15th February 2013
McTSingh McRoadtrip
Bhangra Burger

I'm not a racist but...

I was catching up on my Question Time viewing and enjoying watching the pompous bigotry of Peter Hitchens do battle with the mountainous hypocrisy of Diane Abbot when some idiot in the audience demanded that Hitchens define what it means to be British.
Apparently he's written an entire book on the subject, which he was keen to advertise, but I can answer the question for him in a single sentence:
To be British is to hate foreigners more than you hate other Britons.
To hate Americans, Muslims, Belgians or the Jews more than you hate the Irish, the police, Pippa Middleton or southerners.
And the reason why multiculturalism is so damaging to British society is that it breeds communities who have more affinity for foreigners than they do for their neighbours.

So the other night, in the interests of promoting cultural integration I went along to join the McTSingh Roadtrip and chow down on that most British of foods: curries.
It's not a meal - it's a political statement!

Since the unfortunate closure of Tony Singh's excellent restaurant Oloroso I've been looking for a chance to interrogate him about my failure to reproduce his delicious Bhangra Burgers, so I booked onto his latest venture - a popup restaurant that he calls his roadtrip. Although to date it only seems to have travelled as far as Freeman's Cafe in Marchmont.
We arrived there to find him busily setting up his barbecue outside, from which all manner of tasty goodness issued over the course of the banquet (menu below). The service was very smartly organised with a lot more waiters than plates - ingeniously we were required to keep the same plates for all the savoury dishes just having them periodically cleaned off.
My favourite dish was the spicy, soupy, sambal. The most entertaining definitely the curried salmon bones(!). The least interesting was the vermicelli dessert. Fortunately I'm not big on desserts, but I do like a good kulfi. Which we didn't get.
It was pretty easy to buttonhole the man himself in the intimacy of such a small café-venue, and I got some good burger pointers as to what I was doing wrong that I look forward to putting into practice. One day. Plus we had a very nice dinner in a fun atmosphere with a bunch of like-minded people that made for a really pleasant evening. I'd have a popup dinner again - providing I had a popup appetite.

For bonus points - we made off with some of the table's farty salt - sorry about that Tony!
Top Tip: Girls - don't smuggle farty salt in your handbag: it makes them smell funny.

My favourite of his dishes - a refreshingly spicy soup laden with interesting textures, par-cooked yellow split peas providing an agreeably nutty crunch.

Goat Patty with Lime and Onion
Extremely tasty burgers (if not quite up to the Bhangra standard!) reassuringly free of horse and enlivened by a chilli tamarind yoghurt sauce.

Salmon Bones
A curious dish I have to say, basically involving sucking the (meagre) marrow from salmon skeletons dressed in a light curried paste. More entertaining than satisfying!

Corn on the Cob with Black Salt
Black salt is a dark sulfurous salt that tastes of hot springs. It's a delicious complement to roast corn on the cob, though it definitely benefits from a squeeze of lime too.

Mutton and Chick Pea Byriani
Or possibly a pulao.
A competent, but unambitious rice and mutton curry.

Vermicelli with Vanilla Butter and Pears
To my mind the least interesting of the dishes - the vermicelli was pan-fried before being dressed with the vanilla butter syrup and mixed with pears (apparently adding vanilla to the vermicelli batter results in losing all its flavour on cooking). I didn't enjoy the mixture of textures, although the flavours were pleasant enough.

Bhangra Burgers Round One
curry main snack meat experimental
Once upon a time I sampled Tony Singh's Bhangra Burgers and they were fabulous, but now that Oloroso is no more (and you can forget about getting a seat at Burgher Burger unless you live on Facebook), we have to try and make our own. This was my first attempt - and I'm not too proud to admit that they were a total failure. Sure they tasted fine enough (though not as rich and juicy as the originals), but were completely useless at being burgers and holding together on a barbecue. Or even in a pan.

First, grind your lamb. It definitely helps if you received an electric grinder for Christmas :)
Like the ideal beef burger for which many recommend a combination of chuck (neck/shoulder) and sirloin, the ideal lamb mince is likely to be a combination of cuts, say shoulder and sirloin/round.
I just went with shoulder though.
Next make up your tandoori paste.
I followed Pat Chapman's method, mixing his tandoori dry masala mix, blending it with sherry vinegar and water (using slightly more generous proportions of vinegar than he suggests) and then adding in some extra hot sauce for added kick. Thoroughly stir up the mince, tandoori paste, a little crushed garlic, some chopped mint and coriander and a couple of teaspoons of salt.
So far so good.
This is where I think it all started to go wrong for me. Tony Singh has a sort of spicy potato patty in his burgers (as well as a hunk of lamb flank, and a layer of caramelised onions), but I thought I would just incorporate the potato into the burger making it a bit easier to organise on the barbecue.

So I baked a potato, riced it and stirred it into the burger mix with a little bit of yoghurt.
Unfortunately at this stage from frying test-samples it was obvious they weren't holding together at all, becoming very dry and crumbly. I tried adding gram (chickpea) flour, but that didn't really seem to help, at least not without adding absurd quantities. So then I had to mix through some beaten egg, which helped to hold the meat together alright, but now the burgers have taken on a claggy eggy distinctly non-burgery flavour. Fail.

To make the sauce (which worked pretty well) I blended up the herbs, mint sauce, lemon juice, garlic and tamarind then added the yoghurt, crème fraîche and a touch of mayonnaise.

Grill the burgers yeah, good luck with that! and serve on lightly toasted buns with a dollop of the minty yoghurt sauce.
OK, so the burger flavour was acceptable, but the texture hopeless - they completely fall apart and the meat is very dry.
So my second thoughts on the subject:
  • I should probably try using tomato purée as a binding agent (if anything), and consider whether to use a dry tandoori mix rather than the paste.
  • I'm not even sure about the garlic and herbs in the burger, but you'd think they shouldn't be a problem.
  • Possibly some finely chopped onion, though it might be nice to have them caramelised on top.
  • Definitely no yoghurt.
  • The potato patties should certainly be made and fried completely separately - perhaps mixing onion, green chillies(?), yoghurt, herbs into the mashed potato and then using egg and even gram flour to bind it together.
Bring on round 2.

Now with added advice
Bhangra Burgers Round 1½
curry main snack meat
So, Tony very kindly gave me some hints as to why his burgers are so totally awesome and mine so completely shit.
Hopefully I'll have the chance to put them into practice when it's less snowy out. Or cold. Or wet. Or windy.
So no time soon then...
  • First, no spice pastes in the burger - powders only (though we didn't discuss exactly what spices were involved).
  • Secondly, he mixes through onion, ginger, garlic purée into the burger meat - and I can't remember, maybe chopped chilli too?
  • The potato patty he makes from super dry mashed potato - baked, then riced, then dried out in the oven or in a dry pan. Then he mixes in cornflour (not my gram flour idea), cumin and I can't remember what else - salt probably, nothing wet though.
  • He also lays on slices of lamb flank, slow-cooked in a curry sauce for 6 or 8 hours.
  • And the caramelised onion, we didn't even get started on the caramelised onion - one step at a time eh?

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