Estonian burger recipe

Bacon Cheeseburger with Hard-Boiled Eggs and Horseradish Mustard Sauce

Keeping things interesting, we’re heading to Estonia now.  The Republic of Estonia is located in Eastern Europe between Latvia and Russia and across the Gulf of Finland from, well, Finland of course!  It’s a small country with a population a little less than 1.3 million.  But Estonians take their history and their culture seriously.  Despite having been occupied/ruled by Denmark, Sweden, Russia, USSR and Germany, Estonians have held on to their culture and heritage and even their unusual language.  And through it all, they’ve built up a strong economy with an emphasis on modern technology.  In fact Skype was created by Estonians – pretty cool.

courtesy of CIA World Factbook

Courtesy of CIA World Factbook

Before we move on, I highly recommend you do a Google image search on Tallinn – go ahead, I’ll wait…Tallinn is (according to several sources) one of the most intact medieval cities in Europe.  The Old Town of Tallinn is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  The original layout of the city is unchanged, many of the houses and major buildings are intact and restored consistent with the original designs from the 13th and 14th centuries.  It is beautiful, picturesque, quaint, just pick and adjective.  I’m a fan of any group of people who keep their old buildings and maintain them, so I’m now officially an Estonia fan.

So…cool town center, interesting history and funky language – now how about the food?  Traditional Estonian cuisine is based on seasonal foods (aren’t most traditional cuisines?).  Because their growing season isn’t all that long, Estonians have become fans of pickling as a way to preserve vegetables for the long winter.  So far, I was with them – I love pickled stuff.  Then I discover that in addition to pickled veggies, they like to eat pickled herring and pickled eel.  Now, I’ve never had either, but I’ve smelled pickled herring and that was reason enough to never eat it.  I know, there will be comments extolling the virtues of pickled herring, but you can forget about me incorporating it into a recipe.  At the end of the day, there won’t be a single recipe in this collection that I can’t honestly say I enjoyed eating.  They may not all be burgers that I crave, but they’ll all be burgers I like, and so far many of them are burgers I love.  So no pickled fish.

What about meats?  A classic favorite in Estonia is blood sausage.  I have tried blood sausage (in Cologne on a rather dreadful business trip – imagine hanging out in Germany with a bunch of drunk co-workers while you’re allergic to beer and it’s 90 degrees, not fun), and I’m not a fan.  I also don’t have a local source for blood sausage (Americans are a little squeamish about their food, so it isn’t a popular item here).  So regrettably, no blood sausage.

There’s also a traditional Estonian dish that involves boiling down pork bones and making a jelled substance out of it – can we just say yuck and move on?  I have to admit, I was beginning to despair at this point.  So far I had a pretty gross list of possible ingredients.  But, never one to give up hope, I kept researching.  Luckily Estonians like pork, so do I, they like horseradish sauces, so do I, they like bacon, dark rye bread and hard boiled eggs…wait a minute, hard boiled eggs?  That’s right folks, hard-boiled eggs.  What a riot, I thought that the eggs were kind of gimmicky, but man they made a really nice counterpoint for the pickles and pickled beets.  I also finally conquered my inability to make perfect hard-boiled eggs.  I always over cook my eggs and end up with that green-ish color to the egg yolk.  This time I put four eggs into cold water, enough to have an extra inch of water above the eggs.  I turned on the heat and got it to boiling, then boiled for 6 minutes, let sit in the hot water for 4 minutes, then I immersed the eggs in ice water until they were completely cooled.  It worked like a charm.

So the final burger is a bit of a hot mess, lettuce, pickles, pickled beets, onion, Gruyere, egg, bacon and horseradish sauce.  It is a pain to eat, very messy, sauce and stuff dripping everywhere.  But the flavor is so worth the mess.  Somehow all of these ingredients come together in a rich, tangy scrumptious feast.  My mother suggested I make my father’s burger without pickles or beets because he generally doesn’t like those things – but that would kind of thwart the whole idea of the project don’t you think?  We all ate the burgers as is in the recipe and I wrote down my father’s comment “it isn’t spectacular” that was all he would say.  But, he ate the whole burger and didn’t pick off any of the ingredients, so I’m calling it a win!  Paul and I loved this burger and my mother did too – I hope you’ll try it out and let me know what you think.

Estonian Burger
4 slices of bacon
1 pound ground pork
Kosher salt
Ground black pepper
¼ cup diced onion
Gruyere cheese sliced
8 slices of dark rye bread
1 clove of garlic sliced in half
Olive oil
Bib lettuce
1 whole dill pickle sliced into thin rounds
Pickled beets
2 hard-boiled eggs sliced
Horseradish Mustard Sauce (recipe below)

Cut the bacon slices in half and cook in a medium pan until crispy.  Set aside on paper towels until ready to use.  Do not clean the pan.

Form the pork into four patties.  Generously salt and pepper each side of the patty.  Heat the bacon grease over medium high heat.  Press the onions into one side of each patty and place onion side down in the hot bacon grease.  Cook until browned then flip over.  Cook until pork is almost cooked through then add slices of Gruyere and cover until cheese melts.

While the burgers are cooking, rub the garlic over one side of each piece of bread, then brush that same side with olive oil.  In a large dry pan, grill each piece of bread until lightly toasted (you’ll probably have to work in batches unless you have a large grill pan).

