I often buy cookbooks, peruse them for interesting recipes and ideas, then let the inspiration percolate in the back of my brain for a spell. These lamb burgers are one of them. The original recipe came from a smart, somewhat tongue-in-cheek book titled Lucky Peach Presents 101 Easy Asian Recipes, written by Peter Meehan and the editors of Lucky Peach magazine.
The burgers are dead simple, though you need to have Sichuan peppercorns for a slight numbing effect in the meat. The flavors are borrowed from cumin lamb, a classic Chinese stir-fry. The authors have a cumin lamb recipe and follow it with “lamburgers”.
If I were making hamburger-type sandwiches, I would have followed the recipe to sear sliced red onion and jalapeno or serrano chile in a skillet, separate them into mounds, then put a ball of seasoned lamb on top of each and smash it into a patty. I’d cook further, flip and finish cooking on the other side. The resulting lamburger would have a slightly crusty onion and chile embedded on side.
But I wanted the lamb patties for banh mi sandwiches, so I made the patties smaller and oblong to match the baguette shape. After cooking, the patties were sliced. There’s nothing more unpleasant than a chunk of meat that falls out of your sandwich when you bite into it. Plus, banh mi is a low-meat sandwich because you have fit a bunch of pickles and vegetables into the roll and need to make space for everything. Plus, if there’s too much meat, you don’t experience the other elements that make the sandwich a banh mi.
What to do with the onion and chile that the authors called for in their recipe? The onion got soaked in banh mi pickle brine to reduce harshness. The chile was left raw as usual for banh mi because I love the pepper’s raw brightness.
I prepared mayonnaise and baked my own rolls, using recipes from The Banh Mi Handbook. For the rolls, I added some locally grown wheat flour in a 1:3 ratio of whole wheat flour to all-purpose Whole Foods flour. The Jammu wheat flour I used was cultivated by Coke Farms. It’s an Indian soft wheat so the gluten level was a little lower than usual all-purpose. That’s why the rolls were a smidgen smaller than usual. Play around with the dough by using 25 percent whole wheat and 75 percent all purpose flour; it may need a teaspoon or so extra water to hydrate the dough.
How about the flavor of the bread? Delicious and even more so when filled with homemade mayonnaise, Maggi seasoning sauce, the lamburger, daikon and carrot pickle, chile, cucumber and herbs (fresh mint got blended with cilantro and Thai basil).
Try the burgers like this or take the cooked onion and chile route as Meehan and the Lucky Peach editors suggest. You could also shape 8 sliders. Eithe rway, you can’t go wrong with a cumin lamburger sandwich.
Cumin Lamburger Banh Mi
Yields: 8 small patties for 5 sandwiches
- 1 pound (450 g) ground lamb
- 1 tablespoon ground cumin
- 1 rounded teaspoon Sichuan peppercorns, toasted and pounded in a mortar and pestle
- 1/2 teaspoon dried red chile flakes
- 1 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, or 3/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
- 1/2 small red onion, thinly sliced
- 1 tablespoon canola or other neutral oil, as needed
- Maggi Seasoning sauce (optional)
- In a bowl, mix together the lamb, cumin, peppercorn, chile flakes, and salt. Use your hands to ensure even distribution of the seasonings.
- Divide into 8 portions. Lightly pat each one into a small oblong patty about 1/2 inch (1.25 cm) thick. Make the center a slightly thinner than the edges because the patty shrinks and domes up during cooking. Cover and set aside if not cooking within 20 minutes. Or, chill for several hours, returning the patties to room temperature before cooking.
- Soak the onion in water to cover for 10 minutes to reduce harshness. Better yet, soak it in some of the daikon and carrot pickle brine.
- To cook the patties, use a skillet (cast iron, heavy clad stainless steel, or nonstick) or stove-top grill pan. Heat over medium-high heat with some oil, if you fear sticking. Cook the patties in batches, about 2 minutes on the first side. Then flip and cook for 1 1/2 minutes to finish at a medium level of doneness. If you like, drizzle a little Maggi Seasoning sauce on the burger as they cook for extra salty flair.
- Rest and cool for a few minutes. Slice on a diagonal for wide, thin pieces that will lay flat and nice in the rolls. Drain the onion and assemble the banh mi sandwiches as usual.
Adapted from Lucky Peach Presents 101 Easy Asian Recipes by Peter Meehan and the editors of Lucky Peach.
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