Pork Up, ButtercupPosted: March 9, 2010
I have once again abandoned Hey, Sugar! without a word but I was busybusybusy as it was Chinese New Year and then I flew off to Melbourne, Australia and had to re-set up my entire life here again and now, almost three weeks later, I finally have the Internet connected so I am once again whole. It is rather alarming how dysfunctional and empty my life feels without the Internet. It is also a lot more productive and I do find myself a little less addicted to the distractions the internet has to offer, but we’ll see how long that goes.
Chinese New Year is probably my favourite holiday. Coming from a non-Christian family, I’ve never appreciated Christmas, and seeing as I’m not American, Thanksgiving isn’t thrilling for me either. In fact, I don’t even really know when Thanksgiving is but from popular culture I gather it is a day that is acceptable for everyone to gorge themselves to bursting point and to laze around watching TV. Well Chinese New Year isn’t really that far off from that except we get ang pau, which is little red envelopes containing money. It’s a celebration that goes on for fifteen days and we lay out all sorts of delectable treats on our coffee tables in the living room for guests to munch on. We also have many, many feasts but the most important is on the eve of the Chinese New Year which is called the Reunion Dinner and it’s usually very lavish but it’s a time everyone in the family gathers together for a meal.
It is also customary for everyone to be decked out in bright colours like red and orange as it is meant to bring in good luck for the new year. We usually end up with brand new clothes every new year, everything from our undies to shoes.
It isn’t hard to imagine how this is my favourite holiday, is it? In Malaysia, the government would usually declare up to a week of school holiday for the children. So imagine lots of really good food, being awarded red envelopes containing money from every single married adult you bump into, obtaining a brand new wardrobe and seeing relatives that live very far away. It’s like Christmas, but better because there aren’t any tricks of having to be good or Santa won’t bring you presents because you get money from EVERY married adult you meet, I swear. It’s awesome being Asian!
The older I get, the smaller our Chinese New Year celebration gets. Previously my family would travel interstate to my maternal grandma’s home and I’d be surrounded by my cousins. Now everyone’s all grown up and my mother and her siblings now have their own families to tend to. My cousins too have all grown up, have gotten married and have families of their own, or are living overseas, so the celebrations now tend to be with our own nuclear families. My cousins would be with their parents, and us with ours. It is still a fun and joyous occasion, but it isn’t quite the same as when you’re a child and staying up all night with your cousins, scaring each other silly with morbid ghost stories.
There are so many Chinese New Year traditions that I get excited about. Traditionally, during the Reunion Dinner, we’d kick off the meal by mixing together a dish called Yee Sang. Everyone stands around a massive platter with a pair of chopsticks and grabs a little bit of the dish in between their chopsticks, lifting as high as they can without spilling it, and dropping it down to the platter again. It is a dish that tastes sweet and sour from the plum sauce with a hint of lime juice squeezed onto the salmon that usually goes with the dish. It is texturally wonderful in the mouth; crunchy (biscuits and crushed peanuts), chewy (preserved jellyfish), silky (salmon), and in all forms of sizes! It’s one of my favourite things to eat during Chinese New Year.
My mother has only two siblings in the same state and the rest of my aunts and uncles live where my grandmother does. Naturally, every Chinese New Year, we have our own mini tradition going where we feast in each other’s homes. My aunt always does an Indian lunch banquet in her house on the first day of the New Year. It is always catered and because it is a public holiday in Malaysia, most restaurants are shut so the only available vendors that will cater are the Indians. The food is always wonderful, though.
This year, our family hosted a lunch on the second day of the new year and we invited my aunt’s family over. My aunt has four sons, three of whom are married, and have eight grandchildren. We weren’t hiring caterers, though, we were cooking for them. Combined with my family of six, we were looking at feeding fifteen adults and eight children. Pretty intense.
My mum had a plan to cook her Fried Spaghetti dish for the adults but it only dawned on me the day before the lunch that we were cooking for 23 people but only had one dish planned! It was then that I decided that we would split the menu for adults and children and I would take over the kid’s menu. I needed something easy and delicious, but really familiar so I wouldn’t have to deal with the nightmare of fussy children who refused to eat anything foreign. It was then that I came up with the idea to make hamburgers for the kids.
One of the things that I’m most fussy about now that I’ve really gotten into cooking is processed food. I try to avoid it at all costs and I can be a little bit annoying about how far I take this. The one time I made an exception for some frozen nuggets due to a craving, it was so insanely salty that I couldn’t even eat them to satisfy my nugget fixation. So, as you can imagine, I’m not one for frozen burger patties either. Burger patties aren’t even difficult to put together and the frozen varieties are usually just innards, fat and skin instead of proper lean meat.
