Khao man gai is my favorite Thai dish, a careful balance of boiled capon (chicken), rice cooked in the resulting broth, a crucial garnish of cucumber and cilantro, and the miracle ingredient: the sauce, oh dear lord the sauce. You should definitely make the whole thing from Leela’s recipe at She Simmers, but that’s not what we’re doing here today. What we’re doing here is an insult to culinary tradition, albeit a delicious insult. We’re going to pun on the dish and make it into a burger.
Note that my name for this concoction makes no sense; we’re using neither khao (rice) nor gai (chicken). However, the original name doesn’t capture the key ingredient either (the sauce, the sauce!) so I’ll let it slide.
- 2/3 lb ground beef, 10% fat or more
- 4 tbsp khao man gai sauce (see below)
- 2 nice burger buns (brioche buns if possible)
- 1/3 cup ginger, peeled and roughly chopped
- 5-6 cloves garlic
- 4 bird’s eye chilis (“Thai chilis”)
- 1/2 cup yellow soybean sauce (there is no substitute for this, sorry)
- 1/4 cup usukuchi (light soy sauce) or Thai white soy sauce
- 1/4 cup Thai sweet chili sauce
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 1/3 cup white vinegar (yes, the cheap stuff)
(Makes more than you need, but it’s hard to make less, and yay, you’ll have leftover sauce. Cook the full khao man gai spread the next day, or top the burger with extra sauce if you like yours punchy with the umami.)
- 3 tbsp mayo, Kewpie brand or homemade
- 3 tbsp cilantro, finely chopped
- 2 small or 1 medium pickling (“Kirby”) cucumber
- salt and sugar
Combine all the sauce ingredients in your food processor and chop until they make a coarse, wet mix, no more than 5-10 seconds. Move to a small saucepot and bring to a near boil, then immediately take off heat and let come to room temperature (30-40 minutes).
While you wait, read Jim Ray’s post on grilling burgers. Start your grill and come back into the kitchen to make the rest.
Combine the cilantro and the mayo and refrigerate.
Toss the cucumbers in a small bowl with a few generous pinches of equal parts salt and sugar and let rest until you’re ready to top the burger; yes, this is all it takes to semi-pickle them.
Slice your buns while your hands are still free of meat juices.
In a large and cold glass or metal bowl, combine the meat and the khao man gai sauce. Use your (extremely clean) hands, and don’t overwork the meat. Just handle it enough to fold the sauce in. Shape two dimpled patties. Grill the burgers according to Jim’s method and don’t forget to quickly toast your buns.
To serve, spread cilantro mayo on the bun, top with the burger, then the pickles. Goes great with a beer or a drinking vinegar.
A bastardized recipe like this would deservedly roll the eyes of fusion-restaurant goers, but as an experiment in food-punning in your home kitchen, it’s fun and instructive. My apologies to Thai grandmothers everywhere.
P.S. I should note that the best ground meat is the meat you grind yourself. If you decide to go this route, I recommend a 50/50 mix of brisket and short rib (save the bones for stock). And remember: don’t overwork it after it’s ground!