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May 28, 2007

The Lamb Lies Down on Bunway


Occasionally, a man looks at a burger and says, “If variety is the spice of life, then why have all my meat patties ever been made of steer.” A lucky few can attest to the potential for pattied turkey or venison, but we generally consider something like lamb to be a bit high brow to land between a bun.


This is elitism of the worst kind, to forever relegate pattied meat to second-tier status. Oh, for a world without prejudice!


Some of this might be attributed to our general attitude toward ground lamb. Turning ground lamb into pattied meat is a simple process, and perhaps the most difficult step is finding a store or butcher broad-minded enough to offer ground lamb. The same bigotry that ascribes second-class status to pattied meat is also behind the high-falootin’ frame in which we place lamb.


Ground lamb is much like ground beef, except leaner. As a result, the odds that it will break apart during cooking are higher. You can solve this with the addition of bread crumbs. Mash the meat with your hands before and after. The difference will be obvious.


There is another difference – taste. Beef can be flavored from the outside with toppings. Lamb offers the opportunity to flavor from within.


Add to the ground lamb chopped fresh rosemary and chopped fresh mint. Both have long-standing relationships with lamb, either through the flavoring of flesh or the application of jellies to roasted meat.


These principle players are supported by a cast of red onion and garlic. The typical relationship between onion and pattied meat is through the lay of one atop the other. Here, combine the two before cooking commences.


You have now grabbed a knife to chop the onion into small pieces. Put the knife away, for the love of food. There is a better way. Grab instead your grater.


Onion that is grated has already released much of its onion-y goodness, something paramount if your cooking time is as short as it is for pattied meat. There is something also to be said for the symmetry of cooking. Chunked onion and ground meat are not compatible in construction. Keep this thought in your head as you move forward, for it will unlock riddles right before eating.


It is important to keep the short cooking time in mind when addressing garlic. Garlic minced through a mill has already released its juices. This skips the very messy and very warm process of heating it in a skillet.


Mash all of it together so that the onion, garlic, herbs and breadcrumbs are evenly spread throughout the meat. You should be able to form patties that stay together reasonably well when cooked, either in a skillet or – preferably – atop the glowing coals of the common outdoor grill.


Once your patties are cooked, place atop your typical bun. Atypical, however, is how to finish the equation, with feta cheese and baby spinach.


Spinach and feta cheese go together like peanut butter and jelly or a pirate and an eyepatch. There is the issue, however, of the physical form of feta cheese. Cheese lain over the top of pattied meat is best when it lays flat. This prohibits it from gashing the bun unnecessarily. Feta cheese, however, comes in the form of chunks or in a way very typically called crumbled. Placed between a burger and a bun, there is a high chance that it will take this mismatch as some kind of insult and attempt to flee during consumption, jumping from between the bun and burger whenever the two separate.


The solution is this – mash your feta cheese together with diced and pitted Kalamata olives. The two are longtime companions, usually seen together in salad form, but don’t often get the opportunity to commiserate at such close quarters. Cheese and olive will find much to talk about, and the crumbled feta will feel less inclined to depart.


There are some who might argue that you could short-circuit this, and eliminate the need for the olives, by substituting pita halves for the bun. This is certainly an option, although the pita is constructed best for meat that is sliced rather than pattied.


You might also be tempted, by habit, to add things like ketchup, mustard and pickles. “No!” screams your inner voice, “No! No! No!” There is a time and place for everything, but the garish reds and yellows of common condiments defeat the purpose of constructing a patty that is different.


© 2007 North Star Writers Group. May not be republished without permission.


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