Monday, August 10, 2009

Breton and Burgers

This one gets filed in the annals of great food and wine pairings, with cross indexed references under simplicity and beauty. For two consecutive nights this weekend, I enjoyed one of the simplest and most classic of American meals – the hamburger. In this case it was lamb burgers. I’ve found through past experiences that the ground lamb at my local farmers market is intensely flavorful but also pretty high in fat content. Trying to divide it into patties of dainty proportion just doesn’t work, as what you’re left with after the fat renders off on the grill is far too small and far too easily overcooked. So two juicy half-pounder lamb burgers it was.

On Friday, I experimented a little with condiments, adding mustard and cheese only to find them both unnecessary, even distracting from the purity of the lamb’s flavor. Saturday night I dialed it in…. Slice a ciabatta roll (I didn’t bother to toast it but it certainly couldn’t hurt) and drizzle on some good olive oil, which marries much more harmoniously with the lamb than does mustard or ketchup. On went a single slice of ripe, heirloom tomato. And the finishing touch – a few of the ramps I pickled earlier in the year. They’re damn tasty on their own (if I do say so) but are even better atop burgers, their sweet pungency working exceptionally well with the meaty rusticity of lamb.

A super simple meal, extremely tasty and even better with:

Chinon “Les Picasses,” Catherine et Pierre Breton 2004
$25. 12.5% alcohol. Cork. Importer: Louis/Dressner, New York, NY.
No detailed tasting notes for you today. This was showing so well that I just had to sit down, settle in and enjoy. Loaded with layers of black fruit and minerality, richly flavored yet lithe, juicy and graceful all at once. If, as its label suggests, “Les Picasses” is indeed aged in barriques, the wine sure doesn’t show any woodiness – just sheer succulence. And as good as it was solo it was even better when enjoyed along with the lamb burger double header. More than once my wife asked if everything was okay and I had to explain that, yes, everything was fine, those noises she was hearing were just my groans and grunts of pleasure. Good food, great wine and a pairing that beautifully exceeded the sum of its parts.

The academician in me will strive to persevere for another few years before opening my last bottle of this little gem from the Bretons but my inner hedonist will be fighting all the way. If you’re lucky enough to be holding multiple bottles, have at a couple of ‘em; this is in a really great spot right now.


Anonymous said...

what about lamb and eggs?

David McDuff said...

Hmmm, whether or not paired with the Breton, the egg and lamb possibilities are promising for cool weather cooking. A little hash of lamb with scrambled eggs, perhaps. Or poached eggs atop lamb shepherd's pie. Sounds good to me.

AJ said...

I've found that Cabernet Franc - and the Bretons sure make great Cab Franc - also goes wonderfully with grass-fed beef burgers. The gaminess of the grass-fed beef stands up perfectly to a good bottle of Chinon or Bourgueil.

bill said...

i don't find grass fed beef to be in the least bit gamey. kind of lean and not as rich as corn fed, but never gamey.

a runny egg on top of a lamb burger (or any burger fo rthat matter) sounds great.

we had burgers last night with chedder, ripe local tomatos, and pickled ramps. delicious. a 2002 volnay from boillot, not so much.

David McDuff said...

@AJ Welcome, AJ. Couldn't agree more about the versatility of Loire Cab Franc with burgers of just about any sort, from turkey to salmon to beef to lamb. A great, versatile complement.

@bill and @AJ. I tend to agree with Bill, as most of the grass fed beef I've had has not been particularly gamy... but I have had some that is. It seems to be something that varies from farm to farm, perhaps seasonally (?) and, as always, from taster to taster.

@bill Too bad about the Boillot Volnay. You could've had a Syrah!

AJ said...

I mean gamey in a positive way - more flavorful, more animal like. I've eaten almost exclusively grass-fed beef the last few years and the few occasions when I've had beef finished on corn I find it bland in comparison. But maybe this isn't the forum for this discussion...

Inspired by the original post, I had beef burgers with a 2002 C&P Breton Les Picasses last night. What a fantastic wine.

AJ said...

Thanks for the welcome.

My understanding is that season can matter a lot. If the animal's in a climate where it goes indoors for winter and eats grain or even hay, then the green grass flavor will often fade. Fall harvest of meat is often great for this reason. The animal has only been eating green grass all summer and the flavor often shows it. Of course, a lot depends on the breed of the animal and a million other things as well, I'm sure. But as to the general point, maybe "gamey" isn't the right term but I would say there's often something more animal-like in the flavor, if that makes sense.

David McDuff said...

I mean gamey in a positive way - more flavorful, more animal like..., if that makes sense.

That makes perfect sense to me, AJ. Grass-fed, pasture raised beef is almost always more flavorful, in my experience, than corn-fed, stabled beef, which tends to be richer (as Bill said) but milder (or blander) in flavor.

Anonymous said...

I took this post to heart and drank a bottle of Breton perrieres '04. Long decant blew off into beautifully lean mentholated meaty cab franc. I did the simplest burgers I know how with some beef from one of my santa cruz beef connections. truly excellent stuff.

David McDuff said...

@saignée Right on, Cory. Glad you enjoyed the match-up.

bill said...

my experience with grass feed beef is really different than yours dave.
i've purchased grass fed beef at headhouse sq from a local farm and at reading terminal mkt. really underwhelmed every time. i'd say the grass fed is quite bland but find good quality corn fed (i assume it's corn fed) to have alot more flavor.
there must be better quality grass fed than i'm getting but the outlets i went to, as you know, are pretty high quality.

David McDuff said...

@bill Hmmm... like I said, the grass vs. corn experience is one that varies from taster to taster. It's also something that varies very much from farm to farm and, as AJ said, from breed to breed.... Sounds like we'd better get some samples together for a Cooks Illustrated style taste-off.

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