Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Eating a mystery: the case of the Wakefield nut burgers

As you know I like a little splash of fact in my prose.  I tell you how long a burger joint has been around, and that the place before it served amazing roti ten years ago, which you find interesting but not very useful given that you left your flux capacitor at home. Despite that, y'all are reading my blog in greater numbers.

So there once was a guy in Wakefield named JD who cooked up a delicious vegan nut burger called the Nutstravaganza patty, but I know little about him or his product because there's little online footprint about JD. At some point he rebranded himself as a company called Nut & Noix Co. and renamed the burgers "the Nutburg," but there's still bubkus about them online. It's all a great, big, tasty mystery.

A colleague of mine from that fair village on the river was a fan of these burgers, knew that I penned this here blog, and brought them in for me to try. They were delicious so I decided to write about them anyway, despite not having facts about the person responsible for their creations. This isn't normally my modus operandi. I like a bit of context around my burgers.
Their Internet presence is lacking, but they've got a sweet box!
(Photo by Pascal Berthiaume)

Nut & Noix Co. doesn't have a website or an updated Facebook page for their wares, so I can't point you in their direction nor tell you where the burgers are offered in Ottawa beyond The Red Apron on Gladstone. Otherwise jump on the highway and head to the Wakefield, stop for a grilled cheese sandwich at Le Hibou, and then to the Wakefield General Store to nab some nut burgers. It's a bit perplexing how this small business can idly coast under the radar given this age of self-promotion, but there we are. Nuts with a bit of mystery.

The Nutburg is made from a crushed and spiced blend of cashews, almonds, sunflower seeds, mushrooms, onions and carrots crushed into a patty maybe 1cm in thickness. There's no soy to be found here, which is a good thing, because soy plants are Triffids looking to devour the planet. (I'm largely kidding-ish)

I probably should have made this a vegan prep to give props to my plant-dedicated friends, but when I tasted a bit of it raw I immediately thought to top it with "halloumi," the Cypriot cheese that is one of my favourite foods of all time. I also topped it with a thick slice of tomato, shiitake mushrooms and some Somerford & Hall Ontario vine-ripened ketchup, served up on a multigrain bun.

Read on after the break to see how it cooked up.

The Nutburgs are very delicate before cooking; removing them from their paper dividers is a bit difficult without causing their disintegration so be careful. I cooked mine on a flat pan and I suggest that you do the same because getting these onto an outdoor grill will be tricky and they'll be at risk of cooking into fibreboard if your keen eye strays to your beer for too long. Given their thickness expect them to cook up very quickly so do ensure that your other ingredients are more or less ready to go before the 'burgs are on the heat. I cooked them for about three minutes per side at a high heat and it was enough to give them a good sear and cook them through.
The burger board is nuts.

Despite their thin stature the Nutburgs carry a lot of flavour. You can really feel the texture of the nuts giving it a very satisfying mouthfeel. Flavours are well balanced between the sweetness of the nuts - elevated by cooking - and the savoury vegetables. It hit different notes on the palate than an umami soy or meat burger. I would have been really impressed had they been about twice as thick because the texture does get a bit lost amid its toppings. It becomes harmonious with its surroundings rather than the focal point of the burger, which I think is one of the primary characteristics of the burger as a dish.

Close-up inspection of a nut patty.

I just want to give a brief shout out to the folks at Somerford & Hall, local producers of fine ketchups, mustards and relishes. S&H sell their delicious wares at the Ottawa Farmer's Market every Sunday in the warmer months, and I highly recommend you check them out. The Ontario vine-ripened ketchup in particular is a proper balance of sweet and spicy (not piquant - the real spicy). Yes, your kids will like it and it is a healthier option than the leading brand. On the burger, the ketchup really balanced the Nutburg's savoury notes. I've been making my own homemade ketchup for years but would easily grab one of these toppings for the best homemade burger any day. These products deserve their own blog post so I'll stop here for now and have a proper interview with the brains behind the ketchup another day.

On to the halloumi. This is a whey cheese from Cyprus that has become very popular in the last decade due to its very high melting temperature. As you can grill it, what is a squeaky, acidic cheese transforms into a rich, savoury, salty summertime treat that matches perfectly with melon or tomatoes. Some halloumi is set with rennet so vegetarians should be mindful to read the label. Halloumi cooks well on an outdoor grill or flat surface, and should be grilled on a medium-high heat until the side is a rich brown, then flipped briefly for the other side to get its attention. It matched the burger well, balancing its sweet notes.

Sautéed shiitake mushrooms and a thick slice of tomato rounded out the burger, the former providing more earthiness and the latter some needed moisture. I chose a multigrain bun that was sized way too large for the burger unfortunately, compounded by the fact that it was triangular. You can thank Farm Boy for these very good but oddly shaped beauties. The bun is very flavourful and I thought really outlined the Nutburg but did need a good amount of ketchup to stave off the natural dryness of whole multigrain breads.

The beautiful final product.

All in all I would most definitely buy the Nutburgs again when looking for a break from meat. They are some of the best pre-made vegan patties that I've tasted, wisely opting to aim for a completely different taste experience than a meat product.

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