A Beef Guy Talks Turkey (And Eats Crow)By Todd • Aug 24th, 2009 • Category: Burger Blog
In my last post, I vented on some burgers that were being hailed as “innovative” by a big, high-falutin’ publication. It occurred to me after the fact that maybe I was too quick to judge. Veal and pork pate may not be my thing, but, hey, if that’s how you want to get your cheeseburger on, who am I to have a beef with it? Hell, I’ve never doggy-paddled far enough outside the mainstream to try a turkey burger.
My main reasoning has always been, “What’s the point?” If I want a burger, I want a burger. And in my world, that means beef. Maybe bison if I’m feeling a little pioneering. But “burger-lite” substitutes like turkey or soy or black beans just seemed silly. Not to my wife; she gets them with regularity and then tries really hard not to make me feel like a gluttonous pig for ordering the biggest, baddest artery-clogger I can find on the menu. But now, I suddenly felt like I perhaps owed it to her (and my expanding spare tire) to try something outside my comfort zone. Not as a beef substitute, mind you. An alternative. Not a downgrade from a beef burger, but an upgrade from a boring chicken breast.
I fired up some coals and consulted my bible, The Cook’s Illustrated Guide to Grilling and Barbecue. If that book told me to toss my hiking boot on the grill and serve it for Sunday dinner, I would probably try it. And it would probably taste pretty damn good. Well, there it was in the Turkey chapter, first recipe in. (Turkey burgers, not my hiking boot.) Turns out I’d skipped right past it to get to the grill-roasted whole turkey I do every Thanksgiving.
Now, the usual knock on turkey burgers is the dryness factor. To combat this, my grilling gurus at Cook’s Illustrated suggested adding a secret ingredient to the mix: ricotta cheese.
I made my patties and started them sizzling. I let them get a decent set of grill marks on the underside and made my one flip. (You’re not still one of those repeat-flippers and spatula-pressers, are you??? C’mon, rook. You flip a burger once and only once. Then you leave it the hell alone.) These things were barely holding together. I had some hot dogs on the grill, too (both as an emergency backup in case these things were inedible, and to satisfy my three-year-old who wants us to trade in our minivan for the Oscar Mayer Wienermobile), and as I rotated my dogs, my tongs nudged one of the burgers ever so slightly. The edge of the burger tore away like a Corvette getting sideswiped in the mall parking lot. It was ugly and irreversible and I immediately wished I had been more careful and I prayed that no one saw me try to fix it.
Once they hit 160 degrees, I cheesed them with some provolone and slid an aluminum pan over the top of them to give the cheese a good, quick melt without cooking the meat much further. Coming off the grill, they didn’t look half bad.
After some red onion slices and lettuce, I had to admit, it suddenly looked downright awesome.
Then I bit into it. It wasn’t bad. Not at all. But something was off. It took a couple of bites for me to put my finger on it. My wife liked it, and, as a turkey burger veteran, mentioned that when she can, she orders hers blackened for a little added flavor. But it wasn’t the taste that was throwing me. These burgers were well-flavored, with a mixture that included Dijon mustard, Worcestershire sauce, black pepper, and the aforementioned ricotta cheese.
The problem was that these burgers were too light. Not calorically-speaking, but rather in terms of weight and texture. This was like eating cotton candy. You get a mouthful, and it tastes fine, but there’s nothing there. To me, a burger needs some heft, some weight. It should offer a little resistance when you bite in. You should have to work, just a little bit, when you chew it. But this felt like I could take a bite of turkey burger, hold it on my tongue, and feel it dissolve into nothingness. This was like a pillow wrapped in a cotton ball served on a cloud.
My wheels started turning instantly. What caused that? How can I improve it next time? Was it the ricotta? What if I mixed some ground turkey sausage into the patties? Maybe simply letting them develop a bit more bark on the grill?
As I rambled on about things I might try differently on the next batch of turkey burgers, my wife got that little I-told-you-so smirk on her face.
“So there’s going to be a next time?” she asked.
I told her it doesn’t mean I’m going to eat fewer real cheeseburgers. Just fewer chicken breasts.