Shrimp burgers and herbed gin and tonics: A Labor Day to remember

Crispy shrimp burgers with a spicy homemade mayonnaise are inspired by a midday feast while traveling in London. They make an indulgent departure from your usual burger for Labor Day. (Food styling by Mark Graham) (Abel Uribe/Chicago Tribune/TNS)

We enjoy burgers all summer long — their charred goodness never ceases to satisfy. For Labor Day weekend, we'll splurge on a departure from the usual beef: crispy shrimp burgers with a spicy homemade mayonnaise.

These indulgent burgers are inspired by a midday feast traveling in the UK with friends. After a morning exploring Abbey Road, we ventured to the Holborn Dining Room in London's Rosewood Hotel. The gorgeous marble, polished wood and red-accented brasserie is well known for our favorite summer cocktail — the gin and tonic.

These are not the sloppy Tanqueray and tonics of our youth. The Holborn's Gin Bar features more than 400 boutique gins and 27 tonic waters. In addition, the restaurant makes homemade syrups and secret potions to turn out more than 14,000 possible gin and tonic combinations. Fresh lavender, mint, rosemary, thyme and other botanicals, destined for muddling into a bar glass, scent the room.

It took us a long time to select a gin and a tonic combination. In the end, a lavender and pink grapefruit G&T swept us away. Converted, we spent the rest of the trip collecting gins to transport home. Several versions of homemade syrups now line the shelf of my fridge. My husband planted lavender just for cocktails.

The Holborn shrimp burger likewise haunts our memories. Versions at local restaurants pale in comparison. Finally, I ventured into the kitchen to work on recreating it. Turns out, raw shrimp, some of it chopped and some nearly pureed, yield the juicy, nearly bouncy burger reminiscent of Holborn's signature sandwich. A hot, oily griddle, not a grill, creates a perfectly crusty exterior.


The shrimp burger mix is seasoned with a bit of garlic and fresh herbs. Breadcrumbs and an egg white help hold the patties together during cooking. To shape the soft mixture into burgers, I put mounds onto an oily, heated griddle and then press the mounds into 1-inch thick burgers as they start to cook.

Enlist a food processor to make speedy work of chopping and coarsely pureeing the raw shrimp. (I've been known to pack my food processor in the car to take to our lake cabin so I could make these burgers.) Lacking a processor, a sharp knife and a cutting board works to finely chop half of the shrimp. Then, work in small batches in a blender to coarsely puree the other half of the shrimp.

Holborn tops their burgers with a spicy jalapeno tartar. I make my version with griddle-roasted jalapeno, chopped fresh herbs and a good-quality, store-bought mayonnaise. The combo tastes great on burgers of any flavor.

Brioche buns, toasted and smeared with the seasoned mayonnaise make holiday-worthy burgers. For more controlled weekday enjoyment, I serve the burgers on a pile of crisp romaine leaves with a dollop of the mayonnaise.

Accompany the burgers with butter-basted zucchini sticks and an icy cold gin and tonic. For dessert, seer small scoops of a nondairy frozen fresh fruit and coconut dessert. Your labors will be appreciated.


Grapefruit and lavender gin and tonic

Prep: 15 minutes


Cook: 3 minutes

Makes: drinks to order

3/4 cup sugar

Small sprigs fresh thyme

Small sprigs fresh lavender

Ice cubes

Thin bias-cut slices unpeeled cucumber

Thin wedge-shaped slices fresh pink grapefruit


Pink grapefruit juice, preferably freshly squeezed


Chilled tonic water

For the syrup, heat sugar and ¾ cup water to a boil in a small saucepan; simmer until sugar is dissolved, about 3 minutes. Remove from heat. Add 2 or 3 thyme and lavender sprigs and let cool. Then remove the herbs and decant the syrup into a small bottle. Refrigerate, covered, up to several weeks. Makes: about 1 cup.

For each drink, fill a large goblet half full with ice. Put 1 cucumber slice, 1 grapefruit slice and a sprig each of lavender and mint in each goblet. Add 1 or 2 tablespoons grapefruit juice, 1 tablespoon cooled syrup, ¼ cup gin and ½ cup tonic water. Stir and serve.

Nutrition information per drink: 228 calories, 0 g fat, 0 g saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 25 g carbohydrates, 22 g sugar, 0 g protein, 19 mg sodium, 0 g fiber

Shrimp burgers with jalapeno mayonnaise

Prep: 30 minutes


Cook: 20 minutes

Makes: 6 servings

If buying uncooked shrimp in the shell, purchase about 2 pounds. When they are peeled and deveined, you'll have the right amount for six burgers. Brioche buns taste great with these burgers — their hint of sweetness and rich texture work beautifully with the shrimp and spicy sauce.

