Is there any such thing as a healthy burger? Really all a burger is, is a meat patty made with ground meat (or mince) and some flavouring. Not difficult to make and far superior to the processed burgers you can buy, try these next time you wheel out the BBQ on a Saturday afternoon.
So how can we make a burger healthy? First off, use the best meat you can find. Currently there is a trend for grass fed beef. This means there are no unnatural elements in the animal’s food chain and normally it also means that the animal has led a healthy life. Also, it should taste better! However, in the UK most of the beef cattle stock are grass fed for most of the year, so as long as you buy British you should be buying good quality beef. In winter British cattle are generally fed hay, silage or straw, not cereals or animal feed (and other non natural cattle feed) we hear horror stories about in the USA and South America. Secondly, we can enhance the meat with healthy fats and anti-inflammatory spices, oh, and don’t add any gluten.
Worried about fats? There is a wealth of misinformation out there about fats and what is good for our health and what is bad. You need to make up your own mind about what is good for you and to do this you need to read as much as possible from as many different sources that you trust. Then you need to find out what works for your body (2 people with similar eating patterns can have considerably different body shapes). The BULLETPROOF blog is a good place to start and they have written a nice piece about Omega 3 vs Omega 6 fats. Generally, I try only to eat natural products which have not been processed – e.g. I avoid refined oils and stick to cold pressed only.
I have kept this recipe very simple, too many ingredients will detract from the burger and we really don’t want to be adding any wet ingredients (e.g. fresh herbs) as they will make the cooked burger watery and it is then liable to fall apart especially on a grill. The key ingredient, the beef aside, is bone marrow. Bone marrow is essentially fat, so it will provide any burger with flavour and moisture. If you use a prime cut of beef to make your mince you may not need the additional fat and flavour, but to keep things economic, supermarket mince is generally fine.
The bone marrow is rich in collagen which promotes skin health and reduces joint pain. It also contains linoleic acid which is thought to decrease inflammation and enhance immune function. On top of this, it also tastes great!
Seasoning is provided in this recipe by celery salt. Salt provides us with minerals that we cannot easily get from anywhere else and it makes our food taste good (our bodies are hard wired to like salt). I’m not going to go into the pros and cons of salt here, but we do need it in our diets and we do need to get the right type of salt in our diets – try to avoid table salt as it is generally low quality and contains anti-caking agents which we don’t need.
You can check your seasoning by cooking off a little bit of your burger mix in a pan before making up the burger patties. This is important so please don’t miss this step out. If you don’t have celery salt just use whatever salt you have, I use Malden sea salt most of the time.
The other main ingredient is the smoked paprika. This not only adds a smokey, spicy flavour (ideal if you don’t have a BBQ) but also packs a health punch. The main benefit is that paprika is an antioxidant which effectively fights free radicals which can cause your system harm. Our bodies absorb the antioxidants but when mixed with fat – our friend the bone marrow – paprika helps lower inflammation, is good for our eyes and helps to lower blood pressure. I use paprika almost as often as I use turmeric and always have 2 tins in my store cupboard (sweet and hot).
In order to help lighten a burger mixture and give the cooked burger a moist, slightly springy texture, breadcrumbs or rusk tend to be added. This is fine as long as the breadcrumb percentage does not start to take over from the meat. However, breadcrumbs introduce gluten into the mix, and gluten is not always for everyone. So instead of breadcrumbs, I have added ground almonds. The almond does a similar job to the breadcrumbs and honestly, you will not taste any difference. If you prefer the breadcrumbs then just switch in for the ground almonds.
I mentioned turmeric, yes I normally add 1/4 tsp in for good measure but have excluded from the recipe below but please add if you want an additional boost of anti-inflammatory assistance.
Ingredients (makes 4 burgers of approx 130g each)
- 400g beef mince
- 50g beef bone marrow
- 50g ground almonds
- 1/2 tsp celery salt
- 1/2 tsp smoked paprika
- Ground black pepper
- Turn on the oven to 180C/160C fan/gas mark 4
- Once up to temperature, pop the bone marrow bone onto a baking tray and roast for 10-15 minutes. We are only trying to soften the marrow so we can scoop it out of the bone. If you forget about it you’ll find a pool of lovely fat in the oven later! In the meantime, put the mince and other ingredients into a large mixing bowl.
- Scoop the marrow out of the bone and chop it roughly. Don’t waste any of the fat that has melted, just pour it into the mince mixture. Put all the marrow into the mixing bowl and mix thoroughly.
- Now heat a small pan on the hob and add a little oil. Take a coin size piece of the mix and shape it into a small burger; cook it in the pan and taste. Adjust the seasoning if required and repeat. Remember, it’s easy to add salt to the mix but a little more difficult to take it out!
- Once happy with the seasoning, make up four patties – I normally weigh the whole mix so I get evenly sized burgers. If you want to make bigger burgers make three instead of four.
- Form the patties by pressing the mixture in your hands – you’ll find that by wetting your hands with water first the mixture will not stick to your hands. If you have a burger press now’s the time to use it. I use a muffin ring to give a uniform shape to the burgers.
- Once shaped, it’s best to let the burgers rest in the fridge for a few hours. This lets the flavours and seasoning develop evenly. I just wrap each burger in a piece of baking parchment.
- To cook, bring the burgers to room temperature, sprinkle with a pinch salt and some oil. Then drop either onto a hot pan or onto a hot BBQ grill. Ideally, we need to get the outside seared and coloured to give maximum flavour and keep all the juices in. Once cooked to your liking
The bone marrow will melt as you cook the burger so watch out for flames if cooking on a BBQ. If cooking in a pan, you can baste the burger with the fat.
Normally if using mince, I will cook the burger fully rather than try for a medium rare. This is just due to the potential for bacteria to build up on the mince as it has a lot of exposed surface area.
Try mixing up the meat type. Use lamb, pork or beef in different combinations. Also use different flavours – soy sauce instead of salt, chilli powder, dried herbs – all can change up your home made burger experience. Just don’t go too big on additions as you will lose the flavour combinations.
Eggs. Lots of recipes out there use an egg as a binding agent so the burger does not fall apart and into your charcoals. I find with this recipe eggs are not necessary and quite often can make the burger heavy and dense.