What would Independence Day be without grilling, right? (Answer: It would still be Independence Day, but with worse food.) Well, my friend Elise and I were coming up with ideas for Fourth of July on her site, Simply Recipes, when we decided to do a traditional mushroom burger — you know, the one with lots of sauteed mushrooms, onions and Swiss cheese on top? You’ve seen it on the menu in pretty much every burger joint in America.
We sexed up our version with ground, dried porcini mixed into the burger meat. This made the burger even more of an umami bomb. Juicy, savory and super-mushroomy. I had to export this idea here, to Wild Game Land.
Turns out it was easy. Just use ground venison instead of beef, and use wild mushrooms. Holly and I had been morel mushroom hunting a few days before, so I had a few morels lying around. I know, poor me, right? And I had a few dried morels from last year that needed to be eaten. Again, I know you’re all weeping for me. So I decided to make a venison-morel burger, a riff off my normal go-to recipe for venison burgers.
I prefer my burgers grilled, so that’s how I cooked mine, but you can cook your meat any way you’d like. I also prefer my burgers without pretense; thus the Pabst Blue Ribbon in a can sitting behind the burger. Then I was informed that, due to about some odd wrinkle in the time-space continuum, Pabst has become associated with hipsters. Huh?! Damnit, this was a workingman’s beer I grew up with; there was a Pabst brewery near my house in Jersey growing up. I refuse to wear skinny jeans and talk endlessly about how I knew this obscure band waaay before you did while drinking my Pabst.
But I will continue to drink Pabst on hot days, with a hamburger. This burger, in fact. It’s everything you want in a mushroom burger, only wild.
venison and mushroom burgers
This is a wild game version of the classic mushroom burger you see in hamburger joints all over the country: A big ole’ meat patty, topped with grilled or sauteed onions and mushrooms, served with cheese, usually Swiss. Mustard is the traditional accompaniment here, but no babies will die if you use ketchup, too. What makes my version of a mushroom burger different — other than using venison and wild mushrooms — is that I add ground, dried mushrooms into the meat mixture to get a stronger mushroom flavor.
Use any wild or domestic mushrooms, and you don’t have to use the same one in the meat mix as you do in the saute. Dried porcini are the best, though, and they are available at many supermarkets, or you can buy them online through places like Earthy Delights. As for the fresh mushrooms, buttons are fine here, but use anything you’d want to eat with a burger: morels, porcini, wild agaricus, black trumpets, oyster mushrooms, etc — that “chef’s sampler” you can get in some markets is a good choice.
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 20 minutes
- 2 pounds ground venison
- 20 grams dried morels or other mushrooms, about 5/8 ounce or 3 tablespoons once ground
- 1 tablespoon dried thyme
- 1/2 teaspoon celery seed
- 12 ounces fresh morels or other mushrooms, chopped
- 1 medium onion, sliced thin into half-moons
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- Hamburger buns
- 6 slices of Swiss or Provolone cheese
- Grind the dried mushrooms to a powder in a coffee grinder. This may take a bit of doing, and if you have any big pieces left over you can use them for something else, or you can add them to the meat mix and let the meat sit in the fridge for several hours — the moisture from the meat will rehydrate the pieces and you won’t then be crunching on them in the burger.
- Mix into the meat the dried mushroom powder, celery seed and thyme. It doesn’t have to be uniformly mixed in. Shape the meat into patties. When you do this, don’t overwork your meat or your hamburgers will become tough and chewy. Crumbly is better than tough, to my mind. Also, press a little indentation into the center of each patty: This helps the patty keep its shape once cooked, because when meat cooks it tightens up and will turn into a ball shape if you don’t have that indentation.
- Get a large saute pan hot over high heat and add the mushrooms. Shake the pan frequently so they don’t all stick, and cook the mushrooms until they release their water, about 2 to 4 minutes. As soon as the water has mostly bubbled away, add the olive oil, some salt and the sliced onion and saute until everything has nicely browned, about 6 to 8 minutes. Turn off the heat and set aside.
- Salt your burgers and grill them (or cook them in any other way) to your liking. I like mine medium, so I grill over medium-high heat about 4 to 6 minutes per side. I only flip my burgers once. When you flip the burger, let it cook about halfway on the second side before slapping a slice of cheese on the patty. Close the grill lid to let it melt.
- To build the burger, toast the buns if you want first. Paint with mustard or whatever, then lay down a patty. Top with the mushrooms and onions and have at it! Serve with a salad and a cold beer.