A doctor's quest for healthier hamburger could help meat lovers lower their cholesterol and eat their beef too, if they are willing to follow his time-consuming but simple recipe.

Dr. Donald M. Small, a dedicated kitchen dabbler, began experimenting a few years ago."I like red meat, and I don't like eating tofu," he said. "I thought if there was a way of removing saturated fat and cholesterol from meat and it still tasted OK, it would be worthwhile playing with."

The result is published in Thursday's issue of the New England Journal of Medicine. His report is headlined "Chemistry in the Kitchen - Making Ground Meat More Healthful."

Small's process involves cooking meat gently in vegetable oil and rinsing it with water. This removes much of the heart-clogging saturated fat.

Small is a chemist and doctor at Boston University School of Medicine long interested in heart disease and fats. Here's his recipe:

Heat a pint of vegetable oil to about 175 degrees. Add two pounds of ground beef, pork or lamb and stir until the meat juice begins to boil. Cook and stir with the juice barely bubbling for 10 minutes while breaking up the meat.

Put the meat and oil into a strainer and save the liquid. Then pour a cup or two of boiling water over the meat in the strainer and save the water with the rest of the liquid. Put the liquid in the refrigerator for an hour and then skim off the hardened fat. Pour the rest of the fat-free liquid back onto the meat.

The meat is then ready for use in any dish that requires ground meat, such as spaghetti sauce, tacos, soup, meat loaf and casseroles.

With this method, Small said, between 72 percent and 87 percent of saturated fat is removed from raw ground beef or pork, as well as nearly half the cholesterol.