Yields 8 patties
700g minced pork (or beef, or lamb, or half and half of whatever combination you’d like)
350g fresh mushrooms, sliced thinly
1-2 onions, diced
3 sprigs fresh thyme
1-2 teaspoons dried nutmeg
freshly ground sea salt and black pepper
1. Put the minced meat, sliced mushrooms, onions, nutmeg and leaves from the fresh thyme into a big mixing bowl. Mix together well with your hands. Really work through the mixture to get everything incorporated.
2. Season with freshly ground sea salt and freshly ground black pepper. Mix once more with your hands. Lightly dab onto the mixture and taste (but don’t swallow! Just wash your mouth out). It should taste (and smell!) good. Well, you’d know if it tastes salty and peppery enough and the smell of the thyme is just mmm. I’ve got a bit of an obsession going with thyme, I try to put it in everything!
3. Crack an egg into the mixture and mix once more. This helps bind the meat together so you don’t get loose patties.
4. Portion it off into eight even portions. I actually just went freestyle and see how many I got and got lucky with the eight even portions.
5. Form a ball in your palm and slam down onto a baking sheet or a tray. Miraculously, you’ll find that you’ve assembled a ball! Set aside and continue for the other seven portions.
6. Cover up with cling film and keep in the refrigerator until ready to cook. These can be made in advance.
7. When ready to cook, just lightly fry them until brown and just cooked on both sides on a non-stick pan, then pop into an oven of about 180˚C for a further 15 minutes. I’d grill them if I had a grill but I didn’t so a non-stick pan was my best option.
Somehow when I came up with the idea for a hamburger, I also came up with the idea of serving it with a “tzatziki”. Tzatziki is more often paired with lamb burgers but I absolutely loathe fresh tomato slices in my burgers but I wanted to have tomatoes in there for the flavour so I thought, heck, I could wing a cucumber and tomato “tzatziki”, couldn’t I? And so I did.
Cucumber and Tomato “Tzatziki”
1 cucumber, diced
5 tomatoes, deseeded and diced
3 tablespoons Greek yogurt
3 cloves garlic, crushed
4 stems fresh dill
salt and pepper
1. Combine all the ingredients in a large bowl. Season to taste. (it won’t really taste too awesome on its own, it’s a little blah if I’m honest but great with the burger)
2. Pour entire contents into a strainer and place above a bowl, wrapped in cling film in the refrigerator overnight. This helps drain out all the liquid because tomato, cucumber AND yogurt is just really watery.
There’s an actual, proper method to make the tzatziki that I am totally disregarding with my lame-attempt at a tzatziki, which is why mine is a “tzatziki” with the ” because I know it is not the authentic version. If you want to make the authentic version, go for it! It doesn’t look anything like this little diced cucumber and tomato version I have here!
To assemble the burger, heat the burger buns up till slightly crisp, then place cooked burger patty on top. Top with a slice of cheddar cheese and pop into the oven again until just melted. Top with a spoonful of the “tzatziki”, a giant lettuce leaf and the top bun. Voila! A hamburger!
It was a great hit! Thankfully I had about twelve patties on the day of the lunch (I redid the recipe for the photos and actual measurements of the recipe to blog about it) because the adults started requesting for them as well! It was amusing how my cousins would walk into the kitchen and asked me where their burgers were and I had to explain how the kids were the only ones getting them. I had enough for them to share amongst themselves, luckily, and my siblings loved the burgers so much I was asked to make them again the following weekend (hence the photographs as I was much too busy the first time around!).
I highly recommend giving the burger a shot. The “tzatziki” really goes wonderfully with the patties and the joyous thing about these burgers is the really tender and moist texture. It’s mostly attributed to the mushrooms, and why I wanted them in there. I really hate very porky, very lean burgers because I often feel sick of it before I can even get halfway through my burger. So I was determined to create a patty that was juicy and not as heavily pork scented as the average pork burger tends to be (and the thyme and onions do a wonderful job with the aroma).
Recipe making is pretty fun and I apologize if quantitative measures aren’t as precise. This is still a major step up from what I usually tell my friends when I make dishes. I’m all about the “just until it tastes nice” quantity, which is VERY vague! But it tastes a lot better than a McDonald’s Prosperity Burger!