IF I were to go mad and become a vegetarian, by which I don’t mean that vegetarians are mad but that it’s what it would take for me to become one, I think the meaty morsel I would find it hardest to resist would be a really good, well-made hamburger.
You know the kind. Oozing with moist, manly beefiness, just a hint of charring at the edges, tender, succulent and gently crumbling meat within, a sliver or two of gherkin, just enough sunfresh tomato and onion to give it that all-American edge. Maybe mayo, maybe mustard, maybe both.
A good hamburger is cowboys and rodeo, backslapping, thigh-whipping sustenance for good ole boys to wash down with neat Jack with another Jack for a chaser. A great hamburger screams Fourth of July, it sings the Starspangled Banner. Munch the perfect burger and the best Hollywood movies you’ve ever seen flash before your eyes, the shadow of Uncle Sam caresses your soul, and you know that all is well with the world. The grand old US of A survives and thrives and you can taste its very nectar.
But a hamburger can be a challenge too, and the essential idea of one – a good meat patty, a roll or what the Brits prefer to call a bun, a relish perhaps, a sauce, and something in the salad line to give it some crunch, according to your taste or mood – can be adapted in a thousand ways.
I took the essential elements of a basic hamburger this week and played with them. I know, this can be a most irritating thing when a cheffy type person takes a good recipe and changes it beyond recognition. Like those ‘deconstructed’ things you find on some of the more pretentious menus, so that spaghetti bolognese becomes, on your plate, a piece of beef, a herby tomato sauce, cooked pasta formed into a patty and deepfried, all drizzled with olive oil and charged at twice the price you’d normally pay for the real thing.
But I didn’t go that far: the core element was there, in spades. A thick, great hulk of a seriously meaty patty made with lean beef mince, panfried to succulence in butter and olive oil. For 500g lean mince, use one large onion, finely diced, sauteed until soft and brought to room temperature. Mix this into the mince, with 2T of very finely chopped rosemary needles, 1t Spanish smoked paprika, and salt and pepper to taste. Bind it with a beaten large egg. Pat to shape in your hands and panfry on a moderate heat in butter and olive oil, leaving it a little bit pink in the middle, or well done if you must.
I made a relish and a sauce. The relish consisted of finely diced cucumber, thinly sliced red spring onions, fresh dhania leaves, finely chopped fresh ginger and garlic, red chilli, the juice and zest of a lime, 2T dark soy sauce, and ground black pepper. You shouldn’t need to salt as the soy does that. Quantities – depends on your own taste. Just mix and match until you like it. I used 3 garlic cloves, a good inch-and-a-bit of ginger, about 6 spring onions, a quarter of a large cucumber (seeds removed), one red chilli, and a good handful of coriander leaves, finely chopped.
Make your own mayonaisse. Plop two eggs in a blender, whizz while pouring in sunflower oil (I don’t like olive oil in mayo, it tends to be bitter), with a squeeze of lemon juice, a teaspoon of mustard if you like, salt and finely ground pepper, and a scant teaspoon of sugar, until it has a firmly runny consistency and can still pour. To finish it off, I chopped fresh dhania leaves finely and pulsed them into the mayo.
I bought large Portuguese rolls from the Cape Quarter Spar bakery, halved and buttered them, popped a patty on top, the relish on that and finally a good blob of mayo, garnished with dhania leaf.
Instead of the ubiiquitous chips/fries, try them with sauted baby potatoes. Halve the potatoes, leaving the skin on, and parboil in water (from cold) for five to seven minutes. Drain thoroughly and dry on absorbent paper. Melt butter and olive oil – a goodly quantity – in a large flat frying pan and lay the potatoes flat-side down. Don’t touch them until the flat side is golden brown, then turn and fry for a few more minutes on the other side. Keep warm in a bowl lined with kitchen paper.
Oh by the way, it’s not gonna happen. The bit about going mad and becoming a vegetarian, I mean. Mad maybe. But the other thing… Nah.