Is there a meal more representative of old-school comfort and decadence than Beef Wellington?
The dish’s history is murky; while many assume it pays tribute to the Duke of Wellington, following Napoleon’s defeat at Waterloo in 1815, the claims that the Duke was particularly fond of combinations of “truffles, pate, beef, and wine” seem like a bit of creative revisionist history. It seems likelier that the dish has nothing to do with Wellington, the man, at all. Clarissa Dickson Wright, of “Two Fat Ladies” fame, even suggests that the dish was named not after the Duke of Wellington, but the town of Wellington, New Zealand.
Instead, we tend to think the dish is simply a version of the classic French bœuf en croûte, made extra fanciful in the way that only chefs in the 1960s knew how: With the added pizazz of foie gras, the fattened liver of ducks or geese that are force-fed grain until their organs explode, and a layer of mushrooms duxelles, which is, in essence, a whole great gang of finely chopped mushrooms cooked down in wine until they become a thick, flavorful jam. Wrap the whole thing in puff pastry, and you’ve got a meal suitable for a dinner party or presidential summit (the dish is said to have been a favorite of Nixon’s).
Since we first tried cooking Beef Wellington last May, I’ve been determined to try and translate it into cheeseburger form. And when our friend Kita (of Pass the Sushi and Girl Carnivore fame) asked us to participate in a special blogger “Burger Month,” we knew the time was right to try it out.
We chose an airy, slightly sweet brioche bun to substitute for the puff pastry in the original, which means we had to also include a leaf of lettuce to prevent the juices from the meat from obliterating the bottom layer of bun. Since we were straying from the original Wellington recipe already, I thought a thick slice of cambozola would add some sharp flavor to balance all that richness, as well as plenty of oozy, cheeseburgery melt. The mushrooms are a blend of shitakes and white buttons, chopped fine and cooked in white wine.
The foie gras was a bit harder to come by. Since we are in California right now, where adults are often discouraged from making decisions about their own well-being (see: jaywalking laws, e-cigarette bans, and Fresno’s draconian stance on playground drunkenness), you can’t just walk into a high-end butcher shop and buy a lobe of foie gras anymore. The state enacted a law outlawing the sale of the stuff in 2012. California uber alles, am I right you guys?
The law does not, however, prevent you from importing foie gras via FedEx from the Hudson Valley, where you can buy it frozen, in easy to use, pre-portioned 2-ounce slices, shipped overnight. So that’s what we did.
The resulting burger is nothing less than insane. Because the seared foie gras liquefies at a temperature slightly lower than body temperature, the fatty liver melts as soon as you take a bite, flooding the ground beef, mushrooms, and soft cheese in a burst of warm, creamy, flavorful duck fat. This burger takes everything that’s viscerally pleasurable about eating a cheeseburger, and ratchets it up to ridiculous levels. I insist that you try it, even if you only make this burger once in your life.
- 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
- 6 ounces mushrooms, shitakes and creminis, finely chopped
- 1/2 large shallot, minced
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- 4 sprigs marjoram, leaves removed from stems
- 1/4 cup vermouth or dry white wine
- 2/3 pound ground beef, or From Away Burger Blend
- 2 leaves butter lettuce
- 2 slices foie gras (about 2 ounces each)
- 2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
- 2 thick slices Cambozola cheese, room temperature
- 2 Brioche buns, split
- Begin by getting your mushroom duxelles ready. Melt butter over medium-low. Saute shallots and mushrooms, garlic and marjoram. Add the vermouth or wine and cook down, until almost a paste. Season with salt and pepper and set aside.
- Form ground beef into two large patties, slightly larger in diameter than the brioche buns. Cook in a skillet over medium high heat to desired doneness, about 3 minutes per side for medium rare. Top each burger with a slice of cambozola cheese, and cover pan with a lid to allow cheese to melt. Set aside while you prepare foie gras.
- The foie gras should be your last step. Get a small cast iron frying pan ripping hot, over high heat. Lightly score the top of each slice of foie gras in a crosshatch pattern and lightly sear until fat renders slightly and slices begin to turn golden brown, a quick 15-20 seconds per side.
- To assemble burgers, spread both cut sides of brioche with Dijon mustard. Top bottom slices of bun with a leaf of lettuce, followed by a few spoonfuls of the mushroom mixture. Top with a cheeseburger patty, then the seared foie gras. Top with other half of brioche, and serve immediately.