Monday, February 11, 2013

Khan burgers

Mongolian cuisine is well-known for being about meat – lamb or mutton, to be more exact – and little else. And this makes a lot of sense when you are talking about cooking and eating on endless grassland surrounded by little more than a bunch of sheep. I mean, you eat what’s available.

But in the cities like the capital of Inner Mongolia – Hohhot – vegetables and seasonings are in readier supply, and so the foods there are much more refined and flavorful, as in this delicious dish. The traditional recipe for hushuur calls for a mere scattering of cilantro, but I've come to adore this with huge handfuls of both cilantro and parsley, as they fade into the background with their aromas, while lightening the meat and making it more supple and moist.

This recipe takes the idea of a hamburger and transforms it into something incredible. Instead of a thin patty that tastes of nothing but meh-quality meat, these are more like juicy meatballs lightened with big handfuls of cilantro and parsley, pan-fried until the exteriors are crispy and well browned, and then seasoned with a savory, slightly spicy sauce. It’s nothing short of a revelation.

Mix with your hand!
Soy sauce and other seasonings are added to the ground lamb, too, which then leak out into the pan as the meat fries, and then even more flavors are tossed in to the gutsy sauce. I like to pour off most of the oil once the burgers have been browned, leaving the heavier juices still roaming around the bottom of the pan. The final addition of the stock can be used to deglaze the caramelized bits.

Hushuur is perfect over noodles or rice, but perhaps best when accompanied by a simple grilled bread that both soaks up the sauce and offers a quiet counterpart to all of the fireworks in this dish.

As with all Chinese ground meat dishes, this lamb benefits from being chopped up again, which makes the meat fluffier and helps it absorb the liquids better. Use a cleaver or heavy chef’s knife to whack away at the lamb until it has softened up, and then swirl it around in a work bowl, using the fingers of one hand as your personal spoon and spatula. Once you get used to mixing meats this way, it will be difficult to go back to clumsy utensils.


Mongolian fried lamb burgers with cilantro 
Hushuur
Mongolia
Serves 4 to 6

Lamb:
Pan-fry the burgers
1 pound ground lamb (see Tips)
2 green onions, trimmed and finely chopped
4 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
2 tablespoons regular soy sauce
¼ cup rice wine or unsalted stock
2 teaspoons sugar
1 cup chopped cilantro
1 cup chopped parsley
Oil for frying

Sauce:
½ cup unsalted stock
1 teaspoon smoked paprika or mild ground chilies
Sea salt to taste

Garnish:
Chopped cilantro

1. Place the lamb on a chopping board and chop it again with a cleaver or heavy chef’s knife until it is light and fluffy. Use your blade to scrape all of the meat up and into a medium work bowl. Toss in the green onions, garlic, soy sauce, rice wine or stock, and sugar, and stir the meat around in one direction until the liquids have been incorporated. Pick up clumps of the meat and throw them back into the bowl to make the meat even more tensile. Once it looks fluffy again, stir the cilantro and parsley into the meat, again stirring in only one direction. (The lamb can be prepared ahead of time up to this point and refrigerated for no more than an hour; if it needs to sit longer than that, hold off on adding the onions, garlic, cilantro, and parsley until you are ready to cook the lamb.)

Smoked paprika becoming smoky
2. Divide the lamb into a dozen even pieces and roll them into balls. Flatten each one into a fat little burger. Place a large skillet over medium-high heat until it is nice and hot, and then film the bottom with a couple tablespoons of oil. As soon as the oil starts to shimmer, arrange the burgers in the skillet so that they do not touch each other. Fry them on one side until they are browned and then turn them over and brown the other side. Pour off most of the oil.

3. Add the remaining stock and paprika to the skillet, turn the heat up to high, and quickly reduce the stock to a syrupy sauce, turning the burgers over in the sauce. Serve the hushuur hot with an extra sprinkling of cilantro as garnish.

Tips

Use boneless lamb, if you prefer, and chop it finely yourself. Be sure to remove any tendons (silver skin) and large pieces of fat.

Adjust the seasonings and greens as you like. Use all parsley instead of cilantro, if you wish, or lots of green onions. 

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