I just realized that I’ve been so interested in bringing you tales of other people’s food this July that I haven’t posted a recipe in almost a month! Please accept my apologies, and an offering of an awesome summer recipe: a burger that is juicy, flavorful, and totally memorable, but still light. I wish I could call it an awesome summer grilling recipe, because everyone wants to cook outside this time of year, but I can’t. These babies can fall apart when you cook them, and would likely be an utter mess on the grill. In a pan, though, you can gently press them back together – and if they still come out in chunks, you can hide them under the bun.
That may not have been the most appealing introduction for such a yummy burger. What if I told you they’re a snap to make (at least if you have a food processor)? That their intriguing flavor and splendid, juicy mouthfeel had me dreaming about them for weeks after I made them the first time, so I was forced – forced, I tell you! – to make them again yesterday? That they were created by a famed French-trained chef?
That’s right. I found this recipe in a book by Hubert Keller, who trained in his native France under a number of famous chefs (including Paul Bocuse) before moving to San Francisco in the ’80s. His intriguing style caught my eye on Top Chef Masters, so when I noticed his book Burger Bar in Amazon’s bargain-book section, I grabbed it. The book is named after his restaurant, Burger Bar – Keller’s entry (and arguably the first) in the increasingly popular genre of burger restaurants by big-name chefs. (Other entries include Bobby Flay’s Burger Palace, Emeril Lagasses’s Burgers and More, and Marcus Samuelsson’s Marc Burger.)
Burger Bar is not a large cookbook, and since it has a full-page photo of every recipe (not my favorite style of cookbook, but I know a lot of people love it), there aren’t that many recipes. There are interesting tips, however (such as, keep your meat cold, and don’t press on your burgers while they cook), and a good number of recipes caught my eye. This is the one I wanted to make right away, though, because of its interesting trick of soaking mustard seeds to create little bursts of flavor throughout the burger. The blurb promised that they would “pop easily against the teeth, like the best caviar but with a spicy hit.”
One problem: the soaked mustard seeds didn’t come close to deserving that buildup. They added an interesting look and a little textural contrast, but weren’t really worth the pre-planning and effort of boiling the seeds and soaking them overnight. The upside? The burgers were fantastic anyway, and changing the recipe to just add grainy mustard created a much easier and more streamlined process. (I will include the mustard seeds as a recipe option for the ambitious or curious.)
The real secret to this burger is not the fancy soaked mustard seed; it is the apple. The grated apple in the burger mixture keeps the patties wonderfully juicy, and it also adds a haunting sweetness that contrasts wonderfully with the mustard’s tang. There are only four ingredients in the patties, but their flavor is complex and interesting. You might make them the first time as a substitute for beef burgers, but you’ll make them again because they’re delicious.
Chicken-Apple Burger with Grainy Mustard
Serves: 4 to 6, depending on patty size Time: About an hour Hands-on: 30 minutes
2 tart green apples (such as Granny Smith), peeled and cored
1/2 medium red onion
1.5 pounds chicken thighs, trimmed if excess fat if desired and cut into 2″ chunks
2 tablespoons whole-seed grainy mustard, and soaked seeds if using*
3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
Salt and pepper
4 to 6 onion (or other) burger buns
1 ripe avocado, sliced for serving, optional
Thinly sliced onion rounds, for serving, optional
Mayo, Dijon mustard, etc for serving
Place the chunked chicken thighs in the freezer to chill while you work with the apple and onion.
Slice one of the apples thinly and set aside. Quarter the other apple. Using the shredding blade of your food processor, grate the quartered apple and the onion and transfer to a bowl. Change to the regular food processor blade; put in the chilled chicken and pulse until well chopped – no piece should be much bigger than a chickpea, but the mixture should not be as fine as sausage meat. Finer grinds will stick together better but will also dry out more when cooked.
Add the chicken and mustard to the bowl with the apple. Using your hands or a rubber spatula, combine gently but thoroughly. Pat into 4 or 6 patties; if you make 4 they’ll be huge and impressive, while 6 will give you a better everyday burger size. Place in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes, or as long as overnight. (This is a good time to put together the rest of dinner.)
When the patties have rested, heat 2 tablespoons of oil over medium-high heat in a pan large enough for all the patties. (I used both nonstick and regular pans, and both browned great, but the stainless steel pan did stick a little.) Use the remaining teaspoon of oil to brush on the patties, and sprinkle them with salt and pepper. When the oil is nice and hot, carefully slide in the patties and turn the heat down a little, to medium. Do not press down on the patties except right now, gently, if needed to get the patty fully in contact with the pan.
Cook the patties for 10 to 15 minutes, turning carefully two or three times, until the center is no longer pink or a meat thermometer reads 165. Remove from the heat and let rest while you prepare the buns.
Cover the bottom half of each bun with apple slices. Place burgers on top and adorn with avocado and onion slices. Prop the bun tops rakishly against the dressed burgers and serve, with Dijon mustard and mayo on the table. (Ketchup? I guess – if you absolutely must.)
*(For the soaked mustard seed fillip: The day before, place 3 tablespoons white wine or cider in a small saucepan along with 2 tablespoons brown or yellow mustard seeds, 1 tablespoon white vinegar, and 3 tablespoons water. Bring to a boil and pour into a small bowl or ramekin. Cover and let sit overnight. Drain and add to the apple-chicken mixture along with the mustard.)
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