Dear Eric: I know bison is very lean and that, as well as its taste, is why I like it. But I have trouble making burgers that don’t fall apart. Do you have any suggestions for a binding agent other than an egg? Would rolled oats possibly work? Lionel Gandy
Dear Lionel: As you likely know, the ground bison you are using to make burgers is available at some supermarkets and stand-alone butcher shops.
If you prefer a more natural, just meat taste, like other ground meats such as beef, you should be able to form it into patties that hold together once cooked, minus the binding agents.
To do that, first lightly dampen your hands with cold water, as this will create a barrier that prevents the meat from sticking to them. Make a very loose ball of the ground bison and set in the palm of one hand. Now use your other hand to very gently press and shape the meat into a patty. Use the palm of your hand not holding the patty to press around the edges of it and make them smooth.
The patty does not have to be perfectly shaped, but it should look solid and like it will hold together once in the pan or on the grill.
If the patty is too loosely formed, it could start to come apart when you start cooking it or when you try to flip it.
The patty could also fall apart if you put it in the pan, or on the grill, before getting them up to temperature. That’s because if you put the patty on a warm pan or grill its exterior won’t sear nicely and form the crust that can help hold the meat together. Instead, what will happen is the moisture (natural water) in the meat will start to steam, rise up through the patty and cause the tiny pieces of ground bison to separate.
Lastly, because bison is a lean meat, if you put it in a pan or on a grill that’s prone to sticking, you have to use a sufficient amount of oil to cook the patty. Or, if you were grilling it, ensure the bars of the grill were oiled first before putting on the patty. If you didn’t do this and the patty stuck when trying to flip it that, of course, could also cause it to fall apart.
If you really want to make sure the patty holds together, you certainly could add binding agents to the ground bison, along with flavourings. That is something I did in today’s recipe.
You didn’t want to use an egg, so I’ve omitted that. You also wondered about using oatmeal as a binder. I didn’t use that either because oatmeal acts like a sponge when moistened and could cause the lean bison patties to be dry.
Instead, I used a bit of cornstarch and fresh bread crumbs as the binding agents. Because they’re moist, those fresh bread crumbs won’t dry things out, but they will blend well with the meat and its flavourings. The modest amount of cornstarch used further helps hold the patties together.
At the bottom of today’s recipe, I give you the option of omitting the bread crumbs and adding an extra teaspoon of cornstarch. That switch worked and the patties held together well, but they didn’t have as tender a bite as they did when the bread crumbs were added. However, it does give you an out if you don’t feel like going through the trouble of making fresh bread crumbs.
Once cooked and stuffed in a bun, you can accent your bison burger in ways you might a beef burger. The many options include sliced tomato, crisp lettuce, raw and sautéed onions, hot peppers, pickles, crispy bacon, cheese, relish, mustard, ketchup, barbecue sauce, salsa, guacamole and anything else that appeals.
This recipe yields four, six-ounce-plus patties. If that’s too large for you, simply shape the meat into five or six, smaller patties. If you’re only feeding one or two, you could individually wrap the raw patties you don’t need and freeze them for another time.
Preparation time: 15 minutes
Cooking time: 8-10 minutes
Makes: 4 patties
1 1/2 lb. ground bison
1 tsp cornstarch
1 large garlic clove, minced
1 cup fresh bread crumbs (see Note 1)
2 Tbsp milk
1 tsp herbs de Provence (see Note 2)
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
• splash or two Worcestershire sauce
• vegetable oil for the grill
Place all ingredients, except oil, in a bowl and very gently mix to combine. With cold-water-moistened hands, divide and form the meat mixture into four equal, loose balls. Gently shape each ball into a 3/4-inch thick patty.
Preheat your barbecue or indoor grill to medium-high. Lightly oil the bars of the grill. Cook the burgers for four to five minutes per side, or until entirely cooked through and the centre of each burger reaches 160F (71C) or above on an instant-read meat thermometer. Sandwich the burgers in warm buns with your choice of toppings and condiments.
Note 1: To get the 1 cup of fresh bread crumbs needed for this recipe, I placed two regular slices of white bread, cubed, in my food processor and pulsed them until crumb-like. If you don’t have a food processor, freeze the bread slices until solid, and then use a box or other grater, to grate them into crumbs.
Note 2: Herbs de Provence is a French-style blend of dried herbs available in the bottled herb and spice aisle of most supermarkets.
Eric’s options: If you don’t wish to use or don’t have the time to make fresh bread crumbs, simply omit them and add an additional 1 tsp of cornstarch in the patty mixture.
Eric Akis is the author of the hardcover book Everyone Can Cook Everything. His columns appear in the Life section Wednesday and Sunday.