To assemble your burger start with a piece of grilled bread, grilled side up.  Add a piece of lettuce, slices of dill pickle, pickled beets, the cooked burger, the cooked bacon and a couple slices of hard boiled egg.  Put a nice dollop of the Horseradish Mustard Sauce on the grilled slice of the second piece of bread and serve the extra sauce on the side.  As I said in the intro, it’s a messy burger – here’s a picture of what you get when you add the sauce – YUMMY!

Horseradish Mustard Sauce
½ cup mayonnaise
¼ cup sour cream
2 teaspoons horseradish
1 teaspoon coarse mustard
4 teaspoons white wine vinegar

Combine all ingredients in a bowl and whisk until smooth.  Refrigerate until ready to use.


©Copyright 2012 Linda Monach

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7 Responses to Estonian burger recipe

  1. Carl H says:

    Haha, all this ill will against Black pudding, Pickled herring and jellied pork is really proving that you’r a true American.

    Pickled herring is of course great. Us Swedes have countless variations of ways to make it. Our tradition of putting sugar in everything is well manifested in that dish (greatly balancing up the tartness of the pickling vinegar). I suggest you try it before you dismiss it (In Sweden and Finland there are actually some old recipes where you mix minced meat, salt herring, onions and spices and make into small meatballs. Not a fan of it though, wouldn’t make a burger out of it).

    Black pudding is also great. You can’t really dismiss it without trying the different varieties. The soft French black pudding is wonderful, but the dry, smokey and spiced Portuguese variety is the very best in my book. Well made, it’s. like a meal at a Michelin restaurant in a single sausage.

    All in all I think you captured some of the good Baltic flavours in your burger.

    • linda says:

      Lol! This is why there is such a great diversity of food in the world – something for everyone! I am, for better or worse, a true American – born and raised in the mid-west. The only fish we ate as children was fish sticks (I’m not sure they even count as fish). I didn’t eat sushi until I was in my mid 30s, and I’m still a little cautious about new foods. But I’m working on it (I did try the blood sausage after all). Maybe pickled herring will be my adventure in my 50s, for now I’m sticking with yuck. Sorry Carl :).

      Finland is looming, I fear another pickled herring discussion 🙂

  2. Eerik says:

    First of all this is not what a traditional Estonian hamburger looks like. It is never served on bread with lettuce and condiments. The Estonian burger – kotlet – is pretty much a small round beef patty (about two or three inches round and almost as thick) which is heavy on onion content and fried and then served with heavy gravy. As to whether you serve them with potatoes, salad, or whatever is up to the individual.

    Second, the kotlet has been around Estonia for hundreds of years. Merchants of the German port of Hamburg, through centuries of trade with Estonians, Latvians, and Finns, had acquired the Baltic taste for scraped raw beef, but it was not until the St. Louis World’s Fair in 1904 that broiled, bunned beef was introduced to the rest of the world by the Germans of South St. Louis as hamburger.

    Keep in mind Estonia’s capital Tallinn along with many other Estonian cities and other cities in the region were once members of the medieval Hanseatic League of cities which traded within a vast network of cities across northern Europe. While common knowledge dictates the origin of the hamburger came from Hamburg Germany, just about all the modern nations that once traded within this same area will tell you they too have a dish which resembles a beef patty. (It’s worth noting the same argument can be made for the origin of the confectionery marzipan, the tradition of decorating a fir tree around the Christmas holiday, as well as many other foods and traditions.)

    Third, I’ve never considered Estonia to be located between Latvia and Russia. It is the northern most of the three Baltic States. It shares a border to the east with Russia and southern border with Latvia. Its northern and western border is the sea. So the description that Estonia it is somehow wedged between Latvia and Russia was somewhat of a different way of seeing Estonia’s geography.

    Regarding geography, for the record, the Baltic States do share some common borders and history, but for the most part their languages, governments, customs and traditions are very different. The term “Baltic States” is rather unfortunate since it somehow alludes to some form of organized regional homogeneity; or as in the case of the “United States” some organized governed unit.

    • linda says:

      Thanks for your comments Eerik. I have to admit I’ve never even looked into who invented the idea of the burger – I kind of feel like Americans took the idea of the burger and have made it their own, but that’s probably an overly American point of view. I love the history, it really helps us all understand each country a little better so thanks for filling in more of the gaps.

      I purposefully didn’t do a traditional Estonian burger. I only found one or two references to a traditional burger and, it wasn’t unusual enough to make an original recipe out of. The idea of this cookbook/blog is to create original burger recipes that are inspired by the flavors of each country. I wanted to give people a chance to taste some new flavors in a form that wouldn’t be intimidating, that’s really the basic idea of the blog. Hopefully I’ve been able to capture some classic Estonian flavors in this recipe.

      thanks again for your comments

  3. Slim says:

    That’s a great recipe – and this is a reaction from an Estonian! I would make only one minor change – instead of Gruyère (Swiss cheese) Estonian smoked cheese or juniper cheese should be used to make the burger fully Estonian! 🙂 Either option would fit in by taste.

    • linda says:

      Thanks Slim, and thanks for the tip on Estonian cheese. I’ve said it before, cheese is really difficult to figure out flavor and what I can use that is available in a typical US grocery store and still give an authentic flavor. I’m not a big smoked cheese fan myself, but juniper cheese sounds intriguing, I’ll have to check with some local cheese shops and see if I can find some!
      thanks again for the comments

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