Tuesday, August 21, 2007

The Working Girl's Tuna Burger

I live in a hip part of Brooklyn and make in the neighborhood of $30,000 a year. I have a fantastic apartment, friends who are always up for an evening of (...), and a major clothing habit that is currently in remission (one day at a time). I avoid eating out on my dime, never order in, and always pack a lunch (when I can make it better at home, why wouldn't I?). I'm a member of the Park Slope Food Co-op, which helps with the grocery bills (it's a "real" co-op, meaning you have to work every month, and we pay close to wholesale for everything). But when you do as much cooking as I do, the fresh vegetables and seafood, ethical beef, and wine (lots of wine) add up.

The point is: I have very little money to spare. This is where I get creative.

Preparing for a small Sunday evening dinner party, I decided to take on the Union Square Café’s Yellowfin Tuna Burger once more. According to the recipe, 1.5 pounds of tuna meat would yield four burgers. I had to make five. I figured I'd go with two pounds. Ouch: at $15.99 a pound, that's about $15 more than I wanted to spend. Looking baffled by my request, a fish-monger told me no, they didn't have any “discount” tuna scraps or tails. Why would they? They purchase from their supplier only the steak-ready stomach meat that their Park Slope customers demand. (Tuna goes through a chain of sellers longer than the average eightball of Colombian cocaine, each taking their cut. A fine bluefin sells for around $80,000 and winds up in the best sushi joints of Tokyo for a retail cost of $70 a half-ounce.)

So, inspired by certain Tulane University drug dealers that, rumor has it, mixed cocaine with baby laxatives, I decided to cut the tuna with something cheaper. I deliberated with the fish-seller. He suggested whitefish because "all the New Yorkers use it in salads" (he is Japanese). He assured me that it would blend right in and would hold up to pan-frying. Although I was sure he'd never made or eaten a fish burger in his life, I liked the idea of using the quintessential New York bagel-ready fish (ok, after lox) in my poor man's version of yellowfin. And at $4.99 a pound, I was willing to experiment.

The fish-seller assured me that whitefish skin is so thin that it needn't be removed but as I chopped the fish to the consistency of ground meat, the skin clumped and gave the meat a particularly sorry appearance. I picked out the skin, introduced the whitefish to the tuna, mixed all with mustard, garlic, salt, pepper, and 1/3 of a cup of olive oil (this last a mistake: I misread the recipe, something I do fairly often and one of my greatest flaws as a cook. In standardized tests I always scored very, very high on reading comprehension -- but in following recipes, driving, and love I can be a little careless.)

I made six patties and seared them over medium-high heat. Meyer and Romano suggest medium-rare but I cooked them through: between the whitefish and the less-than-sashimi-grade tuna, I erred on the side of caution. A couple of the burgers fell apart -- due to both the flakier whitefish and the olive oil (it was supposed to be used for frying, not binding, as it were). I topped each burger with a spoonful of the "Ginger-Mustard-Soy-Honey-Whatever Glaze and/or Marinade" and passed pickled ginger to my guests.

The burgers got rave reviews -- they were juicy, spicy, filling yet light (not unlike turkey burgers). The whitefish blended perfectly, acquiescing to the strong flavor of the tuna, showing itself to be the true chameleon of the sea, as happy smoked with sour cream, mayo, celery, and herbs as it is masquerading with the fancy fixings of fusion food. To paraphrase Bill Murray in Caddyshack: a Cinderella story, outta Brooklyn.

The Working Girl's Tuna Burger

1 pound yellowfin tuna
1 pound whitefish (or some other fish with the chutzpah to stand up to tuna!)
3 tbsp. Dijon mustard
2 large cloves garlic, minced
salt and pepper
2 tbsp. olive oil plus 1/3 cup olive oil (PAY ATTENTION: for frying!)
6 hamburger buns, preferably whole wheat with seeds
pickled ginger for garnish, optional

Chop fish to consistency of ground meat. Remove large clumps of skin (or remove skin before chopping, but you'll need a sharper knife than I had for this). Add mustard, garlic, salt, pepper, and 2 tbsp. olive oil (a little oil helps because whitefish is less oily than tuna). Form 6 patties. Sear over medium-high heat for 4 minutes per side. Serve over toasted buns, topped with spoonful of Ginger Mustard glaze and a few pieces of pickled ginger.


Liz said...

As a privileged guest at many of Nora's dinner parties, I must say that my tuna burger was delicious! I love spicy food and I have been craving another burger ever since I scarfed mine down. I might even try to make it myself although all of the fish chopping and skin removal sounds a little daunting. Nora, have you ever considered adding instructional videos?

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