Anatomy of a Better Burger

Quinoa and mushrooms burgers

Part II: Fish & Veggie Sliders

If in the last post we were talking about how to build a better beef and poultry burger, which are the classic staples of this traditional summer food, in this post I’m going to take you through some ideas on two of it’s more modern variations; fish and vegetarian. This time however we will be doing sliders!

I have to say it was my first time doing these two styles from scratch.  But I’ll do anything in the name of the blog! I even went and bought a food grinder so I could grind a couple of tuna fillets for my fish sliders.

For this fishy version I wanted to create a very simple palette of flavors.  You can use any kind of fish you want.  Keep in mind that, even with white meat fish, such as cod or halibut, you want to have simple flavors in your burger so the sea taste of the fish stay nice in your burger.

Tuna sliders recipe

The veggie version was another story.  I wanted a punch of flavor in every bite of it.  You know, at the end of the day they are just veggies.  But when properly seasoned and combined, veggies can make a great plate on it’s own.

So let me share with you my guidelines on how to create a delicious fish burger or slider:

1.  Meat – You can use any fish you like.  If you can’t grind your own just pulse the fish meat a couple of times in a food processor until ground.  But don’t over pulse because you may end with mushy, kind of mousse consistency meat.

2.  Seasonings – Keep it simple with the seasonings so the delicate taste of the fish shines.  Add a small amount of oil since fish is already very oily.

3.  Acidity – especially form citrus.  Remember that acidity helps in tenderizing the meat and citrus has the perfect floral tones to enhance any fish meat.

4.  Cast iron or stainless steel pan – Cook them with a mix of olive or grape seed oil with a bit of butter.  These oils mixed with the fish’s own fat will create a wonderful caramelization around the edges of the patty.

5.  Peppery greens and fragrant herbs for greens – Think baby kale, arugula, cilantro, basil, parsley and mint.

6.  Creamy sauce – it’s the way to go! Anything thick and creamy will always go well with fatty food.  Think of adding some citrus and fresh herbs into the sauce for a punch of flavor.

7.  Small soft buns – Always toast them in the cooking pan so they soak all the delicious cooking juices.

I flavored my tuna with ginger, scallions and garlic, using this bon appétit tuna burger recipe as a base.  I pureéd a good chunk of avocado and mixed it with Greek yogurt, salt and lime to spread through the cooked burger, besides some arugula and an avocado slice.

If you want to experiment with the veggie version, here’s what you should take into consideration:

Quinoa and mushrooms sliders

1.  For the “meat” – Use high protein vegetables and grains to form the patty; chickpeas, beans, lentils, quinoa and mushrooms are good calls.

2.  To bind everything – you can use ground flax seeds, eggs, coconut or rice flour as binding ingredients.

3.  Cook or marinate your toppings – this will create a nice depth of flavors that will enhance the burger.  Think in caramelized and fruity flavors.

4.  Cast iron or stainless steel skillet – definitely these are the pans to go.

5.  Some greens – to add freshness

6.  Soft small buns

To create my patty, I cooked some quinoa and mixed it with very thin slices of mushrooms.  And some inspiration suddenly came to me that I made a pomegranate avocado pico de gallo, totally out of the blue and totally delicious.

To finish I’m going to tell you a secret tip that you should always do with any kind of burger; toast the buns in the fat the patties were cooked!  It really makes a wonderful difference, when you take a bite of a burger and the bun is warm, toasty and moist with the same seasonings as your sandwich.  Start by adding a bit of oil and a bit of butter.  Let them melt in the pan on moderate heat. Put the buns on one side, toast them for about 2 minutes, until you see the borders starting to brown, then flip them and repeat.  You can move the buns through the edges to make sure they brown as well.  Retire the buns form the heat.  Repeat this with the remaining bread, adding small amounts of oil and butter if needed.

I served them with some asparagus fries on the side, a different take on the traditional fries!

