The Food Maven Diary
Hawaiian Tuna Burger
Last weekend was the 10th annual Sutter Home Winery Build a Better Burger contest in St. Helena, California (Napa Valley), and I was honored to be one of the judges. I am not big on judging cooking contests. I figure you don't make friends being a judge. But I can't say not to a few of the many I am asked to do. So I've judged the Pillsbury Bake-Off, the National Beef Cook-Off, the National Chicken Cook-Off, a few local contests for which I have felt some civic responsibility, and now this one, which got me to be in California for a weekend with a bunch of people I love and respect.
My judging leagues were James McNair, who has been the head judge of the contest since its inception, and who is notable not only as one of the country's leading food photographers but also as our most prolific cookbook writer. I don't know anyone else who has written more than James' 36 books. Or is it 39 books? I've lost track. (The best of James McNair's work can be found in James McNair's Favorites.
The other judges were Bruce Aidells, who has written several cookbooks himself -- "The Complete Meat Book" is his latest – and whose sausages – Aidell's sausages ... What else? -- are sold nationwide; Sheila Lukins, the cookbook writer, food editor of Parade magazine, and one of the founders of The Silver Palate, which started as a small take-out store on the upper West Side and eventually became a couple of cookbooks and an empire of bottled sauces and condiments; Marion Cunningham, the cooking teacher and cookbook writer who famously revised and updated Fanny Farmer, and has written several books since then, plus Jeffrey Starr, executive chef at the Trinchero Family Estates, the company that produces the Sutter Home wines.
This is the first time a meat burger did not win the Build a Better Burger Contest, but in this judge's estimation, it was juicier and by far tastier than the meat entries. It was a tough call nonetheless. The judges were not allowed to consult each other during the judging or scoring, but afterwards we did compare notes. This was not the favorite of all, but I have to say that those who thought another burger was better were quite happy to see this one win.
Hawaiian Tuna Burgers
with Maui Wowee Salsa
The 10th annual Sutter Home Build a Better Burger contest grand prize was $20,000 and it was won by Jamie Miller of Maple Grove, Minnesota. No one went home unhappy though. There were five finalists and the runners-up each received $500 plus a weekend in Napa Valley with their spouses or a guest. We all stayed at the Sutter Home Inn, a charming Victorian complex with lovely rooms and gorgeous public rooms that the winery keeps for visitors. It is not, I understand, generally open to the public.
For the salsa:
2 cups chopped Maui onion, or other sweet onion
1/2 cup minced onion
1/4 cup pickled ginger, chopped
1/4 cup cilantro (fresh coriander), chopped
2 tablespoons Asian sesame oil
1 1/2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon lime juice
For the burgers:
2 pounds boneless, skinless yellowfin tuna, finely chopped
1/2 cup Panko
1 egg, lightly beaten
1/4 cup Dijon
2 tablespoon minced garlic
2 tablespoons honey
1 1/2 tablespoons Asian sesame oil
2 teaspoons Kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1/4 teaspoon cayenne
6 sesame buns, split
1/2 cup purchased Teriyaki sauce
Preheat grill to medium hot flame.
Combine onion and next 6 ingredient in small bowl. Mix well and set aside to allow flavors to blend.
Combine tuna and next 9 ingredients in large bowl and mix well. Shape into 6 thick patties. Brush grill with vegetable oil and cook tuna burgers over direct heat until barely cooked throughout, about 4 minutes a minutes a side, or to desired degree of doneness.
During last 2 minutes of grilling, place buns, cut sides down, on outside of grill to toast lightly. Brush both halves of buns lightly with Teriyaki sauce. Place a tuna burger on the bottom half of each butt, top with salsa and top of bun.