For quite some time, Chris Vanasse has been on a quest to create a special veggie burger.
“I was inspired for this particular recipe when Chris Pacheco of Stonington’s Seacoast Mushrooms introduced me to shiitake pins, a byproduct of the shiitake-mushroom-growing process,” says Vanasse, the executive chef at the Engine Room in Mystic. “In order to produce large, mature shiitake mushroom caps, the smaller ‘pins’ must be removed and are often discarded. These pins have the same flavor as shiitakes but have a much smaller cap, which makes no difference for our purposes with this vegetarian burger. We combined shiitake pins and wheat berries, which provided us with a meaty burger texture and a thoughtful way to repurpose a byproduct.”
For Vanasse, texture was the largest obstacle. “Great flavor can be easy to achieve, but maintaining structural integrity without the burger disintegrating or turning pasty can be difficult,” he says.
The veggie burger represents Vanasse’s viewpoint on minimizing waste and maximizing ingredients. “Finding uses for byproducts that might otherwise be discarded is an integral part of our mission to use as much of an animal or vegetable or fruit as possible,” he says. “If I can create a veggie burger that not only vegetarians will enjoy, but one that’s tasty enough omnivores might opt for it in lieu of meat, then I’d consider that a great success.”
Never complacent, Vanasse enjoys creating new dishes and playing with new ingredients. “We want to master our craft, study and pay homage to classic recipes, concepts and methods of preparation, but it’s important to keep learning, experimenting, and evolving,” he said, trying not to let food trends influence his cooking. “I seek inspiration from local seasonal ingredients and collaborating with our talented restaurant team, and the dedicated farmers and artisans I work with each day.” Vanasse doesn’t associate himself with one style of cooking. “I draw inspiration from classic dishes from all over the world and try to apply that study into my dishes at Engine Room, using ingredients that I have access to locally.”
Vanasse admits he doesn’t know where he’d be without cooking. “I always joke that I didn’t choose the kitchen but instead the kitchen chose me. I got a job as a dishwasher at a young age and it grew into cooking and eventually a passion for food. I was lucky to work for some incredibly talented chefs from a young age.” It’s through food that Vanasse finds personal expression. “At Engine Room we’ve worked hard to create a creative atmosphere and a fun working and learning environment where we can all grow and learn from each other,” he says.
Seacoast mushroom and wheat berry burger
Yield: 6 burger patties • Time: About 1 hour
In a large mixing bowl, coat the shiitake mushrooms in olive oil and season evenly with salt. Turn the seasoned shiitakes out onto a sheet pan or baking sheet. Roast at 400 degrees for about 5-8 minutes or until the mushrooms start to brown and soften. Watch them so they do not get shriveled and dried up. Let cool to room temperature, about 10 minutes.
- 4 cups roasted shiitake mushrooms, left whole (cremini mushrooms can be substituted)
- 1½ cups cooked wheat berries, boiled for 30 minutes in water until tender
- ½ cup brown rice flour
- 3 eggs
- Salt to taste
- ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
- 2-3 tablespoons of high-heat oil, such as canola
- Making the burgers
- Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
Put cooked wheat berries in a food processor and process for 2-3 minutes, scraping down the sides when necessary. The wheat berries should break up a bit and release a good amount of starch, which is critical to bind the burger. Put wheat berries in a large mixing bowl.
Pulse roasted and cooled shiitake mushrooms in food processor, being careful not to break up too much. You want small pieces but do not want to over-grind into a paste. Add the shiitakes to the wheat berries.
Add eggs and rice flour to the mushroom-wheat berry mixture and mix thoroughly with a spoon or your hands. Season to taste with salt. Form the mixture into six evenly sized patties.
Cooking the burgers
Heat a medium cast-iron skillet to medium-high heat. Add 2-3 tablespoons of your favorite high-heat cooking oil (Engine Room uses canola). Olive oil will burn at this high of a heat and is not recommended.
Sear the burger for 2-3 minutes on either side, checking periodically. The end result should be a deep-brown, crispy sear on both sides with a soft, steamed, “meaty” center. Patties should reach 140 degrees on a meat thermometer.
At Engine Room, the burger is served on a toasted brioche bun with a garlic and herb pub cheese, much like Boursin. It’s topped with a carrot, apple and celery slaw and greens from the restaurant’s farm. Vanasse encourages home cooks to experiment with their favorite toppings.