On a warm summer night, there's nothing like sitting out on the lanai (or patio) with a glass of chilled wine or beer and enjoying a big, juicy burger cooked on the grill. Double points if you pick up the burger and the juice runs down your forearms onto the table - you know the kind; the burger that once you pick it up, you don't want to set it back down. Truly, burgers are quintessential Americana at its very best. Around our house, we don't eat our burgers with the traditional French fries and/or soda very often, but there's almost always some kind of salad to accompany them...a lightly dressed coleslaw, crisp lettuce with sliced veggies, pasta or potato salads, you name it...and now, we also often add grilled Maui or Ewa Sweet onions to top things off and give it that extra special Hawaii appeal.
In my book, a "burger" can encompass nearly anything so long as it ends up looking like a "patty" and is eaten on a bun (preferably a big, hearty bakery-made or homemade bun - none of these squidgy white bread buns that are 1/4 of the size of the burger you want to stick on it and that melts and gets doughy from the juice). This can include whizzing up some vegetables, grains or legumes in the food processor and molding that into a patty; marinating a big, properly bun-sized portobello mushroom; or finding yourself some deliciously grassy and lean local beef.
Since we moved to Hawaii and have a proper lanai for grilling and enjoying our burgers (with wine and beer, of course), I've been sampling different techniques for making all kinds of burgers...quinoa burgers with cumin, portobellos marinated in Korean-style BBQ sauce, grass-fed beef burgers with caramelized onions and Worcestershire (Lea and Perrins, of course) and my latest quest: fish. Moonfish, or opah, to be exact.
Opah are simply beautiful fish - silvery with orange fins as you can see in the picture in this link. They are suggested as a "good alternative" on the Hawaii regional sustainable seafood guide from Monterey Bay Aquarium (If you haven't checked out this fabulous resource before, they have wonderful wallet-sized printouts available that tell you which fish are the best choices, good alternatives, and which to avoid completely. I used to work next door to the Aquarium, and they have a great program going.). The flesh of the opah is firm - similar to tuna - and slightly stringy. There are different colors pertaining to where on the fish the flesh comes from, and most of the opah sold in the markets here are by-catch from long-line tuna or mahi-mahi fishing; but all of it comes from Hawaii. While I'm not a huge fan of long-line caught anything (any kind of dredging, netting, etc. causes havoc on the underwater environment), I guess if it's going to be caught and killed anyway until we develop better ways of fishing (which may never happen), it might as well be eaten and not thrown back into the ocean. That said, until we figure out a bit more about this fish in general, I'd still like this relatively new commercial species not to become a too commonly caught species. But I still had to try it, at least once (besides - the salmon looked absolutely horrid that day, thus, we ended up with opah instead). Supposedly, opah was historically viewed as a good luck fish by old-time fishermen and even given to friends as a good-will measure instead of being sold at fishmarkets (hmm...I hope that doesn't mean I shouldn't eat it).
While opah does rank relatively high on the mercury scale, suggesting that only one 6 oz. serving (for women, that is) should be eaten per month, I'm a proponent of most things in moderation and it's not likely we'll be eating these again this month anyway (too many other fun things to try!). We'll definitely be making fish-type burgers again no matter what - these were delicious and would probably work with other types of semi-firm fish, including tuna, salmon or possibly even halibut (maybe).
I served these babies up with a plain, non-fat yogurt "mayonnaise" (healthy, healthy!) - containing lime juice and zest, tiny bits of mango, chili powder, salt and pepper - a sweet, tangy sauce that complimented the richness of the burgers quite well, and then I topped them off with grilled Ewa sweet onions (our local Oahu sweet onions). We ate them on whole-wheat Ba-Le Bakery buns from the farmer's market and with lettuce from our CSA. On the side was a version of a salad-of-sorts containing leftover wild rice and grilled Kahuku sweet corn (local Oahu sweet corn), mixed with fresh North Shore Farm's Big Wave tomatoes, a bit of olive oil and some spices. We finished it off with a surprisingly nice glass of pineapple and passionfruit wine from Tedeschi Vineyards - the Winery at Ulupalakua Ranch - on Maui. I'm not a real lover of fruit wines, but this one, although still fairly sweet, had enough acidity to balance the sweetness of the fruit and actually complimented the flavors of the opah burgers and the mango in the mayo/yogurt quite well.