Wednesday, November 9, 2011

America’s Favorite Bird Meets America’s Favorite Sandwich

Just in time for Thanksgiving, a new way to look at this season’s iconic bird: ground up and on a bun.  If the hamburger is the quintessential American food, then substituting our country’s most symbolic edible bird for the beef perhaps makes the turkey burger even more patriotic than a McDonald’s quarter pounder.

This is not to mention the health benefits of switching out lean poultry for high fat ground beef.  Our nation certainly doesn’t need to get any wider so rejiggering one of our favorite foods to be less fattening couldn’t hurt. 

Eating turkey burgers out at restaurants, however, is not easy.  Finding one that doesn’t taste like rubber and freezer burn (see my column Turkey Burger on the Brain) is even harder.

And making them at home requires a little more effort than the typical beef burger.  But the extra effort will yield healthy and flavorful results.  Here are some tips for making this king of all bird burgers at home.

1. Go Dark:  it is tempting to think as long as you are making a lower fat burger with the use of ground turkey in lieu of beef, to go as low fat as possible with all white meat ground turkey.  Big mistake.  The flavor, and a bit more fat, is in the dark meat.  Standard ground turkey is usually a combination of white and dark.  Go with that.  The flavor is worth the few extra calories.

2. Bind: A true beef burger has no binders, relying instead on a high fat content (up to 30%) to hold the shape of the patty together.  Lower in fat, turkey burgers lack the natural binder to keep it together.  A bit like a meatball, turkey burgers benefit from a bit of moisture-retaining starch, like breadcrumbs, and some egg as the glue to keep it all in place.

3. Low and Slow: A waitress once asked me how I wanted my turkey burger cooked.  Unless you want that burger with a side of salmonella, I told her, I’d suggest you cook the turkey burger all the way through.  To do that without drying it out, I’ll cook the burger in a heavy pan over a medium heat.  Starting out I’ll keep a lid on the burgers to speed up the process, then remove the lid toward the end to brown the burger on both sides.  The whole process takes a bit longer than a beef burger- about 10 to 12 minutes- but the juicy results are worth it.

4. Compliment with Condiments:  The blue cheese, gorgonzola, and sharp cheddar that work so well with richer beef burgers have a tendency to overwhelm turkey.  Milder cheeses like provolone, swiss, and jack make a fine topping.  And as long as you are keeping it healthy, try out a range of vegetables from heirloom tomatoes, to sprouts, to pickled shredded carrots.  Sauces from flavored mustard to pesto also make a fine dressing for a different take on a special bird.

Basic Turkey Burger
Serves: 3
Time: 20 minutes

1.25 lb ground dark meat turkey (size of average store bought package)
1 egg, lightly beaten
1/3 cup breadcrumbs
2 T. vegetable oil
3 Buns

In a medium bowl, mix ground turkey, egg, and breadcrumbs with a bit of salt and pepper.  Heat oil in a large heavy sauté pan over medium heat.  Place burgers side by side being careful not to overcrowd the pan.  Cover with a lid and cook for about 6 minutes, flipping once half way through.  Remove lid and cook for another 4-6 minutes until burgers are cooked through, turning once more to properly brown both sides.  When done, remove to a platter and let rest while toasting the buns.  Toast buns in the same pan as the turkey burgers cut side down.  Serve immediately. 


South of the Border
Mix-in: 1 chopped canned chipotle pepper and 1 tablespoon of adobo from the peppers with the ground turkey.
Top: Top burger with jack cheese and sliced avocado.

Mix-in: ½ tsp ground sage with the ground turkey.
Top: Top burger with cranberry sauce and sautéed winter greens, such as collard or chard.

Healthy California
Top: Top burger with sprouts, pea shoots, or microgreens, a slice of heirloom tomato, and honey mustard. 

Amy Powell is a food and travel writer based in New York City. She is a graduate of Cornell University's School of Hotel Administration and the French Culinary Institute. Follow her on Twitter @amymariepowell

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