March 26 2016

Dry to the Bone? Never! Tempting Turkey Burgers.

I was a vegetarian for eleven years. It started in an emergency room when a doctor came in with an x-ray and said the good news was my wrist was fine.  The other news?  At 5’0 feet small, I had reached my maximum height. My parents had said I could give up meat when I was done growing.  They were confident they could rely on the time-tested, “some people grow through college.” They were not pleased when I threw both tiny arms up and yelled, “Vegetarian!”

Vegetarianism ended eleven years later with a hot dog outside Grand Central Station.  I wanted the hot dog, so I had it. It was that simple. When I began, I thought I didn’t like meat.  For me, it was never about anything else.  So I when I wanted meat again, I walked up to a cart, asked for a hot dog with ketchup, and I ate it. I wished it were a porterhouse. But my decade of vegetarianism went down with a hot dog.

In culinary school, where they asked us to try everything we made, I discovered the problem had never been that I didn’t like meat.   Rather, I didn’t like the way a lot of meat it cooked. I can’t stand dry meat. I find it unpalatable. I am not a fussy eater – I once tried cricket. But I just can’t do dry meat. When meat is cooked quickly, over high heat or the preparation is rushed, it can get dry. The other way meat can be dry is when you take away the fat.

Have you ever sat down to a chicken breast that sliced thinly enough might have doubled a paper? Or picked up a turkey burger that if crumbled could have been used as styrofoam packing peanuts? Perhaps you have sliced into pork tenderloin that is less than tender and might have been sliced up and turned into coasters? All three of these cuts are already low in fat, and it’s common to cook them over high heat.  Many recipes don’t call for a lot of extra fat. Neither do mine.  I cook them with little or no fat. But I keep the meat very moist. The solution is simple. I add liquid.

This is not a high-wire culinary act. Keeping lean meat moist without fat is not creating a Christmas croquembouche or like mastering meticulous macaroons or the labor or love of lasagna with hand-rolled noodles. It’s about three things: timing, attention and cooking liquid. Simply put, stand by the stove, don’t text and cook and have a bottle of wine handy.

Screenshot 2016-03-26 14.30.23

photo sourced courtesy of K. Moffett

Let’s start by tackling turkey. This lean protein leaves me feeling nourished and balanced. Taking out the fat and pouring on the liquid is not going to set off your smoke alarm; are you ready?

First, you do not have to use wine. I do. It deglazes the pan nicely. I do recommend cooking wine. But there are other options.   You can use stock, water or apple cider.  Now, let’s talk turkey.

photo sourced courtesy of K. Moffett

photo sourced courtesy of K. Moffett

For turkey burgers, there is a second liquid that really helps: white Worcestershire sauce or what’s now sold as Lea and Perrins Marinade for Chicken. It’s a little hard to find. I encourage you to track a bottle down.  It will change your turkey burgers, turkey meatballs and your turkey meatloaf. It is a substitute that doesn’t add lots of calories or fat. It’s amazing stuff.

I’m a big advocate of skipping the bun. You’ve just taken a lot of care to cut the calories and fat and these recipes are full flavor and low carb. Two of the recipes use a wrap. I suggest lettuce as a wrap in place of a bun. Burgers without buns are healthy, balanced burgers, and if there is full flavor profile in play to please your plate, you won’t be thinking of bland bread. But if a burger isn’t a burger without bread, I suggest you try two ultra thin slices lightly toasted or else a 100-calorie English muffin.

The Base:
1 Serving, Double, Triple, etc. As Needed
4-5 Ounces of Lean Ground Turkey
2 Tablespoons of “White Worscheshire”/Lea and Perrins Chicken Marinade or more to taste
1-2 cups cooking wine/1-2 cups chicken stock
Non-stick high-heat cooking spray

Mix ground turkey, Lea and Perrins Marinade, salt and pepper to form patties. Spray a pan with cooking spray. Add patty to pan. As soon as the pan is hot and cooking spray is faint, begin to add cooking liquid. Every time the pan becomes dry and liquid has been absorbed by the meat, add a little bit more cooking liquid to the pan. Repeat until the burger is cooked. Cooking time varies with stove and how high the heat is, about 5-7 minutes on a side or when the internal temperature registers 165 and the center is no longer pink.


