Thursday, April 19, 2012

Serious chicken burgers

There is nothing sexy about the chicken burger. Too often, it appears in one of three forms, neither of which are very innovative or delicious. Let us review the current state of the chickeny burgerverse.

First, you have your fried white meat patty, a common fast food offering. Crispy and fatty, the fried chicken burger in these establishments is most often reformed and processed. And let's not forget this little fragment of evil. Sure, you can have a delicious, panko-encrusted or tempura chicken burger, it's just not that common. Also, given how heavy fried chicken can be, I personally question the need for a bun.

Second, you have the grilled patty made from ground chicken similar than what you can (sometimes) find at the grocery store. Most often this is a dry, mealy ground chicken paste without much chicken flavour that you'll slather BBQ sauce to take the boring away. This is because many places grind chicken similar to grinding beef, a worrisome trend given that their grains are noticeably different.

Finally, you have the breast-on-a-bun, the Mad About You of the culinary world. Situated in a static and unchanging pantheon among grilled chicken Caesar wraps and taco salads, the breast on a bun cooked properly is an unobjectionable but fundamentally unsatisfying experience. It's often a throw-away option when you're not in the mood for a beef burger and you absolutely want protein between two pieces of bread that in no way derives from the bean family.

One of the key achievements that I was aiming for when embarking on this burger journey was to design and cook a seriously delicious chicken burger. Well folks, I did it, and now you are going to as well. Here is my chicken burger with chimichurri, buffalo mozzarella and a slab of tomato.

This might be yours soon.

Instructions and pics after the break.

What You'll Need

4 chicken thighs, boneless and skinless
3 green onions, dark green parts removed, chopped finely
1 clove garlic, finely chopped or minced
1 egg
Salt and pepper to season

1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 tbsp red wine or sherry vinegar
1/4 cup packed fresh oregano leaves, picked from their hard stems OR 1 heaping tbsp dried oregano
1 cups flat-leaf (Italian) parsley leaves, removed from stems
1 shallot, finely chopped
4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 tsp sea salt

Tomato, sliced thickly - use larger varieties
Buffalo mozzarella, drained of water or brine and sliced thickly

This makes four to five chicken burgers. You'll need a food processor for this recipe.


Chimichurri is a classic South American sauce that commonly tops grilled meats. It provides a fresh, garlicky flavour that expertly balances fat. You'll find some recipes on the Internet calling for cilantro versus oregano, but that evokes more Mexican/Central American flavours than the one I'm using.

It's really easy to make: just blend all the ingredients together in any machine that facilitates such a thing. Or, if you're feeling folksy, you can chop the ingredients and mix well by hand to achieve a sauce-like consistency. Let it sit at least for a couple of hours before serving to let the flavours meld.

Chimichurri - I added more garlic so yours might be greener

If you recall my post about bovine body parts, you'll remember that I don't advocate using higher-end parts for your patty. This remains the same with chicken. There is a big price difference between breast meat and thigh meat in Canada because of the desirability of the meat, the former being lower in saturated fat and higher in protein per gram consumed. It's also for those reasons that chicken breasts make poor burger meat. You'll either have to add fat to them or they'll be dry.

The key to these chicken burgers is to grind you own chicken using your food processor. You'll want just the basic blade; no attachments are necessary. 

Start with four average boneless and skinless chicken thighs. Cut the thighs into cube-like shapes, about one to two inches in size. Place half of the cubes into your food processor with half the green onion and garlic and pulse 20 times. Do not turn on your food processor and let it tear amok into your beautiful chicken; you'll get the aforementioned mealy paste. Pulse is your friend.

Your own coarse-ground chicken thighs

You'll have a very uneven grind, with some larger chucks of chicken amidst smaller beads. This is going to result in a fantastic texture when cooked. Season with salt and pepper. Now break the egg over the ground chicken mix well. Form into four patties and place covered in the fridge, unless you're going to cook them right away. You know by now that I don't normally add binders to my burgers, but since you're working with such a coarse grind it won't hurt.

Five handmade patties on the grill
A note on food safety: Raw chicken and eggs are both prime carriers for salmonella, so please be careful. Wash your hands vigorously before touching other food or utensils, and be mindful of cross-contamination. When cooking, ensure that the chicken is completely cooked through before eating; medium-rare is not okay.

Also, do yourself a favour and pour hot water into the food processor bowl; if that fat starts to dry it's a pain to get off.


I used Mozzarella di bufala Campana here, but you can use any buffalo mozzarellas made anywhere in the world. It's mozzarella made from the milk of the water buffalo, which has a higher fat content than cow milk. It is preserved in a light brine and has a luscious, creamy texture with gentle salty notes. When melted it retains its creaminess but also strings, which will subtle in the face of chimichurri, will give a delightfully silky texture that contributes to the burger. Cow's milk mozzarella is not a good substitute in my opinion; if you can't find bufala then I would suggest adding ricotta cheese, lightly salted.

For buns, I relied on the white Italian-style buns from Farm Boy. Any white bun will do, as long as it has a firm crust and soft crumb. I toasted the buns.


Cooking times depend on your cooking method. On an indoor grill, I cooked the burgers for seven minutes a side. There is ample fat in the burgers to keep them juicy while ensuring that they are cooked through. As soon as you flip the burgers, place a thick slice of mozzarella on top.

Luscious cheese lounging on their beds of hot chicken.


Bun top
Tomato slice
Bun bottom

Hats off to a good chicken burger

I served some grilled sweet potato fries and a bottle of Corona Extra to wash down the garlic.

After making these, I can't call a chicken breast-on-a-bun a "burger" anymore. Amy and I agreed that the mostly-ground chicken burger was far superior, as it kept the flavour and texture of chicken while offering the ability to spread other flavours - in this case green onion and garlic - throughout the patty. From start to finish it took about an hour and fifteen minutes to make from scratch, and was worth every bite.

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