Kind of like pie crust, the more you handle the crust dough, the more the fat melts, and the more you work the dough, the tougher your crust will be.  Many recipes then recommend putting the formed patties into the freezer before cooking.

I've tried to do research, and I don't really understand this step.  Why is a burger so different than a steak?  Throw a cold steak on the grill and it steams, doesn't caramelize properly, and turns grey.  But throw a nearly frozen hamburger patty on the grill and it cooks perfectly.

The patties above were my first attempt, and if you look closely (my camera kicked the big one, so I'm stuck using just my iPhone camera, which doesn't have the best resolution), you can see I didn't follow my own advice.  These patties are starting to turn grey around the edges - meaning they're starting to cook.  This was my first sign that something was wrong, and it is what encouraged me to start my burger cooking research.  This first batch was good - moist and tender - but they were not evenly cooked.  My second batch, made of the exact same meat but kept cold and mixed with ice cold hands, were way better, although still not perfect.  I'll keep working on it!

Elk Burgers with Portabella Mushrooms, Zucchini, and Goat Milk Brie.
(makes 3 burgers)
  • 1 lb very cold ground elk meat (L)
  • 1 1/2 tbsp minced garlic scapes, divided (L)
  • 1 tbsp minced red onion (L*)
  • 1/2 small zucchini, thinly sliced (12 slices) (L*)
  • 3 portabella mushrooms, stems removed (L)
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 3 1 oz. chunks of goat milk brie (L)
  • 3 burger buns (L)
  • butter (L)
In a large, cold bowl, combine ground meat, 1 tbsp garlic scapes, and minced onions.  Mix until just combined, form into three patties, and return to the fridge.

In a second bowl, combine mushrooms and zucchini.  Drizzle with olive oil, and mix with remaining 1/2 tbsp garlic scapes, salt, and pepper until well coated.  Allow to marinate for up to one hour.

Depending on how well you like your burgers done, you might want to start putting things on the grill in a different order.  The mushrooms should take about 15 minutes total.  The instructions below are for a medium burger.

Once you are ready to cook, heat a grill to medium high.  Place mushrooms, former stem side down, on grill, and cook for about 5 minutes, or until they start to get soft.

At the same time you place the mushrooms on, season the burger patties well on both sides with salt and pepper, and add to the grill.

After about 5 minutes total, flip the burgers and the mushrooms.  Add the cheese to the indentation in the mushroom where the stem used to be.  Cook for about 5 more minutes, then remove the burgers to a plate to rest.

In the next five minutes, while the cheese finishes melting, grill the zucchini (I recommend using a grill basket since they are sliced so thin), and toast the buns.  Spread butter on the buns, then layer burger patty, zucchini, and mushroom - cheese side down.  Top with the top bun, and eat!

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