Spicy turkey burgers: A little hot but not haute

by Terry B on July 23, 2008

Chili powder, cumin, fresh jalapeño peppers and cilantro liven up quick and easy turkey burgers. Recipe below.

When did burgers get all uptown? The New York Times reports on this growing trend “In Paris, Burgers Turn Chic.” Beef patties on sesame seed buns are even turning up in three-star restaurants there. The attraction? The Times quotes Paris restaurant consultant Hélène Samuel, who sums it up thus: “It has the taste of the forbidden, the illicit—the subversive, even. Eating with your hands, it’s pure regression. Naturally, everyone wants it.” No, Hélène, tearing apart an entire roast chicken with your bare hands and eating it is pure regression. Eating a burger with your hands is just how you do it. But if you read some of the amazing things French chefs are doing with the lowly hamburger, you’ll be as inclined to forgive Ms. Samuel’s primal enthusiasm as I was.

I’m not so inclined to forgive the excesses reported by Yahoo! Travel in “America’s Most Expensive Burgers.” Okay, so $17.50 for a caviarburger at Serendipity 3 in New York City sounds reasonable enough. And $27 for a Daniel Boulud hamburger stuffed with short ribs, foie gras and truffles isn’t out of the question [sounds pretty good, in fact]. But no amount of shaved black truffles makes a hamburger worth $150. And a couple of restaurants, both in Las Vegas, even pair burgers with rare bottles of French wine and charge $5,000 and $6,000 respectively. Ordering these is a sure sign you’ve got too much money and not enough brains.

But on a simpler, less astronomical level, we like burgers a lot. They’re a quick and easy, totally satisfying weeknight meal. And if eating them with your hands isn’t exactly pure regression, there’s undeniably a nice, relaxed informality to it. Generally, we use ground sirloin for its low fat content. I know most chefs advocate using fattier ground beef for its juiciness, but as long as you cook ground sirloin on the medium rare side, it remains plenty juicy.

Lately, though, we’ve been occasionally enjoying the lighter taste of turkey burgers. Unlike whole roasted turkeys with their distinctive robust flavor, ground turkey presents kind of a blank canvas not unlike chicken breasts. Here, jalapeño peppers, onion, fresh cilantro, chili powder and cumin create a lively, satisfying burger with just a little heat

I sautéed these burgers, which seemed quicker and easier than grilling. You can grill them if you prefer.

Spicy Turkey Burgers
Serves 3 to 4

canola oil
1 jalapeño pepper, finely chopped [see Kitchen Notes]
1/2 small onion, finely chopped, about 1/2 cup
1 pound ground turkey [see Kitchen Notes]
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
1 teaspoon cumin
2 teaspoons chili powder [see Kitchen Notes]
1/2 teaspoon salt

buns, lettuce, purchased salsa

Sauté jalapeño pepper and onion with a little canola oil in a medium-sized nonstick skillet over medium flame, stirring often, for 3 to 4 minutes. Transfer to bowl to cool slightly.

In a large bowl, gently mix turkey. cilantro, cumin, chili powder, salt and cooled pepper/onion mixture with your hands until just combined. Form into 3 or 4 patties [I did 3—if you do 4, they will be smallish].

Heat a large nonstick skillet over a medium-high flame. Add a healthy glug of canola oil and sauté turkey patties for 3 minutes on each side; they should be nicely browned. Reduce heat to medium and cook until just cooked through, about an additional 4 minutes.

Serve on buns with lettuce and a dollop of purchased salsa, if desired.

Kitchen Notes

Adjusting jalapeño and chili powder heat. The heat of peppers comes from the seeds and whitish ribs inside. By removing all or some of these, you can regulate peppers’ heat. For these turkey burgers, I removed about half the seeds and ribs. Combined with the chili powder and cumin, this gave the burgers what I like to call a little authority. Honestly, though, had I used the entire pepper, they would have still been within our comfort zone. But know your own heat tolerance and adjust accordingly. With the chili powder, if you buy any kind other than the ubiquitous supermarket jars, you can often select a level of heat that’s right for you. Chili powder delivers lots of flavor along with its heat, so rather than reducing the amount of chili powder in the recipe, opt for a milder blend, if possible.

