This time of year, with the holidays swirling around us, we sometimes find it hard to make a regular weekday dinner. 5-course extravaganzas? No problem. Cocktail party? Sure thing. Cookie exchange? Bring it on. But we can, and do, plan for the big stuff. Daily dinner for the family with work, sports, parties, exams and constantly shifting schedules is often more tricky. But over the years we built up a few recipes that are very, very good, but don’t take up a lot of time and have a few easy ingredients (and usually don’t involve a ton of cleanup). Cumin-Spiced Lamb Burgers is one of these dishes. Just a few ingredients, one pan, a little time and a lot of flavor.
And flavor really is the big benefit of using lamb. Lamb usually has more flavor than beef, and if you use the right cuts the flavor isn’t too “gamey”. Most lamb used to be imported from New Zealand and Australia, but these days there are many local grass-fed lamb suppliers (all over the USA) and the quality of the lamb is outstanding. With bright, clean flavor and juicy texture, lamb is worth a try. And this burger is a perfect introduction to lamb (our kids love all sorts of lamb, this was the “gateway” dish).
Our recipe is based on the world-famous lamb burger from the Breslin gastropub in New York City. A veritable who’s-who of food writers and celebrity chefs have waxed poetic and “foodgasmed” on TV over April Bloomfield’s burger (clearly all Food Network auditions require the ability to foodgasm on command). But to be fair, this is one fine burger. And just to top it off, the Breslin sources their meat from famous butcher (and self-promoter) Pat LaFreida. Pat has a special blend just for the Breslin. Sadly, Pat doesn’t do California. Happily for us, our local butcher gets a lamb in every week or so, they break it down on site and then freshly grind the trimmings. And their blend will do just fine for us. (We also get great local beef and lamb from Stemple Creek Ranch, so good.)
As for the recipe, it is incredibly easy to make these burgers. The Breslin’s recipe features a char-broiled rare-to-medium rare lamb patty, feta cheese, thinly sliced red onion, olive oil and seasoning on a warm Ciabatta roll. Good stuff. They also serve the lamb with cumin mayo, but we prefer to add salt and cumin directly to the meat. Cumin and lamb play very well together, but cumin is a strong flavor and you can omit if you like. We also use a cast iron skillet or grill pan on the stove (but boy would we like an indoor grill). The only real tricks in this recipe have to do with technique. You must rest the lamb burgers for 5-10 minutes after you cook them to let the juices settle in the meat, rather than running all over the plate. And if you put the slices of feta onto the patties while they rest, the cheese slightly melts on the burger. Yum. You really don’t need any sauce other than the olive oil and juices from the burger, but if you make a quick raita or cumin mayo, it will certainly taste good. And if you add a dash or two of Sriracha on top of the burger, we won’t tell…..
One last note on the lamb burger involves cooking time. Most recipes suggest serving the lamb rare-to-medium rare. That is pink, but not soft or squishy inside. We like it this way, and it takes a 3/8 inch patty about 4-5 minutes on each side over high heat to cook, so expect 8-10 minutes of total cooking for light pink and 10-12 minutes for a medium burger. You can go beyond medium, but we don’t recommend it, as the burgers will be much less juicy. You can also use a digital thermometer and target 130 degrees internal temperature for rare to medium rare and 135 -140 for medium rare (remember the heat will go up 5 – 10 degrees during the rest). Another way to gauge cooking time is to make an extra “test burger” and take a few peeks for doneness while cooking. Then you and your family can
snack test while you cook….it’s a little extra “work” but we doubt anyone will mind.
Cumin-Spiced Lamb Burgers:
(Adapted from the April Bloomfield)
Notes Before You Start:
- The recipe suggests Ciabatta rolls as buns, but you can use any bun or roll with a sturdy exterior crust but a soft interior. You want some of the juices to soak into the roll, but not break the outer shell.
- We use a cast iron grill pan to cook the burgers, but any heavy skillet should work. You can also cook the burgers on your grill over medium-high heat.
- You can salt and spice the meat a few hours ahead, even overnight, for extra flavor. But this is optional.
What You Get: One of the best burgers anywhere. Yup, we will stand by that.
What You Need: No special equipment required.
How Long? 20 – 30 minutes with 10 minutes of active time. Extra time pre-seasoning the meat, if you like. Anytime dish.
- 1 and 1/2 pounds of ground lamb
- 2 teaspoons kosher salt
- 1 teaspoon ground cumin
- Fresh feta cheese in thin slices or crumbled
- 1/4 of a red onion, very thinly sliced
- Olive oil
- Canola or other high-heat cooking oil
- 4 Ciabatta or other sturdy buns or rolls, cut cross-wise
- Salt and freshly ground pepper
- Season the ground lamb with the salt and cumin, lightly mixing the seasoning into the meat. Then form the lamb into 4 patties about 3/8 of an inch thick.
- Place a grill pan or heavy skillet over medium-high heat. When hot, add the canola oil and then the lamb patties. Cook the patties for 4 – 5 minutes, then flip and cook another 4 – 5 minutes for rare-to-medium rare (add another minute per side for medium). Remove the patties to a plate or cutting board, place the feta cheese slices on top of the burger and rest the meat for 5 – 10 minutes.
- Meanwhile, change the heat on the pan to low. Sprinkle the inside of the buns with a touch of olive oil, salt and pepper. Lightly warm the buns in the pan while the burgers rest.
- To assemble the burgers, place the burger on the bottom bun and then top with the red onion slices, a good splash of olive oil and a sprinkle of salt and pepper. Place the top of the bun on the burger and serve.
- Holidays With Honey – Honey, Garlic and Rosemary Petite Lamb Chops (romancingthebee.com)
- Roasted Rack Of Lamb (putneyfarm.com)
- Burger week-tuesday (sweetpaul.typepad.com)
- Marinated lamb kebabs with feta and mint sauce (dolcevitadiaries.com)
- Lamb and Harissa Meatballs (fortheloveofyum.wordpress.com)