— Jalapeno mayonnaise:

1 medium-large jalapeno

½ cup mayonnaise

1 tablespoon chopped fresh chives

1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley


½ teaspoon finely grated lime zest

Pinch salt

— Burgers:

1 ½ pounds peeled, deveined uncooked shrimp

½ small onion, quartered

2 cloves garlic

2 loosely packed cups brioche or white bread cubes

1 egg white


1 teaspoon salt

¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1 tablespoon chopped fresh chives

1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley

6 brioche burger buns, split

12 very thin slices ripe tomato

1 ½ cups fresh watercress or baby spinach leaves

Safflower, sunflower or expeller-pressed canola oil

For mayonnaise, put jalapeno into a small, heavy skillet set over medium heat. Cook, turning jalapeno, until charred on all sides, about 10 minutes. Remove from heat. When cool, remove stem. Cut in half and scrape out the seeds. Chop flesh very finely. Put mayonnaise into a small bowl; stir in jalapeno, chives, parsley, lime zest and salt. Refrigerate covered up to several days. Serve at room temperature.

For burgers, put about half of the shrimp into a food processor; pulse several times to chop coarsely. Transfer to a large bowl. There's no need to clean the food processor. Turn it on and drop onion and garlic into it while running. Process to finely chop. Add remaining shrimp and bread; pulse until shrimp is finely chopped. Add egg white, salt and pepper. Pulse a few times until mixture is a coarse puree. Add shrimp puree mixture to the bowl with the chopped shrimp. Fold in the chives and parsley. Divide mixture into 6 even mounds. Refrigerate up to a few hours if desired.

Split the buns and toast them lightly in a toaster oven or under the broiler (watch carefully). Have the mayonnaise, tomato slices and watercress near the cooking surface. Heat a large nonstick griddle or nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add a thin film of oil. Once the oil is shimmering hot, add a shrimp mixture mound. Use a spatula to press the mound into a 1-inch-thick patty. Repeat with remaining shrimp mounds. Cook burgers over medium heat until the bottoms are beautifully golden, about 6 minutes. Flip carefully. Cook until golden on the second side, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat.

Assemble: Spread the insides of the buns generously with the mayonnaise. Put a pile of watercress on the bottom bun; top it with 2 tomato slices. Add a shrimp burger patty and the top bun. Repeat and serve.

Nutrition information per serving: 590 calories, 28 g fat, 7 g saturated fat, 240 mg cholesterol, 53 g carbohydrates, 7 g sugar, 31 g protein, 1,177 mg sodium, 4 g fiber

Zucchini sticks with mint

Prep: 15 minutes

Cook: 10 minutes

Makes: 6 servings

4 medium (total 1-1/2 pounds) Mexican tatume squash or green zucchini, ends trimmed


1/3 cup unsalted butter

Freshly ground black pepper

Fresh mint leaves, finely chopped

Cut the squash crosswise into 3-inch lengths. Cut the lengths into ½-inch thick slices. Cut the slices into ½-inch sticks. Sprinkle generously with salt and set into a colander to drain. Put butter into a small saucepan; melt over low heat. Remove from the heat. Skim off and discard the foam. Use a spoon to skim the golden yellow liquid off into another dish. Discard the milky solids at the bottom of the pan.

Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add the clarified butter and the zucchini sticks. Saute, basting the zucchini often with the butter in the pan, until golden and fork-tender, about 10 minutes. Season with pepper. Sprinkle with mint. Serve hot.

Nutrition information per serving: 110 calories, 11 g fat, 6 g saturated fat, 27 mg cholesterol, 3 g carbohydrates, 0 g sugar, 3 g protein, 392 mg sodium, 1 g fiber

Frozen apricot-coconut dream

Prep: 15 minutes

Freeze: Several hours

Makes: about 1 quart

6 to 8 soft-ripe large apricots (about 1 ¼ pounds total), stemmed, halved, pitted

1 can (14 ounces) unsweetened coconut milk

1/4 cup agave syrup, pure maple syrup or brown rice syrup, optional

Mint sprigs

Cut the apricots into 1 inch chunks; you should have about 4 cups. Put chunks onto a baking sheet and freeze solid. Shake the can of coconut milk well, then open it. Put about half of the frozen apricot cubes, half of the coconut milk and half of the agave into a food processor or powerful blender. Process until smooth. Remove to a freezer-safe bowl. Repeat blending with remaining ingredients; add them to the bowl. Put bowl into the freezer for at least 20 minutes until the mixture is firm enough to scoop. Serve in small scoops garnished with mint sprigs.

Note: If mixture freezes solid, let it thaw at room temperature until soft enough to scoop.

Nutrition information per serving: 47 calories, 2 g fat, 1 g saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 7 g carbohydrates, 6 g sugar, 0 g protein, 0 mg sodium, 1 g fiber

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