The Humble Hamburger: Still on my soapbox.

I just got back from Egypt where the spirit of liberty is alive and well and, hopefully, will lead to fair, democratic elections in November.

But meanwhile, the whole trip got me to thinking about politics and government and what life can be like with good government. And with bad. And what actual real people can do to make life better and more civil and government more effective.

So that got me on my soapbox about all sorts of issues that have nothing to do with politics or government, though I guess anyone who knows me knows I am like that anyway I suppose, just more so these days.

So yesterday I opined about whether healthy food is “elitist.” And the day before I posted about whether “modernist cuisine” will make “ethnic” food “redundant.”

Today I want to rant about hamburgers. Which I love, when they’re good, with juicy meat and fully of beefy flavor, but don’t like when they’re loaded with all sorts of other ingredients that, to me, actually overwhelm the flavor of the burger, so what’s the point of eating one in the first place.

On the other hand, I understand creativity in cooking. I experiment with food all the time. I take a recipe, add a little of this, substitute some of that. And so on. I’ll make Grilled Cheese and tuck in some pear and ginger marmalade. Or spice up a chicken salad with harissa and olives. So I can understand why someone would want to complement a beef burger with a condiment (like ketchup) and even include another ingredient that partners well with the meat: cheese, bacon, tomato, pickle or baked beans, for example.

But I don’t get why anyone would add more meat to a burger. Like — instead of cheeseburger maybe pastrami-burger or lobster-burger.

So I was a little astonished to read this article in Restaurant News, which says that chefs are going overload on meat-enhanced burgers these days. For example, they’re topping standard hamburgers with such items as oxtail “marmalade,” pulled pork and brisket. A restaurant in Boston (Island Creek Oyster Bar) offers a burger with cheese, bacon, pickled onions, horseradish mayo and oysters. The bubba burger at Doc Crow’s in Louisville, Ky comes topped with pulled pork, beef brisket, fried green tomato, onion rings, fried egg AND cole slaw.

Want fries with that?

Can you actually taste the hamburger when there’s all sorts of stuff on it?

Hmmm. I am confused and conflicted by my need to improvise and create versus the sometimes need to keep it simple. 

I guess it depends on what foods we’re talking about. Grilled cheese and chicken salad, pasta entrees and omelets and lots of other foods, I say, let’s try all sorts of add-ons and creations. But I don’t eat hamburgers too often and when I do I like it plain old. Crispy crusted and grilled and hot.

With fries.

Here’s how I make them:

The Humble Hamburger

20-24 ounces ground chuck and brisket combination

salt and pepper to taste

garlic powder to taste (about 1/2 teaspoon)

2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce (I use vegetarian Worcestershire sauce)

2-4 tablespoons grated onion

a few drops hot pepper sauce

ice shavings

4 buns

1/4 cup ketchup

1/4 cup mayonnaise

2 tomatoes, sliced

kosher sour pickle

Preheat an outdoor grill (with the grid 6-inches from the heat) or a grill pan or saute pan. Brush the grids (or the pan) lightly with vegetable oil. Mix the meats, salt, pepper, garlic powder, Worcestershire sauce, onion and hot pepper sauce until thoroughly combined. Shape the mixture into 4 patties no more than 1-inch thick. Stuff some ice shavings into the middle. Cook for 5-8 minutes, turning once, or until the burgers reach the degree of desired doneness. (The ice shavings help keep the innermost part rare and the outside crispy.) Grill the buns, inside part down, for about 30 seconds. Spread one side of each bun with the ketchup and mayo. Top with the burger, then some tomato and pickle slices, and finally, the other side of the bun. Makes 4