I love Big Macs. I understand that they’re basically poisonous, and I know it’s not normal to break out in a cold sweat and get a stomachache every time you eat something (aka the “McShakes”). But blind, passionate love isn’t really about normal or healthy, is it? On the other hand, I’m also trying really hard not be a lazy a-hole these days, and that includes not regularly indulging in saturated-fat-drenched foods. The only two exceptions to this rule are:
(1) Foods eaten in/near major transportation hubs (e.g. airports, train stations). I strongly believe that calories consumed in transit don’t count.
(2) Post-3am drunken fast food. (If you don’t really remember eating it, it doesn’t count. Period.)
The problem is that sometimes I’m not drunk and/or hanging out at a train station, and I really want a Big Mac anyway. It was this type of common bind that inspired the Healthy Big Mac challenge. The idea was to make a burger that looked and tasted as close as possible to an actual Big Mac while being significantly less likely to cause a heart attack and/or massive weight gain. Obviously I could have slashed a bunch of fat/calories by using turkey instead of beef, or by putting it on a spelt bun or something. But that really wasn’t the point.
How to Build a Healthy(er) Big Mac
[This recipe is inspired by (and heavily based on) this Big Mac recipe by K. Kenji Lopez-Alt on Serious Eats. I never would have thought to dehydrate the onions in the microwave to make them more Big Mac-y, or to put turmeric or Marmite in the sauce. Sheer genius.]
- 12 oz extra lean ground beef (you’ll only actually use 3 oz per burger, but it’s easier to roll the burgers out if you start with more)
- Cooking spray
- 1 Kraft Single (American Cheese)
- 2 Wonderbread hamburger buns + 2 extra bottom buns
- 1/4 cup finely chopped onion + 1 tsp finely grated onion
- 1 egg white
- 1 tbsp sesame seeds
- 2 tbsp Hellmans light mayo
- 2 tsp sweet green relish
- 1/2 tsp yellow mustard
- 1 tsp granulated sugar
- 1/4 tsp Marmite or Vegemite
- 1/4 tsp turmeric
- 1/2 cup shredded iceberg lettuce (or romaine heart)
- 8 slices dill pickle
- Salt & pepper
For Mac sauce, mix together mayo, relish, mustard, sugar, Marmite, turmeric and tsp of finely grated onion. Cover and chill until ready to use.
For onions, place finely chopped onions on a plate covered with a double layer of paper towel. Microwave on low for ten minutes (checking periodically to make sure they’re not getting brown).
For bun, to create center bread-slice, cut the bottom off of two bottom buns so that you’re left with a disc that has two cut sides. Using your fingers, paint egg white onto top buns. Sprinkle on sesame seeds (enough to make it look pretty – just eyeball it), pressing lightly with your fingers to adhere. Stick the buns in the toaster oven or under the broiler for a minute or so to “set” the seeds.
For burger patties, take a handful of extra lean ground beef and form into a ball. Place on a plastic cutting board and top with a sheet of plastic wrap. Using a rolling pin or a bottle, roll the meat out into a thin, flat pancake (about 1/3 inch thick). Compress the rim of a large mug or small bowl into the beef pancake to create a circle about 4 inches in circumference - discard scraps around the edges. Scrape patties up carefully with a thin spatula and place on a plate covered in plastic wrap (separating each patty with a new piece of wrap as you make them). You will make 4 patties total (2 for each burger), and each should be approximately 1.5 ounces – discard extra beef or save it for another use. Place patties in the fridge to chill (or the freezer if you’ll be using them shortly). When ready to cook, season each patty lightly with salt and pepper. Heat a frying pan spritzed with cooking spray over medium-high heat. Cook patties until bottom is brown and beginning to form a crust (about 1-2 minutes). Flip burgers and top two of the four patties with 1/2 a slice of cheese. Cook for about 1 minute longer or until cheese is soft/melty (these burgers are so thin they should cook very quickly).
To assemble burgers, place bottom and middle buns on a cutting board. Top each with 1/2 tbsp special sauce, 2 pickle slices and 1/8 cup shredded lettuce. Top bottom bun slice with cheese-covered burger patty, and center slice with plain burger patty. Place sesame-seed coated top bun on top.
The obvious question is: how do these puppies stack up health-wise. The answer is: not bad! (Although not quite as good as I hoped either. I guess you can only do so much with white bread, ground beef and cheese.) Let us compare:
|Nutrition||McDonalds Big Mac||French Ponytail Big Mac|
|Fat||29g (10g saturated)||20g (6.6g saturated)|
An easy place to shave off some of the fat would have been by replacing the cheese with fat-free Kraft Singles, which I couldn’t find in the store. Also, Wonderbread has these new whole-wheat hamburger buns that are only 80 cals…but maybe that would depart too much from the Big Mac feel.
In any case, what I can say is that my version tasted pretty close to the real thing, for about 1/5 less calories and 1/3 less fat. Maybe not an everyday kind of meal, but for once in awhile, these guys really hit the spot. And are at least slightly less likely to send you into cardiac arrest.