Lamb is probably the meat that loves seasoning the most. Because it’s so assertive, with that lovely gamy richness, it can take some serious spice without being buried under it. And it matches so well with such a wide variety of strong flavors, from garlic and rosemary to preserved lemon and harissa to feta and black olives (and so many more). What I try to do when I cook it is season the meat a particular way and then use one or more complementary flavors in the accompaniments. It’s good fun to play around with different delivery systems and combinations ranging from formal and fancy to fast and dirty, and I never get tired of cooking and eating it. This application fell emphatically in the latter category, but was no less pleasurable for its informality. There’s not much better than a couple of lamb sliders after a long day spent not eating lamb sliders.
Our buddy Rich at Elephant makes excellent ones, which he calls “Lamburguesas.” I stole the dusting of smoked paprika on top from him. The rest of it was all made up on the basis of what was at hand, including some lovely ricotta I bought along with the lamb. I mixed minced garlic and parsley into the meat, along with fat pinches of black pepper, cumin, coriander, and chili powder, then I pressed grabs of the mixture into one of my ring molds to make uniform patties and sprinkled salt on the outside. Don’t mix salt into your burgers; it helps form myosin, the protein that binds hot dogs together, and makes for a denser burger that can turn more easily to a hockey puck if overcooked. Salt the outsides just before cooking.
To the ricotta I added minced preserved lemon, cured black olives, and chives, plus black truffle salt and pepper. The buns were just decent store-bought squishy potato rolls. In a perfect world I would have made rolls–and ground the meat, for that matter–but it’s important not to let the perfect be the enemy of the damn good food in 20 minutes on a weeknight. I also cut a salad of extreme lusciousness, along with some asparagus. The buns got a light toasting, then a slather with good mustard, and then burgers were assembled once the meat was cooked. I also included a small squeeze of ketchup under the cheese for some tomatoey umami. There are so many ways these simple ingredients could be combined, and this was surely not the platonic ideal of lamb and sympathetic flavors. But it’s hard to overstate how well it worked. The lamb flavor remained central, with all the other complex flavors swirling around it like some sort of diaphanous evening gown covered in big splotches of condiments.
The salad was perfect; it’s that magical time of year when we get to eat big bowls of sexy, squeaky leaves every day. The beverage pairing was absolutely spot on: a 2010 Olivier Cousin “Anjou Pur Breton” Cab Franc. A natural winemaker’s natural winemaker, Cousin farms biodynamically, adds no sulfur, and has exceptional land. The result is both quaffable and funky, with that skunky homebrew whiff entwined with garlands of tart and jammy fruit. Naughty and nice, it cavorted admirably with this haute junk food.