Home Cooked Burger Crumbles
Precook meat or veggie crumbles to keep in the freezer for easy meals on a busy day!
See, the thing is, I wasn’t even sure what to call this… I mean, it’s barely a recipe, you can make it with any kind of ground meat or none at all (see the tofu version below) it’s really an ingredient for other recipes… Rich suggested Burger, as burgers have transcended ingredients but still convey the idea of ground meat or a substitute, so I’m going with that.
And because of all that, I don’t even have a pretty picture of the finished product, because there really is no finished product – yet – just a plastic freezer bag of Stuff. I mean, it’s not sexy at all.
But, see, you’re going to make this… and freeze it. Really, you want to. Because then on a busy night you are already half way to sloppy joes, or a meat sauce for spaghetti, or cottage pie, or chili, or tacos, or…
I’ve done this with meat for years, but was particularly excited to realize that I can do the same with tofu, for a vegan version. There are veggie crumbles out there commercially, but most contain gluten. (And many are surprisingly expensive, given the ingredients!)
I keep saying just “meat” because you can use whatever ground meat works best for you. Here in New York City my usual options are beef, pork, turkey, and chicken. In fact, I often mix beef or pork with turkey or chicken… the first has more flavor, the second is less expensive and lower fat. I find the combination works well. (There is a reason that meatloaf is traditionally a combination of meat…) But I know people who hunt, for whom venison is a great choice, and in much of the world outside the USA lamb is reasonable and readily available. Here in New York, both venison and lamb are seen as luxury meats, so I don’t tend to cook with them.
Equally, if you are an omnivore, when you use the crumbles you can mix meat and tofu. (Hmmm… I never even thought of cooking them together in the first place until I wrote that sentence. I may need to try that, next!) The tofu itself has almost no flavor, but once it is cooked and then frozen it absorbs sauce, seasoning, and flavor amazingly well, and has a terrific chewy texture. I just started using this technique recently (though I’d frozen tofu for years, for the texture) and you will see recipes calling for it – I was surprised how versatile it is, and have to play with it!
Basically, we want to take the meat or tofu, crumble it (hence the name!) drive out moisture and fat, and brown it for flavor. How much moisture, fat, and browning we are talking about will vary by what you have. I’ll discuss meat, first.
Directions – Meat Burger Crumbles
Here in the pictures I have ground turkey. People often chose turkey because it is lower in fat than beef or pork, though that’s the reason it’s also lower in flavor… It’s also, usually, around here at least, less expensive. Now, an issue with all the commercial ground meats I’ve had for some years, now, is that there is a remarkable amount of added water. Whole cuts of meat are often soaked in water, too – brined – the theory is that it prevents drying when you roast it. (It certainly means that you are paying meat prices for water…) Aside from that issue, in ground meat like this it is a problem because the meat won’t brown until the water evaporates. You may want to try ground meat from different companies or different stores – I have found that they vary quite a bit.
I cook no more than two pounds of meat at a time, so it has enough room in the pan. If I have more, I do it in batches. How much you want to do at once will depend on the size of your pan, but make sure you have enough room for all the meat to make contact with the hot surface.
Take your frying pan – I like a cast iron skillet for this, but others certainly work – and heat it. Then take your meat, and drop it into the pan a bit at a time, so that it starts to cook in pieces, rather than chunks.Continue until all the meat is in the pan, and then stir it around.
Now, all meat does naturally have moisture in it, and beef and pork (and lamb, if you have that) have enough fat to render out, so you will start to get some combination of moisture and fat coming out of the meat as it heats. Unfortunately, if there is a lot of water, as there was here, this means the meat will simmer before it browns… You can drain it, but I prefer not to, as I don’t want to lose any flavor from the meat (ground turkey tends to have little enough to begin with.) If there is a lot of fat, you may want to drain it so it isn’t greasy, but do so at the end, after it has a chance to brown. I tend to push the meat to the sides of the pan, so that just the water is directly over the flame, as that speeds up the evaporation.
Once the moisture is evaporated, the meat will start to brown. You can see in this picture that it is beginning to – stir, let it rest, scrape up the browning part from the pan, stir, let it rest… When it is fully cooked, and browned to your taste, remove from heat, and let it cool. Then make sure you scrape up all the browned bit from the pan, and package it. I use a freezer bag, because I can use small amounts at a time, and the amount can vary, depending on what else is in the meal, but if you know that you will always want a certain amount, then packaging it in that amount may work for you. The meat does separate easily.
Directions – Tofu Burger Crumbles
Now, with the tofu, the basic idea is the same. There is naturally water in tofu, so you want to drive it out so the tofu will then absorb other flavors. When I’m cooking it for the meal, I wrap it in a towel first to start the process, and you can, but I find it doesn’t make much difference in this, once I break the tofu up in pieces. And I do crumble it, rather than cutting it – I want the rough edges.
So again, heat the pan. I cut the block in a few slabs, just to make it easier to handle. Break off bits and drop them in, then stir around as they give up their moisture. (This was not at all as wet as the turkey was…) It will stick a little to the pan – let it rest, and, as it cooks, it will develop a firm surface that releases. I do like a good non-stick pan for this, though – it’s just easier…There is just a little bit of browning – a light golden color, really – but there won’t be very much, because of the rough edges. And again, cool it and package it for the freezer. (When you freeze tofu, it turns an odd yellow, which can be disconcerting. Don’t worry, it lightens up again when it thaws.)
And there you have it – either meat or vegetarian protein for future meals – several meals, if you make enough. All ready for you to pull out of the freezer and toss in a sauce (homemade,or from a jar when that makes more sense) for a fast and easy dinner.
Home Cooked Burger Crumbles
- 1-2 pounds of your choice of any ground meat or tofu
- Heat a frying pan over medium heat.
- Take your meat or tofu and crumble it, a bit at a time, into the pan, stirring between additions.
- Once it is all in, stir periodically. Allow any moisture to cook out.
- Once any moisture is cooked out, and any fat is rendered (both will vary by product) alternate letting the crumbles sit to brown and stirring, scraping the pan, to get all the browned bits up.
- Once it has browned a little (tofu will just show some signs of a slight golden cast) and it is all cooked through, removed from, drain fat if necessary, and let cool.
- Package and freeze.