Recently, in response to the sausage burger post, a reader asked whether I plan what I’m going to cook every day, or just throw something together. This is where I admit that I’m not a morning person. It’s all I can do to get out of the house in one piece every day and menu planning just doesn’t happen. Sometimes we stop at the market on the way home from the office and I decide what to make based on what looks good that day. Other days, though, it’s a trip into the reach in freezer.
One night last week, my journey into the reach in yielded a vacuum package of boneless, skinless chicken thighs. These types of small boneless cuts of somewhat fatty meat are what I like to call “pre-sausage.” You can dice them while they’re still frozen, and run them through the meat grinder. The fact that they’re frozen is a boon, not a curse – frozen cuts yield a better ground product, at least using home grinders like the KitchenAid attachment – so you can dispense with thawing time. Once ground, you can season and patty them right up. Within 35 minutes of our arrival home, we were eating these burgers, with Vietnamese flavors of pickled carrot and radish, mint, and chili sauce, influenced by the delicious Vietnamese sandwich, báhn mi. Not bad for an impromptu weekday meal out of the freezer.
Chicken burgers “báhn mi”
You may wonder why I have added whole egg and panko to the chicken before pattying and cooking these burgers, since I never would recommend any such thing for a beef or pork sausage-type burger. Here’s the thing – I find that ground chicken cooked in a patty without any binder tends to form a somewhat solid puck. You need a little extra fat to keep things moist.
1 lb boneless, skinless chicken thighs
1 large egg
3 tbsp panko
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1 tsp Vietnamese fish sauce
1/8 tsp ground white pepper
4 soft buns
1 c carrot and daikon pickle, from below recipe
4-8 butter lettuce leaves (depending on size), washed and dried
1 c mint leaves, washed and spun dry
1/2 c cilantro (coriander) leaves, washed and spun dry (optional)
1/2 c sriracha mayonnaise (from below)
Freeze the chicken thighs until solid (but not rock-hard), and cut into 1″ chunks. If you’re using product straight from the freezer, let them thaw just slightly before cubing and grinding so they’re not like chicken boulders. Season with salt. Grind the chicken through a medium die.
Combine the panko and white pepper. Sprinkle the fish sauce over the chicken and add the panko mixture and egg. Mix with your hand until combined, but do not overwork.
Form four patties on a plate or cutting board. Do not stack, since these burgers will be very soft.
Place a large skillet over medium-high heat and, when hot, add 1 tbsp oil. Use a large spatula to transfer each burger to the hot skillet and brown on the bottom side. Flip the burger over, cook until golden brown, and reduce the heat to the lowest setting to permit the burger to cook through. Remove the pan from heat. Burgers should have a moist texture and hold together well.
While burgers cook, toast the buns on a sheet pan, cut side up, under the broiler until just golden. Spread both halves of each bun with sriracha mayonnaise. Place a chicken burger atop each bottom bun, top with carrot and daikon pickle, lettuce leaf, and a generous quantity of mint leaves and coriander (if using).
Carrot and daikon pickle
2 large carrots, shredded
1 medium daikon, shredded
3/4 c filtered water
3/4 c distilled white vinegar
1/4 c granulated sugar
2 tbsp kosher salt
Bring 1/4 c each of the water and vinegar to a simmer with the sugar and salt, just to dissolve. Add it to the other liquid and combine well. Pour the vinegar-water mixture over the daikon and carrot in a nonreactive, sealable container and refrigerate at least two hours. You can leave the vegetables in the pickling liquid for a week or so. If you don’t have two hours – say because you got home late from work and you’re starving now – let them pickle at room temperature for about 30 minutes.
I’m not going to be one of these people who says “You must make your own mayonnaise! Don’t ever use mayonnaise from a jar!” because I live in the real world. People who flog home cooks to make their own mayonnaise every time they need a couple of tablespoons are prone to other ridiculous pronouncements, like “pesto must be made using a mortar and pestle,” and similar impractical nonsense. House-made mayonnaise is delicious, I do prefer it to the jarred product, and I do often make my own, but not always. For starters, it doesn’t keep that long. Unlike commercial product, made with pasteurized egg, a higher acid content, and, let’s face it, preservatives, house-made product will keep about a week. I don’t know about you, but I don’t eat much mayonnaise, jarred or house-made. Unless I’m feeding a crowd, house-made mayonnaise and aioli often go to waste, and I hate to waste food.
So if you need to use a jarred product, go ahead. Widely available products like Duke’s and Hellman’s are fine. Delouis Fils makes the best jarred mayonnaise I have tried, but it is more expensive and not as widely available. You can freshen up any jarred product with a few drops of lemon juice.
Having said all that, here’s the truth about making mayonnaise. It’s easy. Egg-based emulsions like mayonnaise can hold a ridiculous amount of oil before they begin to break – that is, before the oil separates. Harold McGee, food scientist extraordinaire, famously once emulsified one egg yolk with 100 cups of oil. (He added water to increase the ratio of oil to water-based product to 3:1, but that esoterica is not going to help you make mayonnaise you actually want to eat). Generally, though, 3/4 c oil per egg yolk provides a good guideline. The presence of mustard – which also contains lecithin, an emulsifier – helps stabilize the emulsion, as well as lending a piquant taste. If you have a strong arm, you can whisk the mayonnaise by hand, but I feel a more stable product emerges from the blender or food processor.
1 egg yolk
1 tbsp white wine vinegar
1/2 tbsp lemon juice
1 tsp Dijon mustard
large pinch salt
large pinch sugar
3/4 c sunflower or grapeseed oil (you can substitute up to 1/4 c of this with an equal quantity of olive oil)
Additionally, for sriracha mayonnaise: increase sugar to 1 tsp; 3 tbsp sriracha (chili sauce)
If preparing by hand, whisk together all the ingredients but the oil. Otherwise, blitz them in the blender or food processor until combined.
If preparing by hand, begin whisking in the oil, one drop at a time at first, and then more quickly in a thin stream (I find it helps to use a squeeze bottle to control flow). Otherwise, with the food processor or blender running, drip in oil one drop at a time, and then a little more quickly. Once the quantity of oil is equal to the quantity of egg yolk and other liquid, you should have a fairly stable emulsion – you will be able to tell because the mixture will be somewhat thick and not show any signs of separation. At this point, you can stop adding the oil drop by drop and increase the volume to a thin stream or even add the oil more quickly.
If making the sriracha mayonnaise, stir in the sriracha until well-combined. Cover and hold under refrigeration.