Nick Roumel: Even Old Man Winter would love this green chile-bacon-goat cheese grilled burger recipe

Michigan's winter is a guest that overstays its welcome, and doesn't get the hint to leave.

While you're in your pajamas, yawning obviously and proclaiming, "Oh gosh, look at the time!" - winter has his feet on the coffee table, the big, cold, oblivious, blowhard.

But have patience; winter leaves eventually, and with that, the grills make their way out of the garage, get cleaned and oiled and returned to the back deck, where Spring is welcomed with the first cookout of the season.

When planning your menu, don't overlook the hamburger. With just a few twists, this plain, humble patty can be transformed into something your guests will crave, and rave about.

Take the extra time to find some local or sustainably raised grass-fed beef. Cattle are grass-munchers by nature, but the demands of mass production led to them being force fed corn and grains, with hormones and antibiotics to compensate for the unnatural diet.

Grass-fed beef is lower in calories and fat, and higher in vitamins and Omega-3 fatty acids. Cooked properly, it can be as tender and juicy as anything you've ever tasted.

So go natural.

I recently led a panel on a tour of Washtenaw County's best hamburger places, and we were especially wowed by the locally-raised, grass-fed beef burgers that were expertly prepared by chefs Brandon Johns ("Grange") and Eve Aronoff ("Frita Batidos"), among others.

There are a few tips to cooking grass fed beef, mainly to take a little more care to not overcook it.

You'll also get arguments on the best cuts to use. Some cooks like the rich beefy taste of ground sirloin; others prefer the 80/20 lean to fat ratio of fatty ground beef. Julia Child recommends 8-10 percent fat content, and swears by grinding your own meat. So does Grace Parisi of "Food & Wine," who uses an equal mix of sirloin and fattier ground chuck, salted overnight, ground together before cooking.

Another way to compensate for the leaner content of grass-fed beef is to enrich the beef by beating in a tablespoon or so of butter or cream per pound of beef; this is recommended by Chef James Beard.

A variation on this, from Steven Raichlin, is to mix equal parts of Roquefort cheese and butter, and place them in the center of the beef patties for an "inside-out" cheeseburger experience. Grace Parisi stuffs hers with pimento cheese. You can also brush your burgers with a little oil before grilling.

I once made the following recipe from grillmaster Bobby Flay for a tailgate. The marinated bacon was unique, and combined sublimely with the goat cheese.

This gives your basic burger that touch of elegance that makes it perfect for guests, and the outdoor grill lets you mingle with them while you're cooking.

Just don't forget to turn those patties on time.

Green Chile Bacon Burgers with Goat Cheese

Ingredients:

8 thick-cut slices of bacon

1/2 cup mango chutney

1 poblano chile

Vegetable oil, for brushing

4 hamburger buns

4 thick slices tomato

1 1/2 pounds ground chuck or chuck/sirloin blend

Salt and fresh ground pepper

4 slices fresh goat cheese

Watercress sprigs or arugula for serving

Preheat oven to 375°. Line baking sheet with parchment paper. Arrange bacon slices on the paper and brush both sides liberally with the chutney, leaving any chunks in the jar.

Bake the bacon for about 30 minutes, turning once, until caramelized. Transfer the glazed bacon to a rack and let cool.

Meanwhile, light a grill. Rub the chile with oil and grill until charred all over, about 5 minutes.

Transfer to a bowl, cover with plastic wrap and let stand for 10 minutes.

Peel the poblano and coarsely chop it.

Brush the cut sides of the buns with oil and grill until toasted, about 30 seconds. Brush the tomato slices with oil and grill just until lightly charred, about 1 minute. Place the grilled tomato slices on the bottom half of the buns.

Form the beef into four 1-inch-thick patties and brush with oil. Season with salt and pepper and grill over high heat, turning once, until nearly medium-rare, about 6 minutes.

Top with the goat cheese and chopped poblano, close the grill and cook until the cheese is completely melted and the burgers are medium-rare, about 1 minute.

Set the burgers on the buns, top with the glazed bacon and watercress or arugula, and serve right away.

While French fries are often de rigueur with hamburgers, an easy alternative is to slice potatoes into 1/4 inch rounds, and toss with olive oil, Frank's hot sauce, and chopped fresh garlic; brown these on the grill next to your burgers.

Rain, snow, or shine, this meal is a great way to kick off your grilling season.

Nick Roumel is a principal with Nacht, Roumel, Salvatore, Blanchard and Walker, P.C., a litigation firm in Ann Arbor specializing in employment litigation.

He also has many years of varied restaurant and catering experience, has taught Greek cooking classes, and writes a food/restaurant column for "Current" magazine.

Published: Thu, Apr 7, 2011

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