Unlike the other pushers of AP's 20 Burgers of Summer, I'm no celebrity. I'm just a guy who happens to work with AP's food editor, and who has spent much of the past decade pushing carnivorousness upon Said Food Editor and taking unfair credit for his rejection of vegetarianism.
In short: In this crowd of gastronomic hauties, I'm the token vox populi. I'm the man on the street they always interview after someone important comes to town, only with hamburgers.
That said, I've also had the good fortune to both grow up in what Said Food Editor calls "mayonnaise America" and spend chunks of my life, including part of my childhood, in China, appreciating the tapestry of food there and missing it desperately when I'm home.
Then one day, Said Food Editor came to me and barked, "Make me a burger. Make me remember it." And it dawned on me: Why not take the best peppery, pungent, garlicky tastes of the street stalls of Sichuan (that's how we obnoxious China hands spell "Szechwan," the province where blunt-force cooking reigns) and transplant them into the American backyard burger?
Here's my attempt — "Old Chengdu Snack Burgers." Purists might grouse, "Well, there's pork in it, so it's not a burger." With pork being the national meat of China, to them I say only this: "Huanyingnidaoquanqiuhua, pengyou." (Welcome to globalization, buddy.)
OLD CHENGDU SNACK BURGERS
These burgers pack punch. You'll need a moderately high tolerance of heat to appreciate them. It's also a good idea to cook them outside on the grill (as the recipe directs); the fumes from the peppercorns and chilies can be intense. If you mix the meat and seasonings by hand, consider wearing rubber gloves. The spicy ingredients can leave your hands tingling.
- 1 pound ground pork
- 2 pounds ground chuck, 80 percent lean
- 5 tablespoons finely chopped fresh ginger
- 15 to 20 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
- 4 tablespoons Shaoxing cooking wine
- 3 tablespoons Sichuan peppercorns, coarsely ground in a mortar and pestle
- 5 tablespoons of chive-infused oil, or 4 tablespoons of peanut oil
- 5 ounces Sichuan black-bean chili paste
- 2 tablespoons dark soy sauce
- 6 to 8 fresh chilies (such as serrano, cayenne or Thai), finely chopped
- 2 packages 7-grain Pepperidge Farm Deli Flats (16 flatbreads total)
- 3 ounces bok choy or Napa cabbage, shredded
- 2 leeks, white parts only, sliced into thin rounds
- Sriracha sauce, to taste
- In a large mixing bowl, combine the ground pork, ground chuck, ginger, garlic, wine, peppercorns, oil, chili paste and soy sauce. Add half of the chopped peppers. Mix vigorously until all ingredients are well incorporated. If using your hands to mix, wear rubber gloves.
- Portion the mixture into balls that are slightly larger than ping-pong balls (about 2 ounces each).
- On a greased pan or a sheet of waxed paper, press each ball into a very thin but loosely packed patty.
- Heat a grill to high. Set a cast-iron skillet over the grill.
- Toast the flatbreads on the grill until slightly browned and crispy. Set aside.
- When the pan is hot, coat it with cooking spray. Grill the burgers in the pan until the edges start to crisp, about 5 to 7 minutes.
- Place one patty on the bottom of a flatbread, add some of the bok choy, then place another burger on top. Top each with some of the remaining peppers, leeks and Sriracha, to taste. Top with the other half of the flatbread.