Buying ground turkey. Ground turkey is increasingly available prepackaged in supermarkets. If you’re looking to reduce the fat in your diet, be sure to check the fat content on the packaging. Some of it is 93% lean, which actually means it’s about the same as ground beef sirloin. You can also sometimes find ground turkey breast meat, which is 99% lean. That’s what I used here.

Editorial Note

This post is being written at a cruising altitude of 32,000 feet, as we fly to Albuquerque and Santa Fe, New Mexico, for a brief vacation. No particular reason you need to know that—I just liked typing it.

Also this week in Blue Kitchen, 8/23/2008

Dancing like crazy can help keep you sane. Seriously. A scientific study shows dancing can reduce the risk of dementia in ways that other exercise can’t. And a YouTube video shows one man truly dancing like crazy, all around the world, at WTF? Random food for thought.

So dance to this. A mini-Blue Kitchen Dance Party, also courtesy of YouTube. Turn up the sound and bust a move, at What’s on the kitchen boombox?


{ 24 comments… read them below or add one }

Mary Coleman July 23, 2008 at 12:38 pm

Fabulous!! I love turkey burgers and this recipe rocks, Terry!!
Great photo, by the way!

O'Maolchathaigh July 23, 2008 at 4:16 pm

OK, since you’re in the area (Albuquerque-Santa Fe) try our version: an Albuturkey (or Albuquerque turkey), made with green chile. [This may not be good timing to be promoting something with jalapeños, considering the news reports linking those to the recent food poisonings.] :-)
Anyway, I can’t imagine a turkey sandwich without green chile anymore.

O'Maolchathaigh July 23, 2008 at 4:20 pm

BTW, I’m told the best Albuquerque Turkey sandwich in town is served at the Embassy Suites. – Terry M.

Haley July 23, 2008 at 4:47 pm

We’d like to invite you to participate in our July berry recipe contest. All competitors will be placed on our blogroll, and the winner will receive a fun prize! Please email me, [email protected], if you’re interested. Feel free to check out our blog for more details: http://blog.keyingredient.com/2008/06/06/key-ingredient-cooks-kitchen-recipe-contest/

grace July 23, 2008 at 5:28 pm

i’ve gotten to the point where i actually prefer a turkey burger over a beef burger. this particular recipe sounds incredible–for me, the spicier the better.

Whitney July 23, 2008 at 7:50 pm

I see you know the secret to a great burger- kaiser rolls. Yummy!

EAT! July 23, 2008 at 8:54 pm

Like the rest of the world, I am on a burger kick too. Mini big macs, turkey sliders, asian turkey burgers. I can now add yours to my list of burgers to try. The Husband will love it’s spiciness. He thanks you in advance.

Naama July 23, 2008 at 10:07 pm

I`v never tried to make turkey burger, and your burger looks really good. it sounds like it is pack with flavors! the roll loos really good as well

Daniel July 23, 2008 at 11:29 pm

Okay, I’ll give these a try, but would have to watch the heat (spice) level. Thanks for the post from us at http://www.bentpage.wordpress.com.

Lydia (The Perfect Pantry) July 24, 2008 at 1:53 am

I think it’s tricky to make a turkey burger that’s not too dry. The assertive flavors of chiles (and yes, green chiles would be great!), onion, cilantro sound wonderful, and the onion will add a bit of needed moisture. I might mix an egg in there, to see what happens.

Donald July 24, 2008 at 2:03 am

OK. Well Terry, I need to have beef in my burgers. I agree with you totally, but I am a beef man. I haven’t been able to do turkey bacon nor anything turkey ‘cept smoked turkey.

These look good. My wife will probably love them. I made pork burgers a while ago and I hated them; she loved them. I think I am of a state of mind that may need a reform.

Nicely done.

Terry B July 24, 2008 at 4:33 am

Thanks, Mary!

