07/14/11 • LULU’S TUNA BURGER
From Cook’s Illustrated Summer Entertaining, 2011 (click here to view the recipe)
One of the magical things about food is the way it can instantly trigger a memory or a feeling, much the way a piece of music can. Of course, depending on the particular circumstances of the meal in question that can be good, bad, or somewhere in-between — a reality I’ve been grappling with as I’ve tried (repeatedly) to write my review of this recipe for tuna burgers. You see, as I was cooking this particular dish I was also tending to my beloved fourteen year-old Labrador retriever, Lulu, who was suffering from liver failure and hadn’t eaten in over a week. As the hours ticked by it became increasingly clear that these would be our last days together, so most of my actions that Saturday were tied up with all the feelings I was having around having to say goodbye to this important member of our family.
Even so, I can say with confidence that, as with most dishes I’ve tackled from the Cook’s Illustrated group of titles, this one is a winner. A grilled fish burger can be an appealing alternative to ground beef, but the results are often dry and chalky — a far cry from the rich, delicately flavored piece of meat you started with. Not so with the CI version, however. True to form, the team there has worked and reworked the recipe until they hit on just the right equation, coming up with a burger that manages to achieve that seductive, charred exterior you look for when grilling, but without any of the stringiness or lack of juice that can be a fish burger’s downfall.
For the tuna burger recipe (CI also offers one here for salmon burgers) the key to achieving this first calls for chopping the fish into small pieces of about 1/8 of an inch, then making sure that the finished patties don’t stay on the grill too long (six minutes total, max). I personally found the chopping a tedious, time-consuming process, though it didn’t help that I had four hungry friends milling around the kitchen wondering when lunch would be ready, or that I was trying to keep an eye on Lulu, who was resting on her bed by the fridge. Still, the chopping step is key to maintaining the fish’s moisture, not to mention making sure the burgers hold together on the grill, so it’s well worth the effort.
And the rest of the directions couldn’t have been easier. These involved little more than mixing a variety of ingredients into the chopped tuna (minced garlic and ginger, a sprinkling of salt and pepper), then oiling the grill to ensure the patties don’t stick, as well as whipping up one of the three sauces the magazine recommends as an accompaniment.
Of these I opted for their creamy lemon-herb sauce (there’s also a chipotle-lime version, as well as a wasabi mayonnaise), as I liked that it called for a variety of herbs that you can mix and match depending on what looks and sounds the best to you. I happened to have some homegrown basil on hand, and so mixed that with a bunch of parsley I picked up at the market. With the addition of the scallion, lemon juice, and mayonnaise (Hellman’s, of course) also called for in the recipe, it made for a bright, refreshing accompaniment that featured just the right amount of acid to offset the richness of the fish. And, like the burgers themselves, it couldn’t have been easier to assemble. The sauce, a lightly grilled hamburger bun, and a crisp piece of lettuce was all it took to complete the dish.
The finished results were a major hit. I actually doubled the recipe as there were five of us (the recipe serves four), and our group devoured it all. It was a delicious meal, if a bittersweet occasion, and though Lulu declined the small piece of tuna burger I offered her (this from a dog who never met a snack she didn’t like) she did come out of the kitchen while we ate to sit in the sun and to keep us company.
Lulu died the next day, and though she didn’t actually partake of our lunch, I’ll always think of this as her last meal. It was a fitting one for a glorious, beloved friend.
Ingredients for the tuna burgers:
—1¼ lbs tuna steaks (high-quality)
—1 medium clove garlic, minced or pressed through a garlic press (about 1 tsp)
—1 tsp minced fresh ginger
—1/2 tsp table salt
—Ground black pepper
—Hamburger buns and lettuce leaves (for serving)
Ingredients for the creamy lemon-herb sauce:
—1/4 cup mayonnaise
—1 small scallion, minced
—1 tbs fresh lemon juice
—1½ tsp minced fresh parsley leaves
—1½ tsp minced fresh thyme leaves
—1/2 tsp salt
—Ground black pepper
Directions for the tuna burgers:
—Chop tuna into 1/4- to 1/3-inch pieces. Using rocking motion with knife, continue to chop tuna until it is coarsely ground into pieces roughly 1/8 inch each. Mix with garlic, ginger, salt, and pepper to taste. Divide mixture into 4 equal portions (about 5 ounces each) and use your hands to press into compact patty about 1 inch thick. Place patties on parchment-lined baking sheet and refrigerate for at least 15 minutes.
—Turn on all gas grill burners to high, close lid, and heat grill until very hot, about 15 minutes. Leave all burners on high.
—Lightly dip a small wad of paper towels in vegetable oil; holding wad with long-handled tongs, wipe cooking grate. Grill burgers, covered, until browned on one side, about 3 minutes. Flip burgers with greased metal spatula. Continue grilling, covered, to desired doneness, about 3 minutes for medium-rare or 4 minutes for medium.
—Place on toasted hamburger buns, garnish with lemon-herb mayo (directions below) and lettuce leaves, and serve.
Makes four burgers
Directions for the lemon herb sauce:
—Mix all ingredients, including pepper to taste, together in a small bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and chill until flavors blend, at least 30 minutes.
Makes about 1/3 cup