Grass-Fed Beef and the Grown-Up Patty Melt

My Meatless Monday posts will be back next week. This week I will share a special post with you that resulted from my recent trip to Valley View Farms and the America’s Test Kitchen “Dish It Your Way” Blog Challenge.

As I mentioned in my last post, I’ve been doing some research on grass-fed beef, and my trip to the farm was a good way to see how pastured meat is raised. Since reading books like Fast Food Nation and seeing movies like Food, Inc. I’ve started questioning the safety of the meat I buy at the local grocery store. I’m certainly worried by the ethical and environmental concerns of animals raised on super-sized corporate feed lots, large-scale hog farms and chicken farms. Seeing how humane is a small-scale working farm like Valley View Farm further stressed the importance of buying sustainable meats.

Of course since I have a problem with the way that the animals are raised, then I also have a choice: I can choose to be a vegetarian or I can buy sustainable meats. Since I like meat, vegetarianism is out (except on Meatless Monday), which leaves me with buying sustainable meat. Pastured beef has a wonderful beefy flavor, but the fat content can be inconsistent. While most grass-fed beef is super lean, I’ve discovered that it can also be fat and juicy. When you have super lean beef you need a few additions to boost the juicy factor, but if you have fattier beef you don’t, and to complicate matters you frequently don’t know the fat percentage of meat you buy from small farms or farmer’s markets.

For the America’s Test Kitchen Blogger Challenge I wanted to make a burger that screamed, “AMERICA,” from the top of it’s hearty little bun, but I also wanted to find a burger versatile enough to make with lean beef from the local store or grass-fed ground beef from the local farm whether it was super lean or not. Really there was no other option, the patty melt. A traditional patty melt consists of a beef burger sandwiched between two slices of rye bread, Swiss cheese and sauteed onions. Why be traditional though? Why can’t the patty melt grow up and enjoy a night on the town with its friends: caramelized onions, sauteed mushrooms, Gruyere and sourdough bread? It can, and it should because the result is a mouthwatering burger/sandwich hybrid that will turn heads and make you the hero of the dinner table.

Because grass-fed beef has such a delicious beefy flavor, you don’t need to do much to make it taste great. If you are using traditional lean ground beef (90% lean) or particularly lean grass-fed beef you can boost the juicy factor by adding a little olive oil to the ground beef before you form the patties. This trick might not work if you were making a plain burger on a bun with nothing but a little ketchup, but you’re golden with the grown-up patty melt. I’ve found that if you surround your burger with a few tasty toppings, then follow a few simple steps, you will end up with a burger that will always be something special. Enjoy!

The Grown-Up Patty Melt – Click here for a printer friendly version of this recipe

To see if your beef is particularly lean look to see if it is dark red with very few white fat specs in it. If it is very lean add the olive oil, but if it does have lots of white specs in it skip adding the two teaspoons of olive oil to the ground beef.

This is NOT super lean beef, but it is grass-fed

My instructions are detailed, but you’ll find the steps go quickly. You can caramelize the onions and saute the mushrooms in advance to make this even easier.

1 pound lean ground beef (grass-fed or 90% lean)
2 teaspoons olive oil (optional: see note above)
1 tablespoon deli mustard such as Guldens
salt and black pepper
2 teaspoons olive oil (for grilling)

1/2 large sweet onion, very thinly sliced
8 ounces mushrooms, sliced
2 teaspoons olive oil, divided
1 teaspoon salt, divided
1/4 teaspoon pepper
6 ounces Gruyere cheese, grated

1 round loaf sourdough bread (you will only use about 2/3rd of it)
1 tablespoon olive oil

In a medium mixing bowl combine ground beef, olive oil (if you are using it), and mustard. Mix with your hands until just combined. Separate into four equal balls and press flat between two slices of plastic wrap or waxed paper.

The finished patty should be about six inches wide and 1/4 inch thick. Sprinkle each patty with salt and pepper to taste. Keeping the wrap between the patties, refrigerate until they are ready to cook.

Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add one teaspoon of olive oil and heat until it shimmers. Add the sliced mushrooms, 1/2 teaspoon of salt and 1/4 teaspoon of pepper. Saute, stirring occasionally until the mushrooms are light brown. Remove to a small bowl.

Return the pan to the heat and add the remaining teaspoon of olive oil. Add the onions and a 1/2 teaspoon of salt. Toss until the onions are coated with the olive oil and salt.Saute until the onions start to brown, about three minutes. Turn the heat down to medium low and continue to cook stirring frequently until the onions are dark golden brown, very soft, and reduced by about two thirds. Remove the onions to a small bowl.

Place a large pan or griddle over medium high heat and drizzle with the two teaspoons of olive oil. Place beef patties on the griddle. Cook for four minutes on each side. Remove to a plate. Scrape the pan or griddle to clean and turn off the heat.

Slice the loaf of bread in half, then slice each half into 1/2 inch slices. You need a total of eight slices from the middle of each half of bread. Save the remaining bread for another use.

Brush the remaining tablespoon of olive oil evenly over one side of each piece of bread. Place the bread, oiled side down on a large metal pan or tray. Evenly distribute the grated cheese over all the pieces of bread. Then divide the onions over four of the pieces of bread and the mushrooms over the other four. Place one burger patty on top of the mushrooms and then carefully flip the onion side down on top of the burger patty.

Heat the same griddle or pan over medium heat until hot. Add the patty melts and cover with the metal tray or pan. Weight down the top with a heavy pot or filled kettle.

Cook until the cheese starts to melt and the bread has turned golden brown. Remove the pan and carefully flip each burger over.

Recover with the pan and weight and cook until the second side has melted cheese and is also golden brown. Move patty melts to a serving platter and brace your self. These bad boys will disappear fast.

For a printer friendly version of this recipe click here:


4 thoughts on “Grass-Fed Beef and the Grown-Up Patty Melt

  1. I eat grass fed pasture raised beef. You mention that it is not lean. It is extremely lean because the animal does not eat corn. Because the animal eats grass it’s meat is significantly leaner and is high in omega threes. Green food in is green food out.

    • I am a huge fan of pastured meats, and I buy them whenever I can. I absolutely agree with you that most pasture raised, grass-fed beef is very lean. I like that about it. However, the particular pound of beef I used when making the patty melts for the posting was not lean. It was closer to the 85% lean, 15% fat level preferred by many for juicy burgers. I was surprised to find the grass-fed beef this fatty, but I also meant it in a good way. Many people find grass-fed beef too lean for burgers, and I was trying to show that it is not always the case. I really appreciate your comment because it gave me the opportunity to clarify this point. Thanks!

  2. I’m happy to see that you recognize that by buying factory farmed meat you are supporting the inhumane treatment of animals, but by buying meat at all, you are still contributing to the demand for meat. Even though it seems to be helpful to buy “grass-fed” beef, the natural life of the animal is still as short as in a factory farm, the way the animal is killed is still the same (unless your farmer kills every cow himself, which is unlikely), and the energy wasted to bring that meat to you is harmful to the environment. Just because the animal saw the light of day doesn’t mean we should justify killing it. It was raised to be killed and eaten, how does that seem right to you.

    • While I certainly respect your opinion, I feel that humans are omnivores. No one asks that wild animals not eat meat, nor should we expect all humans to do the same. Individuals have the right to choose to not eat meat, but we also have the right to eat it. I choose to eat it in the most responsible way I can which to me means buying responsibly raised meat and eating less of it.

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