Now you know how to make a moist and delicious turkey burger. Let’s look at some heathy and yummy recipes.

photo sourced courtesy of K. Moffett

photo sourced courtesy of K. Moffett

Barbeque Turkey Burgers with Coleslaw: *
Serves 2
1 Recipe Turkey Burgers, doubled
1 tablespoon plus ¾ teaspoon low sugar ketchup
2 teaspoons soy sauce
½ garlic clove minced
¼ heaping teaspoon chili powder
1 pinch cumin
1 dash hot sauce
¼ small onion finely minced
2 ½ tablespoons panko (optional)

Whisk ketchup, soy sauce, garlic, chili powder, cumin and hot sauce together. Combine sauce with onions, turkey and panko if using. Cook turkey burger as usual.

*The next recipe offers a way to use the rest of the ground turkey, coleslaw and calls for more barbecue sauce, so if you’re planning on using up that turkey and coleslaw you make want to make extra barbeque sauce the first time around. The second recipe has the suggested proportions.

Yummy Yogurt Coleslaw:
2 Servings
2 tablespoons Greek yogurt
1 ½ teaspoons low-fat or fat free mayonnaise
1 teaspoons Dijon mustard
2 teaspoons apple cider vinegar
1 teaspoons Truvia or Splenda
¼ teaspoon celery seed (optional)
½ cup shredded red cabbage*
½ cup shredded green cabbage*
1/3 large carrot, shredded or grated coarse
¼ small red onion, sliced thin
Salt and pepper to taste

*Making this in small portions, if you do not get a preshredded mixed bag, you may want to opt for simply green cabbage.

Whisk yogurt, mayonnaise, mustard, vinegar and sugar-substitute of your choice together. Shred cabbage, grate carrots, slice onions toss together with celery seeds. Just before serving toss with yogurt dressing. Season with salt and pepper.

Barbeque Turkey Meatball “Subs”:
You’ve made the coleslaw and the base, you have the ground turkey so why not try it another way? The method is the same. Just don’t overcrowd the pan when cooking the meatballs.

BBQ Turkey Meatballs
1 Base Recipe BBQ Turkey Burgers
+ 1 tablespoons skim milk, 2 if using panko
+ 1/2 egg, lightly beaten (best visual approximation of 1/2)
+ 1-2 tablespoons panko (optional, recommended for the meatballs)
1 Serving Yummy Yogurt Coleslaw
1-2 slices tomato
1 low carb wrap

Additional BBQ Sauce: (adjust if you like a lot of sauce on the side)
2 tablespoons low sugar ketchup
1 tablespoon low sodium soy sauce
1 garlic clove minced — optional: mashed to a paste and mixed with salt
1/2 tsp chili powder
1/8 tsp ground cumin
1/8 tsp Tabasco

Make the meatballs with the same method you used to make the turkey burgers, being careful not to over crowd the pan. Assemble the sandwich with coleslaw, tomatoes and additional BBQ sauce.

photo sourced courtesy K. Moffett

photo sourced courtesy K. Moffett

Southwestern Turkey Burgers
Serves 1
1 Recipe Turkey Burgers
2 tablespoons kidney beans
½ teaspoon chili powder
pinch of salt
pinch of cumin
½ tablespoons fresh cilantro, finely chopped (optional)
3 tablespoons fresh salsa
2 tablespoons fresh guacamole

Mix turkey burger base with kidney beans, chili powder, salt, cumin and cilantro. Cook turkey burgers.

These recipes are a great start. Get creative on your own now that you know how to make healthy, yummy turkey burgers!

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