Few things get me as excited about summer as a juicy, backyard-grilled burger with melty cheese and a thick slab of fresh, ripe tomato. It's just so summer. It's so American. It's so freaking DELICIOUS.
Some of you have your eyebrows raised, don't you? It's unusual to meet an outspoken environmentalist who is also an opinionated omnivore. (And actually, I just realized Opinionated Omnivore would have been a much more catchy blog name than Compost and Cava, if it's not already taken. I digress.)
I've shied away from fully delving into my thoughts on meat from fear of attack by vegans (kidding, sort of, ok not at all, please don't throw tofurkey at my car), though I touched on it during my post about that beautiful hen-haven, Fili-West Farms. I'll go into it in depth at some point, but here it is in a nutshell:
With the exception of certain meats (think veal or foie gras), I eat meat. I enjoy it. I've also committed to spending considerable time and energy into getting to know about my local farmers, including actually going out to several farms and spending a day shadowing. I've asked hard questions both on and off the record.
I've thoroughly soul searched and come to terms with what it means to eat meat, which isn't what this article is about, but there's no denying that large-scale animal agriculture takes a massive toll on the planet. So I was thrilled to be invited to the Blended Burger luncheon at soon-to-open Charleston restaurant Parcel 32, co-hosted by the James Beard Foundation and the Mushroom Council.
Here's the concept: Eat meat. Love meat. But without compromising the planet or your health... by blending it with savory, delicious mushrooms. Less environmental impact, less fat, all flavor. And that, my sweet friends, is a win-win.
According to Eric, our resident Mushroom Council representative, producing one pound of mushrooms requires:
1.8 gallons of water (versus beef at 1,847 gallons of water)
1.0 KWH energy
generates 0.7 pounds CO2 equivalents
1 acre of land can produce 1 million pounds of mushrooms annually
Short Grain Chef Shaui Wang served an incredible 50% Lion's Mane mushroom 50% beef Hambagu Katsu burger, and Chef Peden Rucker grilled up a Wagyu Smoked Mushroom Slider with black truffle aoili. Chef Shaun Brian of soon-to-open Parcel 32 created a Smash Burger that starred chestnut mushrooms and was topped with a cajun "Smash Sauce" that I can only describe as pure heaven.
Each of the three tiny burgers was amazing, and I didn't even have to waddle my way to the gym to fight off that post-burger coma we all know so well with a bout of meat-sweats.
I couldn't help but wonder, though: Could an ordinary kitchen klutz pull off a reasonably tasty blended burger at home?
The short answer? Absolutely. Though my burger will never compare to what we ate that day, and I highly recommend you hit Parcel 32 when it opens in June for that naughty Smash Burger (Chef Shaun is currently the only Charleston chef competing in the Blended Burger nationwide competition), here's my quick and easy blended burger recipe (starring as many local ingredients as possible).
Beef and Oyster Mushroom Blended Burger with Caramelized Onion and Goat Cheese
3/4 pound ground beef (I used Wishbone Heritage Farms)
1/4 pound oyster mushrooms (I used pink ones from Whitemarsh Farm)
4 burger buns
3 medium-large white onions, cut into thin slices
1.5 tablespoons butter (for caramelizing onions)
3 medium cloves garlic
1 tablespoon olive oil
garlic and chive goat cheese (I used Burden Creek goat cheese)
ketchup (I used ketchup sweetened with strawberries, instead of sugar, from Porzio's)
salt and pepper
Melt butter in a medium skillet over medium heat.
Add onions, stir to coat. Let cook until onions caramelize, stirring occasionally. (May take 50 minutes or so. If this is your first time caramelizing onions, this is a great guide.)
While onions cook, wash and roughly chop mushrooms. Heat olive oil in medium pan, add mushrooms and garlic. Stir frequently and cook until mushrooms are cooked through. Season with salt and pepper as desired. Let cool.
Place cooled cooked mushrooms in food processor and pulse until finely chopped or pureed. Transfer to medium bowl and knead in ground beef. Shape into 4 patties.
Heat well-oiled skillet over medium-high heat, add burgers and cook, flipping patties until they have cooked to desired doneness.
Toast buns while burgers are cooking. Spread one half generously with goat cheese and the other with ketchup as desired.
Place burger on bun, slather with caramelized onions, smash down, enjoy.
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It's a hell of a burger. You won't notice the missing meat, and if anything it just adds even more incredible flavor. It's better for you, and since buying ethically raised local meat is NOT cheap, it's better for my wallet.