Fish have been swimming around this planet for about half a billion years. Cows, well…not very long at all in comparison. There are more species of fish than amphibians, reptiles, birds and mammals combined. But I’m not combining bird and mammal to make the burger I want for lunch today. I will, however, need several species of those fish.
Yes, the fish burger is alive and well. What’s the difference between a fish sandwich and a fish burger? In my world, nothing, the two terms are interchangable because being a stickler over food semantics means I get my fish burger while you’re busying yourself calling it a sandwich, or vice versa. But if you want to get technical, a fish burger by most people’s standards would involve a patty of ground fish, a burger bun (homemade, if you’re as passionate as we are) and fixins.
To calm the spirits of half a billion years’ worth of fish who never became burgers, let us explore the possibilities.
Sturdy, meaty fish like salmon, tuna and shellfish make good burgers. Delicate, flaky fish like tilapia, flounder and cod do not make good burgers. Do not challenge this, or your grill will quickly become covered in partially charred tilapia mush and everyone will laugh at you. For salmon or tuna, you’ll want to chop it by hand, grind it coarsely through a meat grinder or pulse it lightly in a food processor until you have a chunky mixture. Then comes the fun part: seasoning.
A lot of people go the Asian route, since fish takes to its bright, bold flavors so well. A little pureed ginger, garlic, lemongrass, sesame oil, sriracha and just a splash of soy sauce along with chopped scallions will not fail you. Why no measurements? Because it’s high time you learned to cook without that dumb set of plastic tea and tablespoons taking up half your cutlery drawer. Trust your instincts, and hit the grill hard.
Mediterranean is another smart move when it comes to fish burger formulation. Finely chopped blanched spinach, sun-dried tomatoes, fresh oregano, a little crumbled feta, squeeze of lemon and plenty of freshly ground black pepper take to a salmon burger like ground fish patties take to a bun.
Finally there’s the shellfish burger, but this one doesn’t go on the grill — it’ll fall apart immediately. Shrimp and scallops, pulsed lightly together or separately in a food processor, seasoned to your liking, sculpted into patties and pan-fried for about 3 minutes on each side are my absolute favorite appetizer to make for an outdoor grilling soiree. Want to get fancy? Make ’em into sliders. Want to get really fancy? Make ’em out of crab and then make ’em into sliders.
So there you have it, fish patties are light, healthy, really tasty and easy to make. Just like a regular burger is a blank canvas, simply pick your favorite sturdy sea creature, grind, season and grill or pan-fry. Here’s to the next half-billion years of fish in burger form.
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