Sunday, January 23, 2011


Eastside Road, January 23, 2011—
hamburger.jpgVERY RARELY, but now and then, we get a yen for a good old-fashioned hamburger. I was a little surprised by this one: January's not the usual month for one. But L. brought home some ground beef, Niman Ranch I imagine, and buns from the Downtown Bakery, and I fired up some charcoal.

Not enough, of course, as was inevitably pointed out to me; so I finished them in a black iron frying pan. Sliced onion, mustard, tomato catsup. The year's first zucchini, sweated in oil with some red-pepper flakes. A green salad.
Nero d'Avola


Curtis Faville said...

John McPhee, not a writer known much for his thoughts on food, has an opening essay in his collection Giving Good Weight where he talks about his (then) favorite restaurants--these would be radial to his homebase in Princeton (where he teaches). He's careful not to mention names, but there's one scene where he visits the cook and requests a world class hamburger. The chef take a cut of lean steak and hand-chops it, out of which the "hamburger" is made. I tried this once, and of course the mash didn't hold together. And the taste was dry and lifeless. My mom used to have a meat grinder, a laborious instrument one turned by hand. I don't recall what meats she processed this way. We didn't make sausages.

The best hamburgers have a fair percentage of fat, and this is what gives the flavor and mouth feel. And it's certainly not good for you, if eaten regularly. I think the trick is in grinding up the fat and mixing it sufficiently with the muscle fibre--more easily done with large mechanical grinding-mixers than by hand.

Weren't many of the maladies of the British the consequence of eating such beef-rich diets? Remembrances of Doctor Johnson and his many aches and pains.

Charles Shere said...

A meaty comment. Chopping beef, rather than grinding it, makes a fine tartare, but of course that gets bound with egg. My mother had a meat-grinder too; I suppose everyone did in those days. We forget now how different beef was before the craze for corn-finishing changed its texture completely.

Those grinders work by turning a blade against a perforated plate through which the already hand-chopped meat is forced; the operation first crushes, then chops, breaking the fibers and tenderizing the meat. Along the way the fat is more thoroughly amalgamated with the meat.

I've used such a grinder a couple of times when making sausage. (Incidentally some sausages exist which traditionally use chopped meat, not ground; the texture is of course quite different.)

Fat, yes. I was amazed at the amount of fat left in that iron skillet after frying the hamburgers. This is a reason to grill or broil them, of course; the fat is rendered away from the meat, leaving only the proteins and carcinogens.

As to the Brits, I imagine insufficient food was far more widespread than surfeit of beef.