I should know a thing or two about burgers.
I was practically brought up on them. This is why I smile at the current trend of the burger and its extravagant evocations.
What a burger means to me
A burger was always eaten as a light and casual supper or lunch. It was never intended to be a gourmet meal. We didn’t fuss over our burgers. If we wanted a fancy burger we added cheese – if waned a wanted a really fancy burger we added blue cheese.
We didn’t seek ‘real, authentic or genuine’ burgers – most available US burgers were already the ‘real McCoy’. And contrary to the hamburger addiction depicted by the Wimpy character in Popeye cartoons, burgers were an occasional meal…
What is the difference between a burger and a hamburger?
Americans call burgers ‘hamburgers’ – this may help define the difference. A hamburger is colloquially synonymous with the raw material, i.e. mince. The logical inference is that a hamburger is made of hamburger and nothing else. Indeed, adding eggs, onions or other seasonings and ingredients turns the hamburger into a flat meatball or a slice of meatloaf. Something altogether different.
So how did hamburgers become so popular if they are so plain?
- The cut of meat is cheap, flavourful and full of fat. American’s will use 80% lean mince to 20% fat in their hamburgers (even up to 30%). The high fat content keeps the burger juicy.
- A hamburger is best eaten medium rare, when the texture will be tender and soft.
- A hamburger is a hot ‘sandwich’. We made them at home as a snack – so they need to be quick and easy. Simply shape a patty of hamburger and fry for about 4 minutes.
- The garnishes are equally quick and easy – in approximately 4 minutes there is the time to slice an onion, tomato, lettuce and a pickle. We mainly used plain bread. Buns too, usually for an outdoor barbecue.
- Hamburgers are seasoned with basic condiments – mayonnaise, mustard and tomato ketchup. That’s all.
Moral to the tale
Don’t guild the lily. A classic American hamburger is a humble yet elegant construction. It should be simple to prepare, easy to assemble and rewarding to eat. Here, it’s the flavour of the meat that is being celebrated – so don’t disguise or dilute it with amalgamated fillers or stacks of unnecessary extras.