Heaven On A Bun

Now, THIS is a burger.

Oftentimes, burgers leave you wanting.

They turn out to be a little dry. Or not so flavorful. Or just kind of ho-hum.

Not so with this baby.

“Grilled Pork Burgers” from “Sunday Suppers at Lucques” (Alfred A. Knopf) is everything you want in a great burger and more. The recipe is from Chef Suzanne Goin of the wonderful Lucques restaurant in Los Angeles. Its Sunday Suppers are legendary for how fresh and vibrant the dishes are, as well as what a deal they comprise at $45 for three impeccable courses.

Lucques’ pork burger is far more complex than your average beef one.  It’s more like a fabulous pork sausage shaped into a hefty disk.

It gets a kick of spiciness and smokiness from chorizo that’s mixed into the pork before forming the patties. The recipe calls for fresh Mexican chorizo (uncooked). But you also can use Spanish (cooked) chorizo as I did, and just dice it to incorporate into the pork. The meat mixture gets an added flavor punch from toasted cumin seeds, garlic, caramelized shallots, chiles de arbol and a little bit of  apple-wood smoked bacon, which, of course, makes everything better.

The pork burgers are grilled, then topped with a slice of Manchego cheese and peppery arugula. The bun is split, brushed with olive oil, then grilled. Smear a little mayo on each bun half afterward. Lucques makes its own aioli, but I took the easy way out, and just used good ol’ Best Foods out of the jar.

Romesco sauce you'll want to use on everything.

The piece de resistance? A big heap of romesco on top of it all. The sauce is a heady mix of almonds, hazelnuts, country bread, chiles, tomatoes, garlic, parsley and lemon juice. It’s way better than ketchup. In fact, use the leftovers — and you will have some — to top roasted or fried potatoes for a real treat. The sauce keeps in the fridge for a couple of weeks. It will thicken up, though. Just microwave it for the briefest of seconds to loosen it up a bit before using.

Then, sink your teeth into one juicy burger that is sure to hit the spot.

Lucques’ Grilled Pork Burger

Chef Suzanne Goin likes to give the meat ingredients time to meld, so she suggests mixing the burger ingredients together in the morning or the night before you plan on cooking them.

(Serves 6)

For Romesco Sauce:

5 ancho chiles

2 tablespoons raw almonds

2 tablespoons blanched hazelnuts

1 1/4 cups extra-virgin olive oil

1 slice country bread, about 1-inch thick

1/3 cup San Marzano canned tomatoes

1 clove garlic, chopped

1 tablespoon chopped flat-leaf parsley

1/2 lemon, for juicing

Kosher salt

For burgers:

1 1/2 teaspoons cumin seeds

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for grilling

1/2 cup diced shallots

1 tablespoon minced garlic

1 tablespoon thyme leaves

2 chiles de arbol, thinly sliced on the bias

2 pounds ground pork

1/4 pound fresh Mexican chorizo, casing removed (or use finely chopped Spanish chorizo)

3 ounces applewood-smoked bacon, finely diced

2 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley

6 slices Manchego cheese

6 brioche or other good burger buns

Mayonnaise, store-bought or your own homemade

2 ounces arugula

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

To make romesco: Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Remove and discard stems and seeds from chiles, and then soak them in warm water for 15 minutes to soften. Strain chiles, and pat dry with paper towels.

Meanwhile, spread nuts on a baking sheet and toast for 8 to 10 minutes, until they smell nutty and are golden brown.

Heat a large saute pan over high heat for 2 minutes. Add 2 tablespoons olive oil and wait a minute. Fry slice of bread on both sides until golden brown. Remove bread from pan and cool. Cut it into 1-inch cubes and set aside.

Return pan to stove over high heat. Add 2 tablespoons olive oil and chiles and saute for a minute or two. Add tomatoes. Season with 1/2 teaspoon salt and cook 2 to 3 minutes, stirring often, until tomato juices have evaporated and the tomato starts to color slightly. Turn off heat, and leave mixture in the pan.

In a food processor, pulse together the toasted nuts, garlic, and fried bread until bread and nuts are coarsely ground. Add chile-tomato mixture, and process for 1 minute more.

With the machine running, slowly pour in remaining 1 cup olive oil and process until you have a smooth puree. Don’t worry, the romesco will “break” or separate into solids and oil; this is normal. Add parsley, and season to taste with lemon juice and more salt if you like.

The sauce will keep for 2 weeks in the refrigerator. Try it on sandwiches and with cheese, eggs, grilled fish and roasted meats, too.

To make the burgers: In a medium saute pan, toast cumin seeds over medium heat a few minutes, until seeds release their aroma and darken slightly. Pound seeds in a mortar or spice grinder until coarsely ground.

Return pan to the stove over high heat for 1 minute. Add olive oil and shallots. Turn heat down to medium-low, and cook for a few minutes, stirring once or twice, until shallots start to soften. Add garlic, thyme, cumin, and sliced chile. Season with 1/4 teaspoon salt and a few grindings of black pepper, and cook 3 to 4 minutes, until shallots become translucent. Set aside to cool.

In a large bowl, use your hands to combine ground pork, chorizo, bacon, shallot mxture, and parsley, being careful not to overmix the meat. Season with 1 1/4 teaspoons salt and lots of freshly ground black pepper. Shape meat into six 6-ounce patties. Chill in the refrigerator if not using right away.

Light the grill 30 to 40 minutes before cooking, and remove pork burgers from the refrigerator to come to room temperature (if you made them in advance).

When coals are broken down, red, and glowing, brush pork burgers with olive oil, and grill them 3 to 4 minutes on the first side, until they’re nicely browned. Turn burgers over, and place a piece of cheese on each one. Cook another 3 minutes or so, until pork is just cooked through. (It should still be slightly pink in the center.)

Slice buns in half, brush them with olive oil, and toast them on the grill, cut side down, for a minute or two, until they’re lightly browned.

Spread both sides of the buns with mayonnaise. Place a burger on the bottom  half of each bun, and dollop with a generous amount of romesco. Place some arugula leaves on top, and finish with the top half of the bun.

Serve the burgers with extra romesco and mayonnaise on the side, if you like.

Adapted from “Sunday Suppers at Lucques” by Suzanne Goin

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