Oklahoma-Style Fried Onion Burgers
The food scene in Oklahoma is vast and varied. Nowadays, you can find a ramen shop next to a gastropub next to a gourmet pizza joint. But back in the day, Southern staples were king; in fact, the official state meal of Oklahoma consists of fried okra, cornbread, barbecue pork, squash, biscuits, sausage and gravy, grits, corn, strawberries, chicken fried steak, pecan pie and black-eyed peas. You can’t get more Southern than that.
Another well-known Oklahoma dish is the fried onion burger. If you’ve read “Grapes of Wrath” (or paid even the slightest attention in history class), you’ll know that Oklahoma was one of the states hit hardest by the Great Depression. The story goes that Ross Davis, owner of the restaurant Hamburger Inn in El Reno, OK, created the first onion burger right there on Route 66. Because this was the Depression, hamburger meat was expensive, but onions were cheap. Davis started “smashing them into the meat with the back of his spatula. He called them Depression burgers and he’d smash a half-onion’s worth of shreds into a five-cent burger.” You can still find fried onion burgers all around Oklahoma today, perhaps most notably at the popular Tucker’s Onion Burgers.
I am an Oklahoma native, but I have never had a fried onion burger! Maybe I did when I was younger, but I just don’t remember it (I’ve been a vegetarian for 12 years, so who’s to say). We’ve made black bean burgers before, and I thought it would be worth trying to transform them into onion burgers. The result was fantastic—crispy, loaded with delicious onion-y flavors and just an all-around classically good burger. Side note: a moist black bean burger is never going to get as crispy as one made with meat, but the more butter you add (without going overboard), the closer you’ll get. I hope you enjoy these as much as I did!
2 - 14.5 oz. cans black beans, drained and rinsed
1 c. seasoned breadcrumbs
1/2 t. chili powder
1/2 t. garlic power
1 yellow onion, sliced as thinly as possible
A few hefty dashes of hot sauce (we used Frank’s RedHot Sauce)
Hamburger buns of your choice (we used Hawaiian roll sliders)
Toppings of your choice (we used shredded iceberg lettuce, sharp cheddar cheese & ketchup)
1) Drain and rinse the black beans and pour them into a bowl. Use a fork to mash the beans into a near-paste, still retaining a few chunks. Add the breadcrumbs, egg, chili powder, hot sauce and garlic powder to the mixture and use your hands to combine. Allow to sit for at least five minutes.
2) Form the burger patties. You want them to be about an inch thick and the size of your hamburger buns (they won’t reduce in size).
3) Heat a large pan over high heat. Add 1 T. olive oil. When the olive oil is smoking hot, place the patties in the pan. Be careful not to crowd the patties…the above photo shows four patties in a pan at once, but we ended up removing two of them so the onions had room to brown. I would suggest cooking only two patties at once, if you’re going for slider size.
4) Add a pinch of the sliced onions onto each patty. Add 1/4 T. butter to the middle of the pan. Place the lid onto the pan to allow the onions to steam, about one minute.
5) Flip the patties and smash them into the onions with a spatula. Leave the patties to sit so the onions will caramelize, about 3-5 minutes.
6) Turn the pan off. Slice your cheese and place the cheese onto the patties. Put the lid back on the pan, allowing the cheese to melt, about one minute.
7) Assemble your burgers! We didn’t grill our buns since we figured the patties/onions would have more than enough butter.