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I remember a time about six years ago when I was asked to name my favorite condiment (not necessarily just for burgers). Back then it was a toss-up between miso paste* and dijon mustard. For the last few years, it's been mayonnaise (homemade, that is, with plenty of garlic). These days, mayonnaise is seeing some very stiff competition from New Orleans-style olive salad.
* Does miso paste count as a condiment?
Now it could just be that my olive salad cravings are a byproduct of the fact that I have six quarts of the stuff leftover from the Sweetlife Food and Music Festival. The entire bottom shelf of my fridge is devoted to it, much to the chagrin of my lovely wife.
But I like to believe it's more. I like to believe that when an olive salad is good—when it's packed with intense black and green olives, salty capers, a healthy dose of hot pepperoncini, finely chopped giardiniera, a splash of red wine vinegar, and the very best olive oil you can get your hands on—it becomes far more than a simple sandwich topping; it becomes a catch-all condiment that you can use to add flavor to pretty much any savory dish you can think of.
In the last several months I've served it as a sauce for grilled chicken and for fish. I've spread it on my pizzas. I puréed it and used it as a rub for a roasted leg of lamb. I've made tomato sauces based on it for a kind of instant puttanesca.
It was only a matter of time before it made it onto a burger, and all I can say is: It's a pity that time didn't come sooner.
You can go the simple route and go with just a grilled burger patty, topped with a slice of Provolone and a whole lot of olive salad on top, or you can go all out: top your burger with a stack of cold cuts (I used sopressata, mortadella, and salami). Throw them on top for the last minute or two as your burger finished cooking, put a lid on it, and if all goes well, the edges will render and crisp up as the center of the cold cuts soften and melt into the meat and cheese.
There's no two ways about it: this guy is a fatty meat-bomb. But that's the beauty of the olive salad—it's got enough briny, salty, pickled flavors in it that it brightens up even the heaviest of meals. You can tell yourself it does the same for your waistline.
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About the author: J. Kenji Lopez-Alt is the Chief Creative Officer of Serious Eats where he likes to explore the science of home cooking in his weekly column The Food Lab. You can follow him at @thefoodlab on Twitter, or at The Food Lab on Facebook.