Turkey Burger

Most people seem to approach turkey burgers because they think they’re a “healthy alternative” to traditional beef burgers. In reality, there’s no way ground turkey can be substituted as-is for ground beef. They’re completely different beasts, and ground turkey should only be served in the same final form as ground beef when prepared using different methods.

I first started buying ground turkey because it’s so much cheaper than ground beef. I’ve also been spoiled by the world’s most delicious grass-fed beef, raised and butchered by my childhood neighbor, and subsequently have no interest in buying beef at the grocery store. High-quality ground beef makes a delicious burger with nothing more than a sprinkling of salt and pepper, and a good high heat sear in a cast iron skillet.

Ground turkey requires a little more coaxing if you’re hoping to produce a really delicious burger. It’s something I’m willing to spend time adorning, however, and I crave it for entirely different reasons. It’s a great vehicle for more subtle layering of flavors. Keeping the most practical, at-home style of French cooking in mind—a la Julia Child and Jacques Pepin—it’s all about using careful, precise techniques to bring out the best aspects of every ingredient.

Over the years, I’ve arrived at a recipe that works pretty well for me. Let me disavow any notions that this is a “healthy option” for those who are avoiding red meat. This is an indulgence, but a relatively inexpensive one that can be enjoyed on a weeknight. I think life is too short to avoid delicious foods just because of their fat content. I like my white meat oozing with butter, filled and topped with buttery sautéed things, cloaked in melty cheese, and dripping with mayonnaise. Proceed at your own risk.


These burgers cook all the way through and still develop a crunchy, browned crust on both sides, all while staying moist. Sautéed onions and thyme add subtle, harmonious flavors, egg and butter keep the burgers moist while they cook, and a dusting of flour helps to form a crust without searing over high heat.

Burgers:

6 tbsp butter
1/2 cup flour
1/2 large onion or 1 medium onion, diced
1/2 beaten egg
1/2 tsp dried thyme
1 tsp salt
1/4 tsp black pepper
1 lb ground turkey

Adornments:

4 tbsp butter
1/2 lb white button mushrooms, finely sliced
splash of dry white wine or dry vermouth
3 tbsp mayonnaise
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
slices of Swiss cheese
rolls

Preparation:

Place 2 tbsp butter, cut in small pieces, in a medium mixing bowl, and set aside to soften. Place flour in a shallow bowl and set aside, along with a plate big enough to hold 4 burgers. Melt 2 tbsp butter in a large cast iron skillet over medium heat. Add diced onion, and cook until softened and translucent. Continue cooking until just beginning to brown. Add onions to the butter softening in the mixing bowl, stirring as the butter melts. Stir beaten egg, thyme, salt and pepper into the butter and onion mixture. Add ground turkey, and mix gently with fingers until combined.

Take one quarter of the turkey mixture, and form into a patty about 1 inch thick and three inches in diameter. Handle the mixture as little as possible throughout this process, otherwise you risk tough burgers. Coat both sides of the patty in flour, and place on the empty plate. Repeat with the remaining turkey mixture. Chill burgers in the refrigerator while preparing the adornments.

Melt 2 tbsp butter over medium high heat in the same cast iron skillet. When the butter has completely melted, and the foam has just subsided, add sliced mushrooms. Stir until all butter has been absorbed by the mushrooms. Cook until moisture reappears on the surface of the mushrooms, and the mushrooms deepen in color, stirring frequently. Place mushrooms in a small bowl, and set aside.

In another small bowl, stir mayonnaise and balsamic vinegar together.

Remove burgers from refrigerator. Melt 2 tbsp butter over medium high heat in the same cast iron skillet. When the butter has completely melted, and the foam has just subsided, add burgers, spacing evenly. Regulate the temperature of the heat to ensure that the butter doesn’t develop anything deeper than a golden brown color. Cook burgers for 4-5 minutes, until browned on the first side, and flip. Rearrange burgers if some are cooking faster than others. Reduce heat to medium, and cook for 5-6 more minutes on the second side, until brown and no trace of pink remains at the center of the burgers. Place burgers on a new plate, adding a slice of cheese to each, and cover with aluminum foil or another overturned plate to keep warm.

Increase heat to high, and add mushrooms and accumulated juices to the skillet. When pan juices are bubbling rapidly, add wine or vermouth, and boil down until syrupy. Turn off the heat, and stir in 2 tbsp butter.

Arrange burgers on rolls. Spoon mushrooms and pan sauce on top, and add a dollop of balsamic mayonnaise. Enjoy!

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