May is Burger Month, and I signed on with the amazing Kita Roberts and a bunch of other burger lovers at Girlcarnivore.com to create a burger that would celebrate the ultimate realization of the whole meat-between-bread epiphany brought to us initially by the 4th Earl of Sandwich.
I’m not gonna lie: I agonized over the burger. What meat should I use? Did I even need to use meat? What, specifically, constitutes a burger as opposed to a sandwich or a patty?
The Unit was clear: a burger is beef, ground, between two bread vehicles. Without bread, it’s just a patty. Cheese is a must, condiments are optional. Too many additions and the burger is un-bitable and therefore useless as a burger. I argued: but what about a lamb burger? OK, he said. A lamb burger is a burger, but only if it’s on a bun. If it’s on a pita, the pita falls apart and therefore useless as a burger. I persisted: if lamb is acceptable, then surely other ground meats are OK, too. Like Bison? Bison is OK, he said. Or pork? Pork can work, he said. Or chicken? No. No. No, he said. Chicken between bread is a chicken sandwich, which is a fine thing, but NOT A BURGER.
That clinched it for me. I needed to make a chicken burger, and I needed to focus on the most delicious parts of any chicken: the crispy skin and the delicious puddles of rendered fat at the bottom of any pan of well-cooked bird.
World, meet schmaltzburger.
Schmaltz is rendered chicken fat flavored with onion. Liquid gold. A sea of umami. Delicious on toasted bread, popcorn, vegetables, pasta, and now a burger. Michael Ruhlman wrote an elegant volume devoted to schmaltz. It’s definitely worth a read.
Here’s the run-down of my schmaltzburger:
- Bun: I modified this recipe from King Arthur Flour, subbing in chicken fat for the butter. Split, and grilled on cast iron in schmaltz.
- Chicken Bacon: I saved the skin from the thighs and crisped it in a 400°F oven, pressed between two parchment-lined baking sheets for 15-20 minutes. While still warm, I seasoned the skin with chicken salt (made from dehydrating equal parts by weight of rich chicken stock and kosher salt…it’s essentially a chicken ramen seasoning packet without all the dodgy stuff. Delicious on anything!!)
- Dill pickles and red onions: Should I have made my own pickles? Yeah, probably. Were these Vlasic dill chips pretty good anyway? Yeah, definitely. Onion sliced Audrey-Hepburn-thin.
- Schmaltz aioli: Standard aioli recipe, but replacing half the olive oil with schmaltz.
- Smashed chicken patty with Swiss cheese: Chicken thigh meat, ground, with some pork fat. I used a 5:1 ratio of chicken to pork, but my thighs were very lean (I had removed all the skin and fat for “bacon” and rendering for schmaltz). After some Goldilocks-ing, I settled on grinding about 60% of the meat with the coarse KitchenAid plate, and the remaining 40% with the fine plate. This gave the burger some good sized pieces of meat to bite into, but not so coarse that it felt like a sausage patty. The Swiss cheese held its own against the garlic-y aioli, but I imagine a sharp cheddar or provolone would work well, too.
- Green & tomatoes: Standard. Although, the Unit was very particular about the tomato: only one slice! Considering the man has developed an entire constructivist ontology on the Platonic form of the Baconator, I feel I have little room to argue with him.
- More aioli: Because, yeah.
All these things being said, one could go in many different directions. How about a schmear of chicken liver pate, a fish sauce aioli, and some pickled vegetables for a riff on a banh mi? Or, the liver, a fried egg, and garnished with a skewered yakitori-style chicken heart as an homage to Salvation Burger’s whole animal burger? And I’d be fine with just a bunch of smashed avocado and a digestively-distressing mound of jalapeños.
However, don’t skip the chicken skin “bacon” and the chicken salt. Or, if you don’t want that on your burger, just eat the chicken-salted-chicken skin accompanied by a super-cold martini.
I love a dry rosé with fried chicken, and this one did not disappoint with the schmaltzburger. The Domaine de Fontsainte Gris de Gris blends grenache gris, grenache noir, carignan, and small amounts of cinsault and mourvedre. Red-fruit aromas of strawberry and cherry mingle with tropical fruit. Lots more fruit on the palate, along with minerality and a floral nuance. It stood up to the assertive flavors of the aioli, and the bone dry acidity parried nicely with the fat from the chicken skin and brioche. At about $17 at Bottles, it was a steal.
While the Schmaltzburger is my creation for #burgermonth2017, I would love to thank American Lamb Board, Analon, Beef, It’s What’s for Dinner, Char-Broil, Curly’s BBQ, Cuttingboard.com, Melissa’s Produce, Primal Stone, Spiceologist, Thermoworks, and Veal Made Easy for the sweet Grill Prize Packages!
This post is a part of the #burgermonth celebration happening all month long at Girlcarnivore.com and across the interwebs with 100 food folks who are much more talented and creative than I am. Check them all out!!
Need some burger-loving tunes? I am seriously crushing on the tongue in cheek 80s vibe of DREAMCAR’s Kill for Candy. Lots of AFI and No Doubt alums in this one, and the clichéd synths could be A Flock of Seagulls or The Human League. So fun!