Thursday, May 13, 2010

Coconut Basil Chicken Burgers with Thai Peanut Pesto

A couple weeks ago I found myself craving a burger. Not just any burger, mind, but the sort of burger I'd never had before. Something gourmet and unusual, the sort of burger you might find in a high-end eatery. The sort of burger about which a purist might say, "That's not a burger." Not something that called for overpriced, trendy ingredients, necessarily, but the sort of burger that I wouldn't in a million years think to order. Or, more accurately, make. A challenge, if you will. And the most challenging part? I was going to invent this prodigious burger myself.

At our local Winco grocery store, I picked up ground chuck, ground chicken, and a variety of other ingredients - pepper bacon, gorgonzola and brie, and various seasonings and condiments I'd never used before. Bear in mind that I still had no idea what I was going to do with all this stuff; I had only the most rudimentary plan of putting some of them into my creation. I felt like a filmmaker who goes out on location without his shot list. I knew I'd have a lot to work with, but despite my best efforts I wondered if I would be able to put together anything of value without a real plan.

My afternoon grocery shopping trip cut short by a time-sensitive errand, I ran my purchases home and proceeded to fulfill my other obligation. Once it was complete, I headed home, aware that it was too late to do much in the way of kitchen experimentation. I called Katie and asked if she could look up a recipe online, and as I had to stop to pickup hamburger buns, I would also pick up whatever ingredients I didn't already have.

She texted me a list of ingredients for one recipe, and a moment later another, longer list for a more complex recipe. The longer list called for coconut milk, cilantro and Thai curry paste. It sounded like a challenge, for certain. At the Save Mart mere blocks from our house, I decided to look for Thai curry paste, the most obscure ingredient - to me, at least - and if I could find it with no problem, I would make the second recipe. Sure enough, after a trip to the Asian foods aisle, I found it with no trouble. They had both green and red curry paste, and with no further information in the text sent by Katie, I attempted to call her, to no avail. I grabbed green, later to find out that I needed red. Oh well.

At home, I looked up the specific recipe Katie had found, and began to work. As I perused the recipe, it became clear that I should have read it beforehand. Case in point: The list of ingredients Katie had texted me included shredded coconut and coconut milk, so I just bought a coconut. The website made it very clear that I could just as easily have bought a can of coconut milk and a small bag of shredded coconut. Not to worry; I'd never cracked a coconut before, and it was kind of fun.

Coconut milk looks an awful lot like water.

Here's the text of the recipe, found at Food Network's website.

Prep Time:
45 min

Cook Time:
8 min

6 burgers

For the Asian Pear Slaw:

1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
1 teaspoon sugar
1 Asian pear, peeled and cut into thin matchsticks
1 medium carrot, peeled and cut into thin matchsticks

For the Thai Peanut Pesto:

1/2 cup roasted and salted peanuts
1/2 cup fresh basil leaves
1/4 cup fresh cilantro leaves
2 tablespoons unsweetened shredded coconut
2 tablespoons roasted peanut oil
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1/3 cup quartered cherry tomatoes

For the Patties:

1 (14-ounce) can unsweetened coconut milk
1 lime, zest grated
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
1 teaspoon Thai red curry paste
2 pounds coarsely ground chicken thighs
1/2 cup chopped fresh basil leaves
1/2 cup panko (Japanese bread crumbs)
2 teaspoons sea salt
Vegetable oil, for brushing on the grill rack
6 seeded hamburger buns, split


Prepare a medium-hot fire in a charcoal grill with a cover, or preheat a gas grill to medium-high.

For the slaw:

Whisk together the lime juice and sugar in a medium-sized bowl to dissolve the sugar. Add the pear and carrot and toss to coat. Cover and chill until serving time.

For the pesto:

Place all of the ingredients except the tomatoes in a small food processor; process briefly until the mixture forms a coarse paste. Transfer to a small bowl and gently stir in the tomatoes. Cover and set aside.

For the patties:

Combine the coconut milk, lime zest, and lime juice in a 10-inch fire-proof skillet. Place the skillet on the grill rack and bring the mixture to a simmer. Continue cooking, stirring occasionally, until the mixture is thickened and reduced to 2/3 cup, about 15 minutes. Add the curry paste to the mixture and whisk until smooth. Transfer to a small bowl to cool.

Place the chicken in a large mixing bowl. Add the cooled coconut milk mixture, basil, panko and salt. Using a large fork, mix the ingredients together gently but thoroughly. Divide the mixture into 6 equal portions and form the portions into patties to fit the buns, making a slight indentation in the center of each patty.

When the grill is ready, brush the grill rack with oil. Place the patties on the rack, cover, and cook for 4 minutes. Flip the patties, cover, and cook an additional 4 minutes, or until the juices run clear from the center of the patties when pierced. During the last few minutes of cooking, arrange the buns, cut side down, around the edges of the grill to toast lightly.

To assemble the burgers:

Distribute an equal amount of the slaw on the bottom buns. Top each with a patty and a dollop of the pesto. Add the bun tops and serve.

Note that, rather than preparing this recipe on an outdoor grill, I prepared them in a pan on the stove (as evidenced above). Also, I omitted the Asian Pear Slaw. Although it sounds great, Katie didn't text me the ingredients, probably assuming I'd have my hands full with just the Thai Peanut Pesto and the burgers themselves.

The burger turned out great, incidentally. The chicken was flavorful and bold, the fresh herbs complementing the perfectly-seasoned meat. The coconut added a tropical freshness I've never tasted in a burger before. And the Thai Peanut Pesto, though not quite what I was expecting, was a natural condiment to top a coconut chicken burger. I don't know what, if anything, I sacrificed by getting the wrong kind of Thai curry paste, but I'll be sure to get it right next time.

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