July 1, 2013
I was so honored to be a judge for the Sutter Home Build a Better Burger Contest held at the Sutter Home Winery a few weeks ago! The $100,00 grand prize winner was this gorgeous 7 Train Carmelized Green Curry Burger created by Erin Evenson from Brooklyn, NY. Her winning burger features beef patties mixed with pancetta fat and basted in green curry glaze, crispy watercress salad, and fried pancetta, all sandwiched between toasted bun halves that get spread with minted basil aioli and dipped in chopped roasted cashews. Now, that’s one delicious mouthful. Why is it called 7 Train you ask? Well, I was lucky enough to interview Erin and you can read all about her inspiration for this recipe in a minute.
Erin and my fellow judges (from left to right), Kevin Coleman (Weber’s Grill Master), Jen Beckman (last year’s winner), Erin Evenson, BBQ God Steven Raichlen and Sutter Home Build a Better Burger head judge and prolific cookbook author James McNair.
Here’s my interview with the charming Erin Evenson:
Katie: What was your inspiration for creating this burger?
Erin: I grew up eating and loving watercress and my family to used to forage for watercress. I never thought watercress could get any better than that. When I moved to NYC 10 years ago, I’d go exploring in every borough. The number 7 subway train to the neighborhood of Woodside in Queens is better known in my Brooklyn apartment as “The Crispy Watercress Express.” The best salad I have ever had resides there at a Thai restaurant called SriPraPhai which combines peppery battered and fried watercress, a hot tangy dressing, and roasted cashews. This is my tribute to this culinary wonder on a bun, with a sweet and spicy green-curry glaze, a little nugget of salty pancetta, creamy minted basil aioli, the crunch of roasted cashews, and a tangle of that beautiful, mythical watercress salad.
Katie: Did your boyfriend try many versions of the burger?
Erin: Oh yes, we would try to decide what to have for dinner and he would say, “why don’t we try that burger you’re thinking of making for the contest?” I’d try different versions and he was happy to get whatever ingredient I needed. Soon, I realized I was onto something. In the winter months, we had to cook inside as cooking on a grill is frowned upon in NYC. Eventually everything started coming together. I’m a huge lover of vinegar and he’d help me to tone it down. The most important ingredient is a fair and honest taste tester which he turned out to be.
Katie: How did you first hear about the Sutter Home Build a Better Burger Contest?
Erin: I’m pretty sure it was in 2007. I had seen the Build a Better Burger contest on TV. I’m not a very competitive person and had never entered a contest before. A few months before, my father had died suddenly. He had been working on building his and my mother’s dream house in Colorado. I realized we didn’t have enough money to finish building the house and I had a brainstorm to enter the contest in hopes of making extra money for the house. Once I entered though, I was so excited about cooking for others that the idea of winning a prize completely dissipated. Being there and cooking there was a once in a lifetime experience and I got to meet so many amazing people and opened my eyes to cooking competitively. I really wanted to go back and I magically I was able to.
Katie: What is the first meal you ever cooked on your own?
Erin: I grew up eating a lot of Scandinavian food. My dad’s family was Norwegian and my mom’s family is Swedish. One of the first meals I can remember is Swedish meatballs. It’s a great thing to hand off to a kid. Pretty soon, I became the meatball maker in the family. I was really lucky because both of my parents were great cooks and didn’t mind if we made messes and weren’t afraid of us cooking on the stove. So, my first memory of cooking a meal is Swedish meatballs with Lingonberries.
Katie: What ingredient in your kitchen are you most willing to splurge on?
Erin: I know it sounds like cliche, but extra virgin olive oil is one of those things that can make or break a dish. I’m almost a vinegar hoarder too. Sometimes I need to sneak it in my jacket because my boyfriend will say, “Why are you buying more vinegar?!”
Katie: What the best cooking advice you’ve ever received?
Erin: To not be afraid. If you’re not afraid, you can actually sometimes come up with something you didn’t think you were capable of doing. Also, sometimes when things don’t turn out it can become one of those great kitchen disaster stories you tell for years. Kitchen disaster stories are one of those things no one wants to talk about but everyone has them. Sometimes after 6 or 7 seven kitchen disasters this miracle happens that becomes your signature dish. That would never happen if you were fearful so I say, just go in there and don’t be afraid!
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
/3 cup low-sodium soy sauce
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 pancetta
CRISPY 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