The Southwestern burger served at Cirella's at Saks Fifth Avenue in Huntington Station, N.Y., is both juicy and uncommonly flavorful.
Delivered on a brioche bun, it's revved up with cumin and chile, topped with red onions and a melt of Swiss and dolloped with mango chutney. The surprise? It's fashioned of ground chicken. And, according to executive chef Anthony Colombo, it accounts for 30 percent of burger orders.
A number of alluring alternative burgers are almost staples these days on menus and home grills. Those who have a beef with the fat, cholesterol and calorie count of conventional hamburgers have been talking turkey, chicken and vegetable burgers of late.
The relatively low-fat bison burger has been anything but an endangered species on a growing number of menus, but you may have to fish around to find salmon or tuna burgers. And a few clued-in restaurateurs have taken their heads out of the sand to offer ostrich burgers, sirloinlike in flavor and texture and about 97 percent fat-free.
Actually, according to registered dietitian Layne Lieberman, the vegetable burger is the most heart-healthy, containing no fat whatsoever. "When you go from veggie to meat burgers, you're not comparing apples to apples," Lieberman said.
Restaurateur Colombo uses the high-quality Dr. Praeger's California burgers for the veggie burgers he serves. They're widely available in supermarkets in a number of flavors, a boon to those who eschew meat.
People who have no problem eating bison or ostrich should keep in mind that both become tough and dry when overdone. Lieberman said U.S. Department of Agriculture food-safety rules say they should be cooked to an internal temperature of 160 degrees, which translates to medium. Turkey and chicken burgers fare better at the suggested temperature of doneness, which is 165 degrees.
The fish burger has its own cachet. Diane Morgan, who wrote Salmon: A Cookbook (Chronicle Books, 2005, $24.95), maximizes the flavor of her salmon burgers by first cutting the fish into pieces and then grinding it with garlic, ginger, green onions, cilantro, lemon juice and soy. "The secret to success is that you want to make the burgers ahead and chill them to hold together," Morgan said.
The salmon teriyaki burger has been a long-standing success at Le Zinc in Manhattan, whose chef and co-owner David Waltuck also owns the highly rated French restaurant Chanterelle.
"I think somebody who wants a hamburger is going to have hamburger," Waltuck said, adding that much of the time, it's not even the meat itself people crave.
"I think the other half of the appeal of any hamburger is all the stuff that goes with it," he said. "It's a vehicle for other good things" - like ketchup, pickle, cheese and bacon. His salmon burger (marinated in chunks with soy and mirin before being ground and grilled) is topped with a sweet-and-sour tamarind sauce made with ginger, garlic and, yes, ketchup.
Whatever your choice of burger, the bun is integral to the overall experience. "I try to find a bakery that has homemade buns as opposed to packaged buns," said Morgan, who added that she likes the bolder, richer flavor of whole-wheat buns for salmon and tuna burgers.
The trick is to find a bread that's neither mushy nor overly thick and dry. Lightly toasting or grilling a supermarket bun, roll or English muffin can work well, as can warming a small whole-wheat pita, if you're particularly health- and calorie-conscious.
Waltuck, who switched from brioche to bun, has his own rule. "It's really important not to have too much bread," Waltuck said. "I think the balance in the ideal burger is that the juices and all the stuff you put on it are fighting with the bread for control. What you don't want is for the bread to win easily."
Newsday is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.
Green-Onion and Soy-Sauce Mayonnaise
Makes about 1/2 cup
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1 green onion, including green tops, very thinly sliced
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
2 teaspoons soy sauce
In a small bowl, mix together the mayonnaise, green onion, lemon juice and soy sauce until well blended. Cover and refrigerate for up to 1 day.
Per 1-tablespoon serving: 90 calories; 0 grams protein; 10 grams fat; 1 gram saturated fat; 0 grams carbohydrate; 0 grams fiber; 4 milligrams cholesterol; 141 milligrams sodium
Diane Morgan's Asian Salmon Burgers
Makes 4 servings
1 pound salmon fillet, skin and pin bones removed, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 tablespoon peeled, minced fresh ginger
1 1/2 tablespoons minced garlic
2 green onions, including 2 inches of green tops, very thinly sliced
2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
1 teaspoon kosher or sea salt
1 1/2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1/2 cup cracker meal
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
4 slices provolone cheese (optional)
4 sesame-seed hamburger buns, split and toasted
lettuce leaves or baby spinach leaves