This lamb burger, or bifteki arniou combines lamb, pork, grilled onion, mustard, parsley, dill, fennel, cumin, lemon, and scallion to become the tastiest lamb burger we’ve ever tried.
This dish came about when we were looking for a Greek “hamburger” with the flavors of Cypriot cuisine.–Michael Psilakis
Lamb Burger ~ Bifteki Arniou
- 2 (1/4-inch-thick) slices Spanish or sweet onion, plus more for garnish
- Oil as needed Psilakis uses a blend of 90 percent canola & 10 percent extra-virgin olive, but you can suit yourself
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 7 ounces ground lamb
- 3 ounces ground pork
- 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
- 1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
- 1 tablespoon finely chopped flat-leaf parsley leaves
- 1 tablespoon finely chopped dill leaves
- 1 scallion green part only, finely chopped
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
- 1/2 teaspoon ground fennel
- 2 ounces pork caul fat or lightly smoked preferably uncured bacon (optional)
- 2 buns or rolls of your choice brushed with olive oil and lightly toasted (optional)
- Lemon wedges for squeezing
- Extra-virgin olive oil for drizzling
- Heat a grill pan or a large, 12-inch (30-cm) cast iron skillet over medium-high heat. Brush the onion slices with a little oil and season with salt and pepper. Grill until tender. Separate 2 of the onion slices into rings and finely chop them.
- Combine the chopped grilled onion, lamb, pork, mustard, coriander, parsley, dill, scallion, cumin, and fennel in a bowl with your hands. Season the meat mixture liberally with salt and pepper, and mix. Divide the mixture in half and shape each into a patty. (Psilakis uses a mold or one of those little plastic deli or takeout tubs to shape each burger just so. The uniformity in shape and size isn’t about pretense or fairness, it’s about ensuring the burgers cook uniformly and reliably.)
- If using the caul fat or the bacon, wrap some around each burger, pressing to form thick, flattened disks. Wrap the overhanging fat or bacon up and over the top, overlapping it a little but trimming off the extra bits and pieces and smoothing it so the surface is flat. Place the burgers on a piece of parchment. Use immediately or cover with another piece of parchment and refrigerate for up to a couple of hours.
- Preheat a charcoal or gas grill, ridged cast-iron grill pan, or cast-iron skillet until hot. Brush the burgers lightly with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Place the side of the burger covered with the caul fat down first and grill, turning once, until marked with chargrill stripes and done to your desired doneness. Plop the burgers on the buns, if desired, squeeze a little lemon over the tops, and drizzle with extra-virgin olive oil.
*Does toasting my spices really result in a better flavor?Chef Psilakis, renowned in Manhattan circles for his riff on traditional Greek cuisine, reminds us in his seminal book How to Roast a Lamb that sometimes big flavor comes from little things. Like taking a few extra minutes to toast and grind your own coriander, cumin, and fennel seeds rather than relying on the stale, pulverized powders found in those dusty little jars on your supermarket shelf. Just toast a pinch of each seed, one spice at a time, in a small, dry skillet over medium-ish heat until fragrant. Cool and grind to a powder in a spice grinder. The flavor will be far more complex, says Psilakis. So will your sense of satisfaction, says us.
Recipe Testers' Reviews
This is one of the best lamb burgers I’ve ever had! The ingredients and cooking method don’t mask the lamb, and the resulting bifteki arniou has a very mild lamb taste that really doesn’t need much as an accompaniment. These were served on brioche buns, and the extra olive oil and the fresh lemon wedges highlighted a unique burger experience.
Some of the onion pieces fell out during the cooking process, but they just add a bit more flavor if you top the burger with them. I used a cast-iron skillet for this test. If you’re using a skillet, it MUST have a 12-inch diameter, or the burgers won't fit. I used bacon, and didn’t have the time to improvise, so I cut two one-ounce slices in half. Once the pan was hot enough, I laid the two halves side by side on one half of my skillet and immediately placed one burger patty on top of the bacon. Then I repeated the process for the second patty on the other half of my skillet. It took two spatulas to carefully flip the burger. It was a tad fragile. The bacon actually clung to the burger instead of the skillet, which surprised me.
First, the list of ingredients is reasonable and the process simple enough that this recipe can easily be made for dinner on a work night if made on the stovetop, but would also be great for the weekend on the grill. Second, substituting bacon for the caul fat is a genius idea. I wouldn't omit some sort of fat altogether, because even though the ground pork creates some fat, the bacon adds much-needed flavor. While the seasonings appear to be quite substantial, they are in fact very mild, so the additional bacon creates a lovely hit of flavor.
I realized partway through cooking that I had no idea how to tell if the lamb burgers were actually done. I dug out the meat thermometer to check, and took them off the burner at 160°F, which might have been a tad overdone, as they were slightly dry. A good cooking temperature in the recipe would be helpful. This is definitely a recipe I’ll use again. Next time, I’ll crank up the spices a bit, add a tad more salt and pepper, and grill them. These are definitely a great way to cook lamb!
The lamb benefited from the addition of the ground pork; it added just enough fat to make the meat flavorful without losing the lamb taste. I didn't use the caul fat or bacon. Not much else should be changed in this recipe—it’s fairly straightforward, although I think the part about the mold could be omitted. Overall, I would make this lamb burger again with the addition of a yogurt spread.
We love burgers, and the combination of pork and lamb was intriguing. I made the recipe as written, except that I had to substitute bacon for the caul fat. I used uncured bacon, as I felt it would change the flavor the least. I also made the additional onion slices for the sandwich as recommended. The result was wonderful!
The Greek spices were a perfect blend and imparted just the right spice. The bacon kept the lamb burgers really moist, and the grilled onions added just the right sweetness. I highly recommend this recipe. I know we'll make it often.
It’s a little more work than an average burger, but well worth the trouble. If you’re not a big fan of dill, like my boyfriend, there isn’t enough in here to turn you off. Just a hint of it.
The patties were quite moist but managed to hold together, almost more textured like meatloaf or meatballs than what we typically think of as a burger. The grilled onions chopped up in the meat were delicious. I considered feta, but instead made a tzatziki of Greek yogurt, cucumber, a touch of garlic, parsley, and mint to put on top that went very well. I also doubled the recipe with no trouble.
My family enjoyed these bifteki arniou. I’ll confess, we're all lamb fans. I used whole cumin, fennel, and coriander, first toasting the spices in a small, dry cast-iron skillet for a couple minutes, then grinding them in my spice grinder. I do think this step helped bring out the flavors, giving this a nice Middle Eastern profile. I like food on the spicy side, so I used the same amount of spice that was called for in the recipe, even though the recipe called for powdered spices.
I made the recipe without wrapping the lamb burgers in caul or bacon. While I'm sure the fat would add another layer of rich flavor, I opted to go the less fatty route. The burgers were still delicious. Someday when my doctor isn’t looking, I'll try the pork fat. Since I had a cupboard full of empty containers, I tried the tip to use them as shaping rings. Worked fine, and now I can use these rings in the future. Oh no, one more gadget in my drawers. For those wrapping the burgers, the resulting clean edges would make the task easier. Topping the burgers with tzatziki sauce and a few slices of roasted onion made us happy eaters!
Originally published August 15, 2011