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Anatomy of an Icon: The Le Pigeon Burger

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As part of Eater's Burger Week, part five in a series exploring what, exactly, makes an iconic hamburger:

Le Pigeon
Hillary Dixler Canavan is Eater's restaurant editor and the author of the publication's debut book, Eater: 100 Essential Restaurant Recipes From the Authority on Where to Eat and Why It Matters (Abrams, September 2023). Her work focuses on dining trends and the people changing the industry — and scouting the next hot restaurant you need to try on Eater's annual Best New Restaurant list.

If there's such a thing as "burger mystique," the burger at chef Gabriel Rucker's Porland, OR restaurant Le Pigeon definitely has it . The burger, which has been on the menu since the restaurant opened in 2006, used to be a scarce commodity — the restaurant would only sell five a night. Today, Le Pigeon doesn't cap burger sales, and customers needing a burger fix can also order the burger at Rucker's downtown bistro Little Bird.

The idea for the burger "happened in a flash," Rucker says. He was inspired by elements from fast food burgers like the ciabatta buns he had at Jack in the Box and the square patties at Wendy's. There's no griddle in the kitchen at Le Pigeon, so Rucker decided to grill the burgers and enhance that grilled flavor with each additional element. Rucker created the burger quickly, put it on the opening menu, and the recipe remains basically unchanged. "It just really took off," he says. "Sometimes you win the culinary lottery that way."

1. The Bun

Le Pigeon chose a ciabatta bun by Ken's Artisan Bakery. The square shape of the bun was certainly part of the appeal, as was its size. Beyond that, though, Rucker had already established a strong relationship with bakery owner Ken Forkish, whose baguettes are also served at Le Pigeon. The buns are delivered fresh daily in plastic, so the moisture content remains high. Rucker does not butter the buns; rather he simply cuts them in half and grills them till charred. The buns are grilled so they don't get soggy.

2. The Patty

One of the standout features of the Le Pigeon burger is its extraordinarily juicy and square-shaped patty. The trick, Rucker says, is to have a patty thick enough that you can develop a good crust without drying it out. And of course, "don't overcook it." The meat comes from a local farm, and Rucker particularly likes its fat content. The burger is seasoned only with salt and then grilled. Aside from the fact that restaurant doesn't have a griddle, Rucker grills the burger because that flavor recalls the flavor of a summer afternoon cook-out.

3. The Cheese

As with the bun and the beef, Rucker keeps it local with the cheese. Rucker uses Oregon-made Tillamook white cheddar. The cheese is aged and extra sharp, which balances the burger. The cheese was also chosen because it melts well on the grill. The sharp cheese is another way Rucker keeps his burger simple, but also add that complexity with well-sourced, flavorful ingredients.

4. The Toppings

In another example of blending the simple and the complex, the Le Pigeon burger is topped with an iceberg lettuce slaw and grilled pickled onions. The slaw was inspired by Rucker's love of shredded lettuce. He chose iceberg for its crispness. The slaw is tossed with parsley as well as aioli, since Rucker "do[es]n't like big globs of mayonnaise" on burgers. The grilled pickle onion, another nod to classic burger toppings, is "the best of both worlds" with an assertive crunch that still brings out the grilled flavors of the meat and the onions. The slaw and the onion have become signature features of the burger, Rucker says.

5. The Condiments

The Le Pigeon burger plays with the classic condiment trifecta of ketchup, mayonnaise, and mustard. The ketchup on the burger in made in house. The recipe is pretty standard except that instead of sweating the onions in oil, Rucker simmers red onions in vinegar which gives them an "almost pickled, bloomed flavor" and makes for a more tart ketchup. Rucker pairs the ketchup with dijon mustard. The aioli, as explained above, is used to dress the iceberg lettuce, which is a cleaner "delivery system." Rucker went for aioli instead of mayonnaise because he wanted the extra kick from the garlic.

· All Le Pigeon Coverage on Eater [-E-]
· All Burger Week Coverage on Eater [-E-]

Le Pigeon

738 E Burnside St, Portland, OR 97214