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All you really need is the the grill

Many Southern Nevadans use their backyard grills all year long, although winter grillers seem to be mostly hardy types who don’t mind dodging a chill blast of wind as they literally try to keep the home fires burning. For the rest of us, though, Labor Day is as much the de facto end of the grilling season as it is the traditional one.

May as well enjoy it while you can, then. During this last-blast-of-summer long weekend, and the dwindling but still-temperate weekends that follow, it’s not too late to bump up your grilling game. And you can start with the traditional — and generally boring — burger. For inspiration, we asked a couple of local chefs for ideas, and the different tacks they took emphasize the versatility of the lowly patty.

Hubert Keller, a classically trained French chef who thoroughly researched burger culture before launching his Burger Bar at Mandalay Place in 2004 and who has since opened Burger Bars in St. Louis and San Francisco, said it’s important to think not just outside the bun, but way beyond it.

“As a general idea, the way to make a better burger is to think a little bit beyond the classic cheese and bacon and not to be afraid to be a little adventurous,” he said.

Consider surf and turf, Keller said; if it works with a steak, it can work with a burger, too. He suggests pairing a beef or even a chicken burger with grilled prawns or maybe a little lobster.

“Some shellfish makes it a little more exciting,” he said. “It’s not something we normally eat together. In a normal case it does work together, so there’s no reason it won’t work in a burger.”

Keep in mind, he said, ingredients, including spices, you use when preparing a piece of meat or fish.

“Things we usually don’t mix in general — simple things like spinach, sauteed mushrooms, a great portabello,” he said. “Just marinate a portabello cap with olive oil and a little garlic, grill it at the same time you grill the burger and put it on top. With spinach, things like that that don’t make it uncomfortable when you bite into a burger.”

Or mix other foods into the ground meat, he said, maybe prepping them the day before to save time when you’re ready to grill. He suggests thinly slicing shallots and cooking them in a skillet with a little fresh thyme and some red wine, simmering until the shallots absorb the wine.

“When it’s almost dry, let it cool off and mix that into the meat,” he said. “Chop mushrooms that you’re grilling the day before and mix that into the meat.”

Consider grilling fruit such as pears, apples or pineapple and mix it into the meat.

“Those also are things that really work well together,” he said.

Keller said to remember you don’t have to make the burger out of beef or even one of the more common alternatives. He likes using rock shrimp.

“When it’s really fresh and you cook it, it reminds me of a langoustine,” he said. “It has that sweetness, the same texture; it’s delicious.”

Not to mention generally inexpensive, because it’s so underrated, he said. Keller said to coarsely chop rock shrimp in a food processor, add some salt and a little pepper, a little lemon juice and some mustard seed.

“As soon as it’s a little chopped up, you can shape it without adding any flour or eggs,” he said; mix together with moistened fingers. He suggests cooking the rock shrimp burgers in a cast-iron skillet on the grill, since they’re a little delicate. Top with some cheese and fresh tomato.

Peter Sherlock, director of culinary operations for Station Casinos, took a different approach.

“It’s easy to produce stick-to-your-ribs burgers if when you bite into it, there’s a surprise in the middle,” Sherlock said. “Especially if you have kids, it’s kind of fun.”

And Sherlock’s ideas are as numerous as they are creative:

Dice some ham and Swiss cheese, combine, form the burger around it and grill.

Make macaroni and cheese, let it cool, take a small amount and form a patty in your hand, then fold the ground beef into a larger patty around it.

Cook some taco-seasoned meat, mix with black beans, fresh salsa, some cilantro and a bit of cumin, form into a sort of patty and fold the meat around it.

For an Italian-flavored, caprese-style burger, finely cut some cherry tomatoes, mix with diced or shredded mozzarella and form the meat around it.

For an Irish version, dice bacon, render it and deglaze the pan with Guinness stout. “Let it harden in the fridge, then put it inside of the burger,” Sherlock said. “You get the smokiness and richness and the sugar of the Guinness inside.”

That sounds pretty grown-up, but for another “grown-up burger,” saute leaf spinach with nutmeg and salt, crumble some goat cheese into it, make a patty of the mixture and form the meat around it.

“You’ll have that beautiful char from the grill,” he said.

Or shred some Gouda cheese, mix it with a favorite barbecue sauce and form the burger around it.

“As you cook it you’ll get the cheese to melt inside, and the barbecue sauce will complement it with that sweet smoke flavor,” Sherlock said.

And, he said, don’t neglect the bun. After cutting a brioche, whole-wheat or potato bun in half, coat the inside with clarified butter, lightly painted on with a basting brush, and then grill it butter-side-down.

“So the moisture from the butter is going to steam, and the steam is going to rise in the bun, and at the same time it’s going to caramelize the sugar in the starch so you get that crunch and you get that softness inside the bun,” he said.

But just in case you’re not sufficiently inspired, we offer some out-of-the-box burger recipes.

GRILLED BURGERS WITH MEYER LEMON BUTTER

6 tablespoons (¾ stick) butter, room temperature

1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh tarragon

1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh basil

1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh Italian parsley

1 teaspoon finely grated Meyer lemon peel or regular lemon peel

1 teaspoon fresh Meyer lemon juice or regular lemon juice

1½ pounds ground beef (15 percent fat)

Vegetable oil (for brushing)

4 sesame seed hamburger buns

1 large tomato, thinly sliced crosswise

1 bunch arugula

Mix butter, all herbs, lemon peel and lemon juice in small bowl. Season with salt and pepper. Measure 1/3 cup herb butter; transfer to sheet of plastic wrap (reserve remaining butter in bowl for spreading on buns). Using plastic wrap as aid, form butter into 3-inch-long log; wrap plastic around to seal. Freeze until firm, about 30 minutes. Cut crosswise into 4 rounds. Flatten rounds into 2-inch-diameter disks.

