Rustic Hamburgers

It occurred to me recently that though I am an omnivore and am very proud of my choices regarding where the meat we have in the house comes from, I very rarely post recipes that involve it. Perhaps this is because I’m a bit of a purist: most of the meat we eat is consumed in the form of steaks, chops, or some other cut that has a “preparation” rather than a “recipe”.
However, I would like to begin to remedy this situation.
Rick and I have recently stocked the freezer in the basement with all the year’s essentials: we bought a quarter of a free-range grass-fed cow from a local rancher in Petaluma, went in on some humanely/organically raised pork (also local) and have some wild turkey, venison, jackrabbit, and boar from recent(ish) hunting excursions. I have a lead on some free-range chickens (we do not eat our backyard chickens, but I applaud folks that DO raise their own for meat). We hope to add some ducks and geese to the freezer soon as well (before the season’s up)!
One thing I am very interested in is making sure we are using ALL of the animal. Sure, when we get our beef it has already been butchered and frozen (hence we do not have use of the blood, intestines, stomach, etc), but there are many cuts and bits of meat that are generally considered “inferior” that I think need to be given a new look.
This week I decided to take some stew meat out and see if I could make something a little more interesting than a basic stew (we have many, MANY pounds of it to go through). Grass-fed beef can be pretty chewy and the “stew” cuts are very tough if they are not cooked long enough and kept moist, but with a little tweaking, I think I found a recipe that I like.

Nothing too fancy, just a rustic burger meat (which would translate easily to a meatloaf or meatballs) that can be made with scrap cuts, a few things you probably have lying around the house, and not too much time. Plus, very little clean-up is required as it is made in a food processor.
One thing to know when cooking with lean meats is how to keep them moist. Here, the fresh onions and the egg stand in for the fat that is in a standard ground beef, keeping the patties moist and working with the bread crumbs to hold everything together.
Rustic Hamburgers
2 lbs scrap meat (cubed stew meat, tougher roast-cuts, and bits removed from other “choice” cuts are great here, especially if you do your own butchering and have odds and ends left over)
1 medium-sized yellow onion
1 clove garlic
1-2 large sprigs parsley (feel free to throw in other herbs, too – oregano/marjoram are fantastic!)
1 large egg
1-2 c stale bread, cubed
salt and pepper, to taste

Stew meat and other non-tender cuts and also many wild/game meats are often very lean and have a lot of connective tissue (“silver skin”) and gristle. It’s important to cut out these chewy bits before you start. Personally, if they are chopped fine enough, they don’t bother me at all, but I’d recommend going without if you’re cooking for company.
Once these pieces are removed, pulse the meat in a food processor until it just barely holds together. The meat should be in smaller-than-centimeter chunks for the most part, but should not be a paste. Remove the meat from the bowl of the processor and set it aside. Pulse the cubed bread, garlic, onion, and parsley together until a wet bread crumb forms.


Pour this in with the meat and the egg, and knead the mixture together. Let it sit for at least 5 minutes to combine (the bread crumbs will soak up the onion juice and egg and swell a bit). Season with salt and pepper.


This mixture will feel more moist than a regular burger meat, but should easily hold together to make patties or meatballs. If it is too dry, add another egg. Too moist? Toss in a bit more bread.

I like to cook these on medium-to-high heat with just a bit of oil in the pan until the outer bits get dark and crunchy (I put a lid on the pan both to prevent oil splattering and to steam the burger to a nice medium-rare in the center).
Serve these burgers on a challah bun (or an oat/wheat baguette – recipe forthcoming) with some wedge-cut steak fries, some home-made ketchup, and maybe a side of dilly beans – delicious.

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