Still Life with (Local) Burgers

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.

Still Life with (Local) Burger:
Grass-fed beef, Ba-Le Bakery bun, CSA veggies, Kahuku sweet corn (photo by LB)

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.

  1. Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch, Regional Sustainable Seafood Guides
  2. Environmental Defense Fund Fish Mercury Scale
  3. For another idea, check out Hawaii food blogger Kahakai Kitchen's take on burgers Turkey-Falafel Burgers

10 comments from you:

Julie said...

Sounds wonderful. Especially the sauce that goes with it.

MyKitchenInHalfCups said...

That's a beautiful burger in my book too Michelle!! I'd really enjoy it on your lanai (yes I actually know what that is). I'll take mine with double on those onions please!

vlb5757 said...

My goodness you have a busy girl! How you like HI? Sounds like you are fitting in real well. Tell me that you have been scuba diving. I haven't been in so long now that I will have to take the Rusty Diver class to get recertified. Just have not had the diving bug. I think that if I lived there I would be in the water at least once a week.

Glad you are doing well and I am sure staying busy with the new foods.

Ann said...

What a yummy and healthy-looking meal!

cookiecrumb said...

NYTimes has a story in yesterday's edition on fancy burgers. You beat them to it.
Ewa sweet onions! Swoon. I don't think they existed when I lived at Barbers Point.

Debinhawaii said...

That is an incredible looking burger! I love all the local ingredients you put on there and your yogurt sauce sounds delish. I love Opah and am going to have to try this one.

I went to the Tedeschi Vineyards in January and we tried one of their pineapple wines and really liked it and bought a bottle for dinner that night. Iam like you-not really into fruit wines but it was good and so refreshing on a warm night.

Michelle said...

Julie, Thanks! It was!

Tanna, My lanai has extra chairs should you find your way out here some day - I'll make sure to have lots of extra onions for you!

Vickie, Hi!! We do like it here, very much. Honestly, I'd have to take the rusty diver class too should I find the time to actually go scuba diving (it's more a money issue right now), but we have been snorkeling many times since we got here. And the beach at least once a week!!

Ann, we TRY to eat healthy so I'm happy to find healthy dishes that are simultaneously tasty and healthy.

Cookie, Ha! Take that NYT!! Really? No Ewa onions? That makes me curious how long they've been around here...or maybe they're really the same variety as Maui sweet onions, just grown in Ewa here on Oahu.

Debbie, Yeah I really liked the opah too! I'd love to hear more about what the winery was like - it's hard for me to imagine a winery here since I just came from the land of Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris (and worked at a winery for 6 months during last year's harvest). But I did like their pineapple wine too!

Debinhawaii said...

The winery was fun--it's small but the grounds are nice to hang out on and they have tastings. I'd make it a day with a visit to the Lavender Farm in Kula and the Surfing Goat Dairy.

BTW--Don't hate me too much but I just tagged you with a meme on my site. It's my first one and it makes me feel a bit like i just sent out a chain email. ;-)

Nerissa said...

Well, looks like I'm inviting myself over for opah burgers. What you made sounds like it's right up my alley. If da Frog heard all that was in and on it, he'd roll his eyes and call it "Nerissa Food". He knows I love lime and onions and spice and fish and, egads and horrors, fruit near my meat. I wonder if I could make a version with snapper or halibut. That would be in keeping with my local fish (well, at normal times of the year, not now).

Michelle said...

Hi Debbie, that sounds like a great time! We're actually headed over to Maui sometime in August or September too. And thanks for thinking of me with the meme - I'll get to it soon! (I won't hate you, but you might get one back!!) ;)

Hi Nerissa, Great! I bet you could make it with halibut - or even salmon. Let me know if you do - I wanted to recommend this to my stepmom, but halibut is the only fish she likes!