If there’s one burger that gets more crap than the veggie burger, it’s the turkey burger. At least when you order a veggie burger you have (or can make up) the excuse that you’re a vegetarian, and that the very concept of meat is the thing you’re avoiding. With a turkey burger you’re not not going for meat but you also want, what? Health? Ugh. Turkey burgers have gotten a reputation for being the burgers of cowards, burgers that somehow combined the worst qualities of all burgers in one.
Maybe our problem is that we keep thinking our turkey burgers should taste like beef burgers. "Turkey burgers and beef burgers are completely different in taste and texture," says Thomas Curran, Director of Culinary Innovation from Umami Burger. A well made turkey burger can be more than its parts. It can compliment more flavors than beef and still provide juiciness and texture that a veggie burger can’t. It's not just a substitute.
Turkey is leaner than beef, so in order to keep the meat from drying out some fat needs to be added. First, see if you can find ground turkey that uses dark meat as well as white meat. "Most people just use turkey breast or all white meat, which is generally dry to start. Dark meat has more fat and more flavor, which works better for grinding and forming into a patty." If you've got the hardware you can grind your own, or ask the butcher to do it for you, or maybe just petition the grocery store until they start adding dark meat to their mixes. However, if dark meat just isn’t enough, you can add moisture other ways. "At Umami Burger, we infuse our turkey patty with duck fat, pureed roasted eggplant and parmesan cheese, which adds moisture, flavor and savoriness," says Curran, and adding things like cheese, soy sauce and sautéed onions can help keep moisture in. You should also protect that moisture by cooking it on a flat top surface instead of an open grill, where the precious juices will just drip away.
Depending on what you’ve added to the patty, you can continue building flavor with toppings. The classics like pickles, ketchup, mustard and onions work well, but you can also experiment with complimenting the flavors you put in the meat itself. If you used soy sauce, try miso mayonnaise and crunchy sprouts. You can mix in tomato sauce and broil some mozzarella on top. You can also follow Umami Burger's lead and recreate their Greenbird, which "layers together crushed avocado with sherry vinegar and limes, which add some acidity and depth of flavor and texture. We also use a special house-made blend of ricotta and goat cheese with Green Goddess dressing to add a tangy element."
Instead of the main attraction, like beef is with a beef burger, think of turkey as a team player. It can hold flavors instead of overpowering them, and be the base for hundreds of new flavor combinations that surpass any cheeseburger. And don't worry, beef will still be there when you need it.
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