Divide meat into 4 equal pieces. Using damp hands, form each piece into ball. Using thumb, make deep wide indentation in center of each ball. Press 1 lemon-butter round flatly into indentation, then press meat securely over butter to enclose. Flatten each burger into 3½-inch-diameter patty, leaving butter rounds horizontally in center of each burger. (Herb butter and burgers can be made 6 hours ahead.)

Place burgers on baking sheet, cover with plastic wrap and chill. Cover and chill herb butter in bowl; bring to room temperature before continuing.

Brush barbecue rack with oil. Prepare barbecue (high heat). Sprinkle both sides of burgers with salt and pepper. Spread remaining butter over cut sides of buns. Grill burgers until cooked through, 4 to 6 minutes per side. Grill buns until slightly charred, about 1 minute per side.

Place burgers on bun bottoms. Top with tomato slices and arugula leaves. Cover with bun tops and serve.

Serves 4.

— Recipe from Bon Appetit

TAPENADE-FILLED BURGERS

2¼ pounds lean ground beef chuck

9 tablespoons black or green olive tapenade (sometimes labeled “olive paste”)

¾ teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon black pepper

6 grilled or toasted hamburger buns or kaiser rolls

Mayonnaise

Coarse-grain mustard

Thinly sliced red onion

Thinly sliced sweet gherkin pickles

About 2 cups baby romaine

Divide beef into six portions. Divide one portion in half, then flatten one half into a 4-inch patty and form a ¼-inch rim around patty. Spread 1½ tablespoons of tapenade onto patty within rim. Flatten remaining half into a 4-inch patty, then lay on top of tapenade-covered half and pinch edges together to seal. Pat side to form a straight-sided edge and transfer to a large tray. Make five more tapenade patties in same manner and transfer to tray, then refrigerate patties, covered, until ready to grill.

Prepare grill for cooking over direct heat with medium-hot charcoal (moderately high heat for gas). Sprinkle patties on both sides with salt and pepper. Lightly oil grill rack, then grill patties (covered only if using a gas grill), turning over once, 3 minutes total for medium-rare. (Burgers will continue to cook slightly after being removed from grill.)

Spread mayonnaise and mustard on buns, then assemble burgers with onion, pickles and romaine.

Notes: Patties can be assembled up to 8 hours ahead and chilled, covered.

Serves 6.

— Recipe from Gourmet

CHERRY AND BRIE BURGERS WITH ROSEMARY AND GRILLED ONION

2 tablespoons coarse or fine bulgur wheat

1 cup finely chopped onion plus 1 medium onion sliced 1/3 inches thick

2 tablespoons olive oil (divided use)

1 large garlic clove, minced

1/3 cup mayonnaise

Zest of ½ lemon

2½ teaspoons chopped fresh rosemary leaves (divided use)

¾ teaspoon pepper (divided use)

1 cup dried tart cherries

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1 pound lean ground beef or bison (90 percent lean)

4 ounces brie cheese, thinly sliced to fit burgers

4 sesame hamburger buns, split

Lettuce

Combine bulgur and 1/3 cup boiling water in a 2-cup glass measure. Let stand 10 minutes, then microwave until liquid is absorbed, 2 to 3 minutes. Let cool.

Meanwhile, cook chopped onion in 1 tablespoon oil in a large frying pan over medium heat until deep golden, stirring often, 10 to 15 minutes. Stir in garlic, scrape into a large bowl and let cool. Brush sliced onion with remaining 1 tablespoon oil and set aside. In a bowl, combine mayonnaise, lemon zest, ½ teaspoon rosemary and ¼ teaspoon pepper; chill.

Heat grill to medium (350 to 450 degrees). Whirl cherries in a food processor until they’re finely ground and form a ball. Add them to chopped onion with remaining 2 teaspoons rosemary and ½ teaspoon pepper, the salt and bulgur; blend well with your fingers. Add ground beef and mix gently but thoroughly. Shape into four patties, ½-inch thick.

Grill onion slices, turning occasionally, until well browned, 10 to 15 minutes. Grill burgers, turning once with a wide spatula, until they no longer stick to grate and grill marks appear, 10 to 12 minutes total. About 2 minutes before burgers are done, top them with brie and grill the buns. Spread buns with mayonnaise; add lettuce, burgers and onions.

Serves 4.

— Recipe from Sunset

AUSSIE BURGERS

¼ cup ketchup

¼ cup mayonnaise

1 teaspoon Asian chile paste such as sambal oelek

1¼ pounds ground beef chuck

4 kaiser rolls, split

4 pineapple rings

1 tablespoon vegetable oil, divided

4 large eggs

¾ cup drained sliced pickled beets

Prepare grill for direct-heat cooking over medium-hot charcoal (medium heat for gas).

Combine ketchup, mayonnaise and chile paste.

Mix beef with 1 teaspoon salt and ½ teaspoon pepper, then form into four (4¼-inch-diameter) patties.

Lightly toast rolls on grill.

Pat pineapple dry and brush with ½ tablespoon oil.

Oil grill rack, then grill pineapple and burgers, covered only if using a gas grill, turning once, until pineapple is tender and caramelized and burgers are medium-rare, about 4 minutes total.

Heat remaining ½ tablespoon oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat until hot, then fry eggs.

Spread chile mayonnaise on rolls, then assemble burgers with pineapple, beets, eggs, lettuce and tomato.

Serves 4.

— Recipe from Gourmet

Contact reporter Heidi Knapp Rinella at hrinella@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0474.

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