Tuna fish sliders
(Recipe adapted from the bon appétit tuna burger recipe)
Total Time – 30 minutesPrep time – 15 minutes
Equipment – Food grinder or food processor

Tuna steaks – 1 – 1¼  lb.
Minced scallions – ¼ cup + 2 heaping TBSP
Grated peeled ginger – 2 TBSP
Grated peeled garlic – 1 TBSP
Sesame, avocado or grape seed oil – 1 TBSP + 3 TBSP for cooking
Fine sea salt – ½ Tsp
Freshly ground pepper – a sprinkle to taste
Avocado, yogurt, lime sauce – recipe below
Baby kale and avocado pieces – to serve

You need your tuna to be firm in order for it to grind well.  If it’s frozen just place it on the fridge or on the counter and let it thaw but not defrost completely, just enough for the meat to barely yield if you poke it; if it’s from the fridge, place it in the freezer for 15 minutes until it reaches the desired consistency.

Cube the meat in ½” cubes.  Mix it with the scallions, ginger, garlic, salt and pepper.  Grind the meat according to your grinder instructions.  Mix in the 1 TBSP of the oil and gently mix well.  Form patties of about 2” wide and ½” tall.

Heat the remaining oil in a cast iron or stainless steel skillet.  Cook each patty until just cooked through, 3 to 4 minutes per side.

Toast the buns in the same skillet.

You can serve them with the avocado, yogurt and lime sauce (recipe below) and a piece of avocado on top.

Avocado, yogurt, lime sauce
Total time – 15+ minutesPrep time – 5 minutes
Equipment – food processor

Avocado – 1 ripe medium avocado
Greek Yogurt – ⅓ cup
Lime juice – 1 TBSP, the juice of about 1 small lime
Fine sea salt – ½ Tsp
Cilantro, roughly chopped – 2 TBSP

In a food processor pulse the avocado until smooth.  Transfer to a bowl and mix well with the yogurt, lime juice and salt.  Add the chopped cilantro and mix again.  Let it chill in the fridge for 15 to 30 minutes before serving.

Quinoa and mushrooms sliders
Total time – 25 minutesPrep time – 15 minutes
Equipment – small sauce pan

Quinoa, cooked in water or chicken stock – 1 ½ cup
Cremini mushrooms, thinly sliced – 1 cup
Fine sea salt – ¼ Tsp + ¼ Tsp
Freshly ground pepper – ¼ Tsp
Olive oil – 3 TBSP + 2 TBSP
Unbleached flour – ¼ cup
Eggs, beaten – 2
Pomegranate, avocado pico de gallo (recipe follows)
Arugula or baby kale – to serve

In a large cast iron or stainless steel skillet heat the 3 TBSP of oil in moderate heat, 1 to 2 minutes.  Add the mushrooms and sprinkle with the ¼ Tsp of salt and the pepper.  Sauté the mushrooms until soft, about 3 to 4 minutes.  Retire the pan from the heat.  Using a spatula transfer the mushrooms to some paper towels to absorb the excess of oil and then transfer them to a medium bowl.  Add the quinoa and combine.  Mix in the eggs and then add the flour and the remaining salt and combine.  Form patties of about 2” wide and ½” tall.

Return the skillet to the burner and heat the remaining oil.  Cook each patty for 2 to 3 minutes per side, until the edges look nice and golden brown.

Remove patties from pan and toast the buns.

Serve with greens and the pomegranate, avocado pico de gallo (recipe below).

Pomegranate avocado pico de gallo
Total time – 30 minutesPrep time – 15 minutes

Pomegranate seeds – 1 cup, about 1 ½ medium pomegranates*
Red onion, chopped in small pieces – ½ cup, about ½ medium onion
Avocado, chopped in small pieces – ½ cup, about ½ medium avocado
Lime juice – 1 TBSP
Fine sea salt – 1 Tsp
Cilantro, roughly chopped – 2 TBSP

*To extract the pomegranate seeds watch this video from Food & Wine’s Justin Chapple.

Mix all the ingredients in a bowl.  Let it rest for at least 30 minute before serving.