The Lamb Burger and Partially Fulfilled Desires

Lamb Burger (Denver)

There’s money in ground.

Those were Frank Reese’s parting words to me at the 2012 American Livestock Breeds Conservancy’s annual convention in North Carolina. Hailed as the father of heritage meats, I was once skeptical of his advice; since then, I have become a believer. As immensely proud as I am of the quality of our steaks and roasts, no where is the difference between conventional and heritage meat more pronounced than in its ground. In fact, ground has become our best-selling item. I have a theory as to why this is the case, a theory collaborated by other butchers.

As the theory goes, meat flavor is concentrated in the tougher muscles, muscles too chewy to turn into steaks or chops. Those are the parts of an animal that are turned into ground for burgers (they are also well-suited for pot roasts, cooked “low and slow”, or for steaks prepared sous vide; these methods ensure tender meat with optimal flavor from what would otherwise be courser cuts).

As a delegate to the Slow Meats symposium in Denver last month, a chef and butcher attending the event raved about a lamb burger being served up near Denver’s Larimer Square (so good, in fact, he returned the next day for the same dish–something he never does). Until discovering heritage lamb, I was not much a fan of America’s most under-rated meat. But the lamb burger I had at Rioja Restaurant was arguably the best lunch I’ve had in a quarter century (that is to say, my whole life). Served on a house-made pizza bun with chipotle aioli and mozzarella cheese, it’s everything you might expect from a restaurant that houses a James Beard Foundation award-winning chef. That was the lamb burger I set out to re-create tonight with a shipment of Cheviot lamb, newly arrived from Dundonald Highlands.

Selecting a bun from Kingma’s Market that closely approximated Rioja’s bun, I made a chipotle mayonnaise and grilled up lamb burgers for a friend and myself. Applying the chipotle mayonnaise only to the first couple of bites, it was forgotten for the remainder of the burger (the inherit flavor beggared no such additions). My friend–a beefaphile never before having tried lamb meat–was superlative in his accolades, preferring its flavor to even that of beef. In the final analysis, the summer barbeque of lamb burgers left us wanting more though. No more was to be had. But, you know, there’s a sweet satisfaction in partially fulfilled desires.

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