For Michel Nischan, building a better burger is part of making the world a better place.
"I have seen all kinds of outlandish burger ideas, from making burgers with vegetables, fish, shrimp, you name it," said Nischan, whose cookbook, "Sustainably Delicious," and Westport, Conn., restaurant Dressing Room focus on ecologically sound eating.
"Yet as great and creative as these burgers can be (and fun), nothing beats a burger made with the meat that burgers were meant to be made with — grass-fed and grass-finished beef," Nischan said in an e-mail.
The greatness of a burger depends almost entirely on the quality of the meat. And because cattle were intended to eat only grass, he says the best burgers come from those who ate only that. Once he has his beef, he still likes to dress it up a bit.
"Once cooked to your liking, pairing this meat with cheese and butter from grass-fed dairy cattle adds a depth of additional richness that takes the burger closer to the promised land," he said. "And of course, what would a good sustainable burger be without the deep, tomato-y sweetness of locally grown, vine-ripened heirloom tomatoes?"
Which is to say, if you want to taste Nischan's ultimate eco burger, you'll need to shop close to home, searching out local sources for the very best ingredients. It also means that every burger will be different, the tastes influenced by the variations in the land and animals that produced the ingredients.
"Let's bring back Main Street America by cooking a good sustainable burger," he said. "The immediate reward is flavor. The ultimate reward is a better world!"
THE ULTIMATE ECO-BURGER
- 1 pound grass-fed, grass-finished ground beef
- Salt and ground black pepper
- 3 tablespoons butter from grass-fed dairy cows, divided
- 4 free-range eggs
- 4 slices cheddar cheese
- 8 slices whole-grain bread or 4 whole-grain rolls
- 2 medium heirloom tomatoes (2 varieties if possible)
- 8 slices cooked bacon
- 4 leaves lettuce
- Heat a gas grill to medium or prepare a charcoal or wood grill, banking the coals to one side.
- Divide the beef into quarters and form into patties. Season with salt and pepper.
- Heat a large cast-iron skillet over medium. Place 1 tablespoon of the butter in the pan and coat the bottom. Crack the eggs individually into the pan and cook sunny side up. Remove from the pan and set aside.
- When the grill is heated, cook the burgers for 4 minutes on the first side. Flip the burgers and top each with 1/2 tablespoon of the remaining butter, then top each with a slice of the cheese. Continue cooking to desired doneness.
- When the burgers are done, transfer them to a warm plate and let rest for 3 minutes. Toast the bread or buns on the grill until slightly browned and crispy.
- To assemble the burgers, arrange a slice of each tomato on the bottom of each bun, followed by the burger, 2 slices of bacon, a leaf of lettuce, an egg and the top of the bun.