Lighter burger bites

Last updated 13:24 19/10/2012

After my burger eating "heroics" for Burger Wellington for Wellington on a Plate back in August, I am now in a position to cast an eye over the trends that the programme (25 burgers in 15 days!) illustrated. Remarkably, with the exception of Hot! Like A Mexican's burger, which was available as either a beef or bean patty (and some dessert burgers), and given that last year Burger Wellington was won by Cafe Polo's vege burger, I was surprised that there was little by way of vegetarian burgers, or even just lighter burgers. This doesn't seem to be in keeping with the way a lot of people are now choosing to eat.

Burger1Despite the fact that the event was won by the extremely meaty (and excellent) T Rex Burger from the Boulcott Street Bistro, I was heartened to see Shinobi Sushi Lounge's Spicy Fish Burger (at right) make the final judging, and also enjoyed Plum's Long Liner gurnard fish burger (picture below), and Monsoon Poon's Bahn Mi, with its thinly sliced char siu pork. After the first 10 or so burgers, I felt as though I was drowning in meat, cheese and bread, and would have awarded an instant winner on the spot for something light and fresh and tasty - I nearly did just that with the Shinobi effort!

I was kind of surprised by the lack of vegetarian options available - The Matterhorn, for example, did very well with Chef Dave Verheul's eight-course vegetarian degustation menu. And Lyall Bay's Ekim Burgers caravan (I know I harp on, but they are really great) has a large selection of different vege burgers, with a falafel patty - they are excellent, and popular.

What I am pondering is, vege burgers, fish burgers, hell, even chicken burgers - how do you go about making a delicious burger that is a bit lighter, and more "summery" than the average big, beefy burger? And just what makes a burger? Is it, indeed, a burger, if it doesn't feature a beef patty, or cheese, or a pickle?!

First - what is a burger? I reckon a burger has to be in a bun, rather than sliced bread. I think it should have some sort of protein, salad, sauce, maybe some cheese and, always, some sort of pickle. A good burger should be about the combination of flavours and textures, in perfect balance. I honestly don't reckon it matters whether the "protein" element is meat, or fish, or vegetable matter. My buddy PJ reliably informs me that in New York, burgers are either beef or cheese, while the chicken, fish and vege burgers are more of a West Coast thing - peculiar.

Burger2These are my ideas, then, for "Summer" burgers - burgers that are not just chock full of ground beef.

1-      The 'Shroom Burger - grill some whole Portobello mushrooms with garlic, olive oil and grated parmesan until they are cooked through and juicy, and serve them with a squeeze of lemon and some rocket in a soft bun that has had its inner surfaces grilled - this, I reckon, is crucial to the burger not being too sloppy - in all cases...

2-      The Fish Burger - I reckon if you are going to make a fish burger, the fish totally needs to be crumbed. And very fresh. And again, soft bun, lashings of lemony mayo, tomato, and, probably, iceberg lettuce - it is the secret weapon of the homemade burger. I don't think it should have cheese in it. I dislike cheese with fish.

3-      The Chicken burger - free range chicken breasts, or thighs, panko crumbed and fried - similar to the fish burger. Again, I would leave out cheese; chicken and cheese - just a bit... wrong?

4-      Bean/falafel/corn fritter burger - basically, if you can make it into a fritter, you can put it in a burger. You want it so that it is neither too firm nor too sloppy. It needs to be, well, burger patty consistency. And you need to balance out the texture of your patty with the other ingredients - a drier, falafel-type patty will require more sauce. My friend Joshna from Cuba Fruit also told me about a lentil burger she makes with cooked lentils mushed up a little, spices, and bound with an egg. And, just to complicate the issue, the corn fritter burger/sandwich is excellent if you also add crispy bacon.

5- The Haloumi burger - just a generous amount of grilled haloumi in a burger with salad makes a delicious and different kind of burger - also good with the field mushroom!

Well, a few thoughts as to how I would set about making a lighter, less "meaty" burger, better suited to the warmer Summer months. You will note I have not included anything with tofu - I am unsure how to approach the tofu burger - I am totally open to suggestions as to how to go about this.

What do you think about the non-beef burger idea? What tips/suggestions do you have? Any ideas for a tofu burger for me - like I say, I am game to try...

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