Quest for the perfect burger

Published 12:03 am Saturday, June 28, 2014

We are all trying to cook the perfect hamburger; at least I try a new recipe every now and then. In my latest issue of ‘Saveur’ magazine, it seemed that Ernest Hemingway was interested in a powerful burger also. I was intrigued with his ingredients of carrots, tomato, cheddar cheese, apple, capers, Indian relish and other spices. I had to try this one.

Truthfully, Hemingway’s hamburger only surfaced recently, one of 2,500 pieces of ephemera digitized in 2014 by the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum in Boston. The type written page is a testament to the meticulousness with which Hemingway approached food. Titled “Papa’s Favorite Wild West Hamburger” and covered in handwritten marginalia, it is a literary work in its own right. “Let the meat sit, quietly marinating,” he writes. “Now make four fat, juicy patties with your hands.” The list of ingredients are fascinating, and the burger is juicy and vibrant. But perhaps the burger is like the man himself, masterful.

I had a problem finding the Indian relish in the recipe and there is a story about its origin also. Where did this come from? This condiment was actually the invention of H. J. Heinz in 1889. The original secret recipe, loosely based on traditional Indian relishes, featured a sugared and vinegared mix of pickled cucumbers, green tomatoes, cauliflower, white onions, red bell peppers, celery and mustard seeds, plus cinnamon and allspice. The FDA didn’t appreciate its inspired name and it took Heinz to court in 1910 for misbranding a product that was not, in actuality, from India. They seized five cases of Indian relish, but the legal case was dismissed when the court ruled that the name was being used generically. For decades the relish, made by a number of brands, including B&G, with a shorter list of ingredients, has added zip to cookout foods like macaroni salads and hot dogs. You can find this is many grocery stores.

Here is the recipe. We thought this burger was wonderful. I did cook it in a skillet (as Papa suggested) since it was so juicy I was afraid it would fall through the grill. It could be a real winner for your 4th of July cookout. Be careful if you plan to grill it; maybe use a fish basket like you would grill a fish.

Taken from the June/July issue of ‘Saveur’ Magazine, 2014.

Papa’s Favorite Wild West Hamburger

Serves 4

1 lb. lean ground beef (I, of course, used grass fed)

2 oz. sliced ham, minced

¼ cup dry red wine or white wine

¼ cup cheddar cheese

2 tbsp. capers, drained

2 tbsp. grated tart apple

1 tbsp. minced parsley

1 tbsp. soy sauce

1 ½ tsp. ground sage

1 ½ tsp. Indian relish

½ tsp. Beau Monde seasoning

2 cloves garlic, minced

2 small scallions, minced

1 egg, beaten

1 plum tomato, cored, peeled, and grated

½ small carrot, grated

½ small yellow onion, grated

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

1 tbsp. canola oil

Hamburger buns, lettuce, sliced tomato and onion; ketchup, mustard and mayonnaise for serving

Mix ingredients, except for oil, buns and condiments, in a bowl; form into four, 6-oz. patties. I made 6 patties and they were still big. Heat oil in a 12” skillet over medium-high heat. Cook patties, flipping once, until cooked to desired doneness, 8-10 minutes for medium rare. Serve on buns with lettuce, tomato, onion, ketchup, mustard, and mayonnaise.

Happy 4th!