A new type of burger has popped up at some of Sacramento’s finest restaurants. It is fun, fungal, and fatty enough that its better-for-you qualities are hardly noticeable.
Yet those qualities are the point of the James Beard Foundation’s Blended Burger Project, which asks chefs to craft burger patties composed of a least 25 percent chopped mushrooms. The remainder can be the meat of the chef’s choice. At Mulvaney’s B&L, the blended burger is mostly lamb. At Magpie Café, it is mainly bison.
“Blending ground meats with mushrooms makes it a healthier, more sustainable and – in a lot of cases – more flavorful, burger,” said Michelle Santoro of the Beard Foundation, which collaborates on its burger project with the Mushroom Council, the industry’s research and marketing arm. Mushrooms are low in calories and fat, and it takes significantly less water to cultivate them than to raise livestock. Blended burgers offer “an interesting way to enact incremental consumer behavior change,” Santoro said.
Mushrooms also are a natural meat complement “because they absorb whatever other flavors you are cooking with,” said Bob Murphy, a Mushroom Council member and vice president of the large Colusa producer Premier Mushrooms.
The project, which lasts through July 31, is part educational tool, part contest. Burger lovers from around the country can vote online for their favorite blended burger. The top five vote-getters among this year’s 375 entrants will travel to New York City in 2018 to cook at a special Blended Burger Project dinner at the James Beard House.
The project began in 2015, but Sacramento restaurants did not participate in earnest until this year’s iteration, for which Mulvaney’s held a regional kickoff event in late May. Joining Mulvaney’s and Magpie in serving blended burgers locally are Sacramento’s The Firehouse and Ten22 restaurants and Roseville’s Nixtaco. Hawks Restaurant in Granite Bay and its Public House offshoot in Sacramento offered blended burgers earlier in the contest period, as did Roseville’s Hop House.
Mulvaney’s B&L chef-proprietor Patrick Mulvaney and his wife and business partner, Bobbin, are longtime advocates for sustainable practices and have an ongoing relationship with the Beard Foundation, the outfit behind the prestigious annual James Beard Awards. In 2014, Patrick Mulvaney and his kitchen crew served a Sacramento-centric dinner for 80 at the Beard House.
He helped spearhead the burger project in Sacramento because “the Beard Foundation asked, and I am always intrigued by a challenge,” Patrick Mulvaney said.
Mulvaney uses mushrooms in a few ways in his remarkably juicy blended burger. The patty is 25 percent chopped button mushrooms from Premier, 65 percent lamb from Dixon’s Superior Farms and 10 percent ribeye. The burger comes with an aioli that tastes of bacon but instead contains smoked, ground king trumpet mushrooms from Sloughhouse’s Dragon Gourmet Mushrooms. The $13 burger has been a hit with patrons, Mulvaney said.
Exceptional juiciness also characterizes the $14 blended burger at Nixtaco, a year-old taqueria that did not have a burger on its menu until now but always had planned to add one. Wise and his wife Cinthia Martinez – his business partner and fellow Monterrey, Mexico, native – want their menu to “offer a sample of what you can eat in Monterrey,” Wise said. “And we had some of the best burgers there.”
The burger holds two patties consisting of Premier crimini, Dragon shiitake and Oregon porcini mushrooms that are sauteed before being ground along with Wagyu beef short rib. Wise includes a Monterrey-style layer of refried beans, rajas con queso (melted Oaxaca cheese and cream with poblano peppers), a peanut-based chipotle aioli and fried onion strings that were dipped in a mole batter.
It sounds like a lot, but the ingredients are well-proportioned, and the bottom half of the brioche-style bun is grilled on both sides so it can withstand all that moisture atop it. The burger has become such a draw – “People come in once a week for it,” Wise said – that Nixtaco will keep it beyond July.
If a $14 burger seems too costly, the Sonic fast food chain will begin test-marketing its own meat/mushroom burger in August. The Mushroom Council also is a partner in that program, Murphy said.
The ultimate goal of the mushroom board’s push for blended burgers, which it has taken to colleges and other institutions, is to sell patties in supermarkets, Murphy said. He envisions a product akin to the cooked, grab-and-go meatloaf and meatballs now readily available in supermarket deli sections.
“We will know we have saturated the market once you know you can go into your local grocery store and buy a blended patty,” Murphy said.