I mean, this didn’t taste like chicken. It tasted like lamb, which is what it was. I mean that there’s something slightly unsatisfying about a Wednesday Night Smackdown. Like, it should be slightly exciting and unorthodox because it’s not a Thursday, but it tastes like chicken. Like alligator meat. Or what I imagine alligator meat would taste like.

Also, it’s throwing the whole rhythm of my week off. I can handle shifts in medication or I can handle a Wednesday smackdown. Throw both at me, and I crumble like a cookie, and we all know what that means: 6 more weeks of winter therapy. I may have to add a tip jar to the sidebar to handle the co-pays. Hell’s Kitchen better be really fucking good, that’s all I’m saying.

This picture is unfortunate, but it’s a key component of the dish so I had to show it to you. I could take a better photo, but all my DSLR camera savings are going to therapy co-pays. Also, because I like to be up-front: this post is probably not going to be very good. Today is perhaps not one of my better days, although I’m relatively mildly tranquilized in that I would feel the pain were I to stab a fork into my leg.

I should probably tell you what that gross thing you’re looking at is: spicy lamb burgers with Vietnamese herb salad and tamarind vinaigrette from Cindy Pawlcyn’s Big Small Plates. We had fantastic luck the last time we used the book for burgers – she knows from condiments and burger toppings – plus the burger recipes in the book are among the few recipes that require less than 17 trillion ingredients that have to be special-ordered from 19 different artisinal producers. I’ll do one of those one day, when I have the time to plan ahead and create all the relevant spreadsheets necessary to keep track of the ingredient lists. But tonight, burgers.

Aside: If you are not watching The Daily Show right now, you are missing out. This one ties with the episode with the giant snakes invading Florida from a few weeks ago.

Anyway, above: the vinaigrette. Which is somewhat misleading, because there’s no actual vinegar in it. But there is a lot of tamarind (the darkish blobs, and holy crap is that some viscous sticky shit), some brown sugar (visible in the upper right, slowly sinking into the soy sauce), and a bunch of olive oil. I totally failed to follow the directions (shocking!) and threw everything in the pot at once instead of the actual 4-step process I think was required, but I think it came out OK in the end. I mean, there are only 5 ingredients to begin with. Whatever the directions were, they all boiled down to “whisk everything together in a pot.”

While it sat I dealt with the lamb burgers, which mostly required mincing. A lot of mincing. Also, there was a lot of mincing. I like to mince, I mince around the house all the time, and this was a lot of mincing even for me. Good thing I didn’t sharpen my knife at all before starting!

Mincing and bizarro ingredients aside, there’s one thing I like about Cindy Pawlcyn: when she uses garlic, she uses garlic. None of this one-clove crap. One pound of lamb, 5 big cloves. Alright, because I have a problem I used six, but that doesn’t undermine the point that Pawlcyn’s interpretation is a lot closer to what I believe garlic usage should entail than most other chefs’.

Even though I’d let the lamb sit out for a while, it was still pretty cold from the fridge. I gotta tell you, I have no problem working with meat, but there’s something about the squishiness of smooshing ground meat around with your hands (because there’s really no other efficient way to do it; I’m not going to pussyfoot around with a wooden spoon and waste half an hour of my life that I could be using to watch 30 Rock reruns on Hulu) that still gets me. Not in a misty-eyed “Man, Field of Dreams really gets me every time – Ray Liotta is a revelation” kind of way. More in a “yuck” way.

I think it’s from the time 5 years ago when we adopted our first dog and he was pathetically sick and walked around the apartment horking up wads of phlegm and looking at us with the saddest of all possible eyes. To help him clear his sinuses and settle his delicate stomach, we had to feed him white rice and meatballs with some of the warm rice liquid. At the time, we were both vegetarians, and making the meatballs was just…bleh. This could all have been avoided if the dog had just agreed to use the neti pot, but dogs seem not to like that kind of thing.

Still, they looked pretty, with flecks of onion and garlic, minced jalapeños, cilantro and mint and flavored with a hint of oyster sauce.

So then I had the “vinaigrette” sitting, the patties sitting, and it was time for the herb salad. More cilantro, more mint, basil, chives, scallions, chiles and ancho cress.

Except there was no ancho cress, because have you ever heard of that? Is that a real thing? There are kinds of cress other than “water,” and they are used in something other than tea sandwiches? Where do I find this magical alternate cress? Do I have to harvest it in the wild myself? I’ll do it if someone tells me where to go and what to chant to make it appear.

Still, I had to fill out the salad, so I did what I always do: chuck in some baby spinach. Baby spinach: it may not be the the most exciting, but it never hurts. You can have that one, Baby Spinach Council. Here, I’ll give you another freebie: Baby Spinach: It’s inoffensive!

The mincing and chopping and greasy meat smooshing finally over with, it was time to throw some lamb in a hot cast iron skillet. While they were searing, I spooned a little of the “vinaigrette” over each burger to get my glaze action on.

This dinner was pleasant, but two of its three components were filthy liars:

  1. As already noted, the vinaigrette contained no vinegar. In fact, it contained no acid of any kind. I’m not saying it wasn’t good. It was just a lie.
  2. The lamb burgers were not, in fact spicy. Again, they were good, but filthy liars.
  3. The herb salad was really, really good. It was in fact a salad, and I could find no fault with its truthfulness.

I’ve gotta question the quality of my ingredients on this one. I get why the chile didn’t come across in the burger – half a jalapeño in a pound of lamb never made anyone’s nose run – but how can six enormous garlic cloves not assert themselves? Where was the onion, diced until it started bleeding onion juice? The herbs were fresh and the oyster sauce lent them a nice sweet, mildly Asian-esque flavor. Tasty, but somewhat misleading with the spicy.

The herb salad was lovely. The mix of fresh herbs, the mild punch of the onions and the slight heat of the chiles (it should have been spicier, but again, sad chiles) were set off with the sweet and slightly pungent tamarind. The non-vinaigrette was also really good and I can see it slathered all over all kinds of barbeque, which it will be.

So: lying aside this was a nice dinner. I would do it again, but on the grill for some nice charry glazed lamb burgers. Not earth-shattering but nice. It had a good personality, but I mean that in the nicest possible way.

Final Score: Us, 1; Food 0 plus 3 demerits for lying.

ONE YEAR AGO: You can’t beat this meat with a stick