O’Maolchathaigh—We’ve been having red and/or green chile with almost every meal since we arrived. Sometimes both. I understand that if that’s what you want, when you’re asked “red or green” you just say, “Christmas.”

Haley—I may see if I can think of anything to submit. But I must admit, our favorite recipe for berries is eating entire cartons over the sink, fresh from the store, as we fend off anyone else showing any interest in them.

grace—Oh, I’m still more than happy to devour a beef burger, but turkey is being a nice change of pace.

Whitney—And these rolls were plenty tasty, with all the poppy seeds.

EAT!—Asian burgers was a direction I’d thought about going at first. Versatility is a definite plus with ground turkey.

Naama and Daniel—Thanks for stopping by!

Lydia—I hadn’t thought about egg! But now that you mention it, my grandmother used to add egg and torn up bread to her hamburgers, the former to bind them, I think, and the latter to stretch her meat budget.

Donald—Yeah, we’re beef fans too. Turkey will never replace beef burgers for us—it just makes a nice change. Do try these. If it helps, don’t think of them as burgers, but as something completely different. I remember making a soup once that was called cassoulet soup. Cassoulet it was not, but it was a good soup. When I told Marion what it was called after we ate it, she said she was glad she hadn’t heard beforehand. It was a good soup, but the name would have totally overpromised on what was delivered.

canarygirl July 24, 2008 at 8:02 am

Ooooooh! This one is right up my alley. The spicier the better, and if it’s poultry, then we have a deal. This one’s going on next week’s grocery list.

Erin July 24, 2008 at 6:58 pm

I don’t eat beef, so I’ve been enjoying turkey burgers for a long time. I’m always open to a new recipe, so I’ll try yours soon. We just got a new grill, so we’ve been grilling non-stop at my house!

My husband made some fantastic Asian pork burgers a few nights ago, from Bon Appetit’s July grilling issue. They were wrapped in lettuce leaves, with great sauce and veggies on top. You should try them out!

Kevin July 27, 2008 at 1:52 am

That burger looks and sounds tasty!

Mike of Mike's Table July 28, 2008 at 3:16 am

My mom used to make turkey burgers that were very loosely similar to this, and I thought they were weird when I was young, but they sure did taste great! I also really like the color you got on your burger

katie July 28, 2008 at 7:39 pm

So, does the $6,000 burger come with rare baby lettuce and an heirloom tomato?
Before we moved to Europe, we discovered that we couldn’t move our wine… We may have had a $50 (NOT $5,000) burger that summer…
I wish we could get ground turkey… I used to like playing with flavored burgers… And I know I’d like this one!

Terry B July 29, 2008 at 2:53 am

canarygirl—Let me know how it goes!

Erin—Those Asian pork burgers do sound good. Thanks! Interesting to me that you don’t eat beef, but you eat pork.

Thanks for stopping by, Kevin!

Mike—I love the story of your mom’s “weird” turkey burgers! Marion and I think the reddish color of these burgers came from the chili powder.

katie—The kicker is that the $6,000 burger is actually a $6 Carl Jr.’s burger. The wine is what justifies the outrageous cost.

canarygirl July 29, 2008 at 6:58 am

Hi Terry! I made an adapted version of these yesterday! OMFG were they ever goooooood! Look for a post linking back to you today or tomorrow. Thanks for the inspiration! 😀

Terry B July 29, 2008 at 3:20 pm

canarygirl—Can’t wait to see what you did with this!

Kristen July 30, 2008 at 7:05 pm

That is one incredible looking burger. Off to dance!

nina August 9, 2008 at 5:12 am

I don’t think I have seen a better looking burger……and it is turkey! Wow. well done.
My first visit and I have bookmarked your site. Amazing stuff happening here!

diva August 13, 2008 at 5:15 am

AAH, there’s the kind of burger i’ve been looking for all my life. looks fantastic!

Michael Lange, Optometrist May 26, 2011 at 3:14 pm

I love a recipe that has some kick to it!! Those burgers really do look amazing. I know what I’ll be making this weekend.

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