This is my tribute to this culinary wonder on a bun, with a sweet and spicy green-curry glaze, a little nugget of salty pancetta, creamy minted basil aioli, the crunch of roasted cashews, and a tangle of that beautiful, mythical watercress salad.
For the green curry glaze
- 1 Cup coarsely chopped fresh cilantro
- 3 Tablespoon grated fresh ginger
- 2 Jalapeño chiles, stemmed and coarsely chopped
- 2 Fresh kaffir lime leaves
- 1 Stalk lemongrass, outer layers discarded, bruised with the back of a chef’s knife and chopped
- 1/3 Cup coconut milk
- 1/3 Cup low-sodium soy sauce
- 3 Tablespoon honey
- 2 Tablespoon Asian toasted sesame oil
- 1 Tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
- 1/2 Teaspoon kosher salt
For the minted basil aioli
- 1 Cup homemade or good-quality mayonnaise
- 3 Cloves garlic
- 1/2 Cup fresh basil leaves
- 1/2 Cup fresh mint leaves
- 6 Slices pancetta
For the crispy watercress salad
- 3 1/2 Cup canola oil
- 1 Cup rice flour
- 1 Cup chilled seltzer water
- 2 Teaspoon baking powder
- 1 Teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 Teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 2 Heads (bunches) young watercress, stem ends trimmed
- 3 Shallots, thinly sliced
- Zest and juice of 1 lime
- 1 Tablespoon unseasoned rice vinegar
- 2 Teaspoon low-sodium Thai fish sauce
- 1/2 Teaspoon sugar
- 1 Teaspoon Sriracha hot chile sauce
For the patties
- 2 Pound ground chuck
- Fat from cooking pancetta (above)
- Vegetable oil, for brushing on the grill rack
- 6 French sandwich rolls, split
- 1 1/4 Cup chopped roasted salted cashews
Heat a gas grill to medium-high.
To make the glaze, combine all of the ingredients in a blender and blend until completely pureed. Pass the mixture once through a sieve to remove any errant chunks, cover, and set aside.
To make the aioli, combine all of the ingredients in a food processor and process to a smooth paste. Transfer to a bowl, cover, and refrigerate until assembling the burgers.
Place a large, high-sided, cast-iron skillet on the grill rack. Add the pancetta and cook until crisp, 7 to 8 minutes. Transfer to paper towels to drain and pour the fat from the skillet into a large bowl; reserve.
To make the salad, return the skillet to the grill, add the canola oil, and heat until shimmering, about 325 degrees F. Combine the flour, seltzer water, baking powder, salt, and pepper in a large bowl and whisk to blend well. Add the watercress and stir to coat.
Add the shallots to the hot oil and fry until golden brown and crisp, 30 to 45 seconds. Transfer to paper towels to drain. Working in small batches, remove the watercress from the batter, allowing excess batter to drip back into the bowl, and fry until golden brown and crisp, 45 to 50 seconds. Transfer to paper towels to drain.
In a small bowl, whisk together the lime zest and juice, vinegar, fish sauce, sugar, and hot sauce until combined. Set aside.
To make the patties, add the chuck to the bowl containing the reserved pancetta fat and combine using your hands. Form the meat into 6 equal patties that are slightly larger in circumference than the buns.
Brush the grill rack with vegetable oil. Place the patties on the rack and cook for 4 to 5 minutes, or until juices begin emerging from the top of the patties. Baste the patties liberally with the glaze, turn, and douse the other side with the remaining glaze. Grill for 4 to 5 minutes longer (for medium-rare) or until desired doneness. Transfer the patties to a plate to rest until assembling the burgers.
Grill the rolls, cut side down, until they are toasted lightly. Place the cashews on a plate. Spread the cut sides of the rolls with the aioli and dip each roll top, aioli side down, into the cashews, pressing gently to make sure that the nuts adhere.
To assemble the burgers, combine the fried shallots and watercress in a large bowl and toss to combine. Drizzle the lime dressing over the mixture and toss again. Place a pancetta slice on each bottom bun, followed by a patty. Place a mound of the watercress salad atop each patty. Finally, add the cashew-crusted bun tops. Serve immediately.