January 14, 2012

Pimento Chicken Burgers

Well, these burgers certainly are a discovery.

Case in point, healthy eating does not mean meals of dry toast and protein in powder form. It does not even mean infinitesimally small portions. Healthy eating doesn't even mean having dry spinach salads without dressing - even though some days call for such meals.

During these past two weeks, I have been experimenting with hearty, healthy food. I have certain favorites, and most of my favorite food is rich, Southern fare. While I do not condone permanently slimming down these recipes (there is a reason we use so much butter and bacon grease), some months or even stretches of months require just a bit of healthy tweaking. So whereas I would normally love to be deep-frying chicken and hand-pies, sometimes the healthy alternative actually tastes better, both to body and soul.

When really planned and proportioned well, even full-fat, carbohydrate-laden items can accompany healthy ones with no real effect on your overall diet. We aren't supposed to completely deprive ourselves...right? That's why I went ahead and made homemade burger buns with oil and white flour. Fresh, yeasty buns hot from the oven with my cast-iron skillet burgers? With caramelized onion mustard, roasted zucchini, crisp lettuce and bright tomato? Yes, please!

These chicken burgers taught me a lot about keeping calories at bay while still keeping that big, juicy flavor that we all expect from our burgers. Of the three kinds of non-beef burgers I've made in the past two weeks - tuna, chickpea, and chicken - this one is a big winner. Perfectly juicy, lean, and spicy, filled with sun-dried tomatoes, rosemary, and pimentos, these chicken burgers will satisfy even the staunchest of carnivores.

Pimento Chicken Burgers 
Serves 4

1 pound lean ground chicken (I used 93% lean)
1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary
1 tablespoon chopped fresh basil
1 teaspoon ground thyme
1 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup sun-dried tomatoes in oil (patted dry)
1/4 cup pimentos, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced

Combine all ingredients in a bowl and mix well (use your hands...never fear!) until all ingredients are thoroughly incorporated. I had large chunks of pimento and sun-dried tomato in my mix so if you'd like those ingredients to be a bit more subtle, chop them in a food processor. Divide into four 1/2-inch burgers and cover with plastic wrap. Chill until ready to use.

Warm a cast-iron skillet or griddle on medium heat. I just used non-stick cooking spray, but add a splash of olive oil if you like. Cook burgers about 6 minutes on each side, being sure that the sides are fully cooked and no longer pink.

Burger Buns
Makes 16

3 packages (2 tablespoons) active dry yeast
1 cup warm water (115 F)
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 egg
3 cups all-purpose flour

To quote Julia Child, "don't be afraid!" Combine yeast with water and let dissolve, about 2 minutes. Add oil and sugar, stir, and let stand for 7-8 minutes, until yeast puffs up. Add egg and salt. Stir in flour with wooden spoon. If the dough is too sticky, mix in a bit more flour, but only in 1/4 cup increments. I found that my dough only needed 3 cups, with a bit more for rolling.
Yeast, water, oil, and sugar, just combined
Yeast, water, oil, and sugar, after 8 minutes

Turn dough onto liberally floured surface and knead for about 4 minutes, until dough is no longer tacky, but very smooth and thick. The dough should have no more sticky spots, but should not feel tough. Roll dough into a 12-inch log and divide into 16 parts, starting in the middle and working out to the sides. Roll out buns and place on lightly greased cookie sheet. Bake at 425 for 8-9 minutes, or until tops are browned and fragrant.

Let cool for just a few minutes, while you are finishing cooking the chicken burgers. Split into two halves and load up with your favorite condiments. I served these with zucchini fries.  Full veggies, full protein, full carbohydrates. Make this dish for a delicious and wholesome weekend meal, and rejoice in the fact that homemade buns are so darn easy.

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