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Beyond Basic Burgers

Just because they're easy to make doesn't mean you can't get creative with your burgers.

Email|Print|Single Page| Text size + By Sally Sampson
May 4, 2008

My first cookbook, Snoopy's Gourmet Guide, by Charles Schulz - charming, spiral-bound, full of illustrations, and now very much out of print - was given to me when I was 12 years old. I can still remember testing most of the recipes on my unsuspecting family, but it was Snoopy's Hamburger Deluxe that really held my attention. Said recipe advised me, the budding young chef, to place tomato slices inside the burger instead of on top, a very courageous idea in the 1960s.

I took Snoopy's advice but, frankly, found it wanting. In addition to the tomatoes, which I chopped instead of slicing, I added cheese: first, slices of American, mild, salty, and buttery, then chunks of a tangy, sharp cheddar, and later, a sweet-grassy Swiss - the only cheeses readily available in grocery stores, even in New York. My two carnivorous brothers were impressed, which was no small feat, and I have no doubt that Snoopy would have been equally awed by my additions. (I later discovered - when I wrote Throw Me a Bone, a dog cookbook - that most dogs are fond of a good hunk of cheese.) I'm not entirely sure that Snoopy would approve of espresso-rubbed burgers, but I have no doubt he'd be pleased to have inspired my newest cookbook, Recipe of the Week: Burgers, and the recipes below.

CURRIED CRAB CAKE BURGERS
SERVES 4

These are a bit more delicate than other burgers made from fish, so treat them gently. Make tiny patties and serve the burgers as appetizers.

12 ounces crab meat, very coarsely shredded
1/2 cup panko bread crumbs
1/4 cup mayonnaise or whole-milk yogurt
2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
1 tablespoon chopped fresh chives
1 1/2 teaspoons curry powder
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
Kosher salt
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 lime, quartered

Place the crab meat, panko, mayonnaise or yogurt, cilantro, chives, and curry powder in a medium-size bowl and very gently combine. Form into 4 patties, cover, and refrigerate at least 1 hour and up to 4 hours.

Place the flour and 1 teaspoon of salt on a large plate. Dredge each patty in the mixture. Place a large skillet over medium-high heat, and when it is hot, add the oil. Add the patties and cook until lightly browned, about 4 minutes on each side. Serve immediately with the lime wedges.

JERK BURGERS
SERVES 4

1 1/4 to 1 1/2 pounds ground turkey or chicken
3 scallions, coarsely chopped
1 tablespoon coarsely chopped jalapeno or Scotch bonnet pepper
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 1/2 teaspoons five-spice powder
3/4 teaspoon allspice
Kosher salt and black pepper
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
2 teaspoons soy sauce
1 lime, quartered

Place the turkey or chicken, scallions, chopped hot pepper, garlic, five-spice powder, allspice, 1 teaspoon black pepper, thyme, nutmeg, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and soy sauce in a large bowl, and using your hands, mix until all the ingredients are evenly incorporated. Place the mixture on a work surface and divide into 4 balls of equal size. Form each into a patty 3/4 to 1 inch thick. To ensure that cooked burgers don't puff or curl but stay flat, make a 1/2-inch indentation about the size of a quarter in the middle of each side of the patties. Handle the patties as little as possible.

Prepare a charcoal grill.

Sprinkle both sides of the burgers with salt and black pepper. Grill until well seared on both sides, about 5 minutes for medium-rare or 6 minutes for medium. Alternatively, place a cast-iron skillet over high heat and when it is hot but not smoking add the burgers to the dry pan. Cook until well seared on both sides, 8 to 10 minutes for medium-rare and 10 to 12 minutes for medium.

Transfer to buns or a serving platter and serve immediately with lime quarters.

ESPRESSO RUBBED BURGERS
SERVES 4

These are not burgers for buns. Instead, serve them with lemon wedges: As with a cup of espresso, the tartness of the lemon brings out the flavor of the bitter coffee.

4 teaspoons coarsely ground espresso beans
Kosher salt and pepper
1 teaspoon brown sugar
1 teaspoon chili powder
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 1/2 to 1 3/4 pounds ground chuck
1 lemon, quartered

Place the ground espresso, 2 teaspoons of salt, 1 to 2 teaspoons of pepper, brown sugar, chili powder, and cinnamon on a large plate and mix well.

Place the ground chuck on a work surface and divide into 4 balls of equal size. Dredge in the espresso mixture and form each ball into a patty about 3/4 to 1 inch thick. To ensure that the cooked burgers don't puff or curl but stay flat, make a 1/2-inch indentation about the size of a quarter in the middle of each side of the patties. Handle the patties as little as possible.

Prepare a charcoal grill. Place the burgers on the grate and grill until well seared on both sides, 8 to 10 minutes for medium-rare and 10 to 12 minutes for medium. Alternatively, place a cast-iron skillet over high heat and when it is hot but not smoking add the burgers to the dry pan. Cook until well seared on both sides, 8 to 10 minutes for medium-rare and 10 to 12 minutes for medium.

Serve immediately, garnished with the lemon quarters.

Is Your Grill Hot Enough?

Fill the bottom of a charcoal chimney with two pieces of crumpled newspaper and the top with hardwood lump charcoal. Light the newspaper and leave coals in the chimney until they are glowing red, 15 to 20 minutes. Dump the coals out into the bottom of the grill and, using tongs, spread them out evenly. Cover with the grate. After 5 minutes, use a wire brush to thoroughly clean the grate. When the coals are covered with a pale-gray ash and you can leave your hand 5 inches above the fire for 3 or 4 seconds, they are at medium-high heat and ready for grilling.

Recipes and grilling tip adapted from Recipe of the Week: Burgers (Wiley), by Sally Sampson. Send comments to cooking@globe.com.

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