burger taste like? For Erin Evenson, who took home a giant check as the blue ribbon champ of Sutter Home's 2012 Build a Better Burger contest, it's cooked up from family memories and an ode to New York City's No. 7 train.
"This is my burger of a lifetime," the Brooklyn-based cook told Yahoo! Shine. "It kind of ties together my family [and] my love of New York City. When I finally put it all together I thought, 'That'll work.'"
Watch: The Most Creative Burger in America
Evenson, who grew up with parents who loved to forage for food, often ate watercress as a kid. "I always thought it was the absolute best watercress in the world until I moved to New York about 10 years ago. I went to a Thai restaurant in Woodside, Queens, and I had a fried crispy watercress salad there. And that just changed my mind entirely. 'OK, this is watercress.'" Evenson now jokingly calls the 7 train that runs to Queens "The Crispy Watercress Express."
Her winning burger recipe is a towering homage-with-a-twist to the food of Southeast Asia, made with crispy fried watercress, a sweet and spicy green-curry glaze, salty slices of pancetta, roasted cashews, and minted basil aioli. It didn't come together overnight. Evenson worked on the recipe for four to five hours a week for more than eight months. Her boyfriend was her informal judge and cheering section as she cooked her way through 12 different iterations of the recipe.
"I'll come up with an idea and I'll think, 'I wonder if this would work.' He'll be like, 'Do it. Prove it. Go make it.' He gives really great feedback," she said. The trial-and-error process was like playing Jenga, she explained. "I'll have two-thirds of it just the way I want it, and then I'll take one element too far or not far enough, and the whole thing just collapses again." Eventually she got it right down to the tiniest details, including where to put the roasted nuts and glaze.
Related: More Asian-Inspired Recipes
She took home the winning $100,000 prize on Saturday after a panel of judges picked her burger from more than 3,000 entries. "That was when it really settled in. I thought, 'I'm the person holding the giant check.'" She plans to use her winnings to take her mom, sister, and boyfriend on a special Thanksgiving trip. "After that it's all going to a fund to have a functioning apartment kitchen."
There's an intangible prize in addition to the money. "It's also like a real self-confidence thing," Erin said. Laid off from her job as a paralegal last fall, she hopes the prize will help launch a professional career in food. "I'm not always the most self-confident person, but with this, I'm pretty confident putting that on my resumé. 'Hey, hello, $100,000, that's me.' Now it's time to run with it and see where the dreams go from here."
The official winning recipe is a two-hour project perfect for a lazy summer afternoon, but Evenson shared shortcuts that cut the cooking time by more than half:
Use store-bought curry paste. "There are so many amazing commercially available green-curry pastes. If you just doctor a little bit with coconut milk and lime, you'll have a very similar glaze to the burger." Evenson loves Taste of Thai. "They're very inexpensive, so get a couple, test them, and see what works for you."
Skip the cashews. "Not everyone's a cashew person," Erin said. Peanuts make an excellent substitution. "Those can be bought precrushed, so that's a huge shortcut."
Use one less appliance. "You don't have to necessarily mess up your blender or your food processor to make the mayonnaise. You can just throw the basil, mint, garlic, and the commercial mayonnaise together and just whip it up."
Find out more about the Build a Better Burger Contest and see more finalists recipes.
7 Train Caramelized Green Curry Burgers with Crispy Watercress Salad, Roasted Cashews, and Minted Basil Aioli
Recipe by Erin Evenson
Makes 6 burgers
GREEN CURRY GLAZE
1 cup coarsely chopped fresh cilantro
3 tablespoons grated fresh ginger
2 jalapeño chiles, stemmed and coarsely chopped
2 fresh kaffir lime leaves
1 stalk lemongrass, outer layers discarded, bruised with the back of a chef’s knife and chopped
1/3 cup coconut milk
1/3 cup low-sodium soy sauce
3 tablespoons honey
2 tablespoons Asian toasted sesame oil
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
MINTED BASIL AIOLI
1 cup homemade or good-quality mayonnaise
3 cloves garlic
1/2 cup fresh basil leaves
1/2 cup fresh mint leaves
6 slices pancettaCRISPY WATERCRESS SALAD
3 1/2 cups canola oil
1 cup rice flour
1 cup chilled seltzer water
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 heads (bunches) young watercress, stem ends trimmed
3 shallots, thinly sliced
Zest and juice of 1 lime
1 tablespoon unseasoned rice vinegar
2 teaspoons low-sodium Thai fish sauce
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon Sriracha hot chile sauce
2 pounds ground chuck
Fat from cooking pancetta (above)
Vegetable oil, for brushing on the grill rack
6 French sandwich rolls, split
1 1/4 cups chopped roasted salted cashews
Heat a gas grill to medium-high.
To make the glaze, combine all of the ingredients in a blender and blend until completely pureed. Pass the mixture once through a sieve to remove any errant chunks, cover, and set aside.
To make the aioli, combine all of the ingredients in a food processor and process to a smooth paste. Transfer to a bowl, cover, and refrigerate until assembling the burgers.
Place a large, high-sided, cast-iron skillet on the grill rack. Add the pancetta and cook until crisp, 7 to 8 minutes. Transfer to paper towels to drain and pour the fat from the skillet into a large bowl; reserve.
To make the salad, return the skillet to the grill, add the canola oil, and heat until shimmering, about 325 degrees F. Combine the flour, seltzer water, baking powder, salt, and pepper in a large bowl and whisk to blend well. Add the watercress and stir to coat.
Add the shallots to the hot oil and fry until golden brown and crisp, 30 to 45 seconds. Transfer to paper towels to drain. Working in small batches, remove the watercress from the batter, allowing excess batter to drip back into the bowl, and fry until golden brown and crisp, 45 to 50 seconds. Transfer to paper towels to drain.
In a small bowl, whisk together the lime zest and juice, vinegar, fish sauce, sugar, and hot sauce until combined. Set aside.
To make the patties, add the chuck to the bowl containing the reserved pancetta fat and combine using your hands. Form the meat into 6 equal patties that are slightly larger in circumference than the buns.
Brush the grill rack with vegetable oil. Place the patties on the rack and cook for 4 to 5 minutes, or until juices begin emerging from the top of the patties. Baste the patties liberally with the glaze, turn, and douse the other side with the remaining glaze. Grill for 4 to 5 minutes longer (for medium-rare) or until desired doneness. Transfer the patties to a plate to rest until assembling the burgers.
Grill the rolls, cut side down, until they are toasted lightly. Place the cashews on a plate. Spread the cut sides of the rolls with the aioli and dip each roll top, aioli side down, into the cashews, pressing gently to make sure that the nuts adhere.
To assemble the burgers, combine the fried shallots and watercress in a large bowl and toss to combine. Drizzle the lime dressing over the mixture and toss again. Place a pancetta slice on each bottom bun, followed by a patty. Place a mound of the watercress salad atop each patty. Finally, add the cashew-crusted bun tops. Serve immediately.