Enough fun at my expense! The time has come to defend myself.
Anytime I mention I’m a bit of a Slow Food foodie and very concerned about Food Fraud (see 2/22/13 post), I’m inevitably asked what my favorite foods are. When the list arrives at “cheeseburgers,” the response is a loud guffaw, grunts, much rolling of the eyeballs and everyone haughtily leaves the table. Well, stop snickering, come back over here and sit down to read why this is so.
First, if you can’t make a good burger, why are you even in the restaurant business? This is the simplest, purest form of food and it tells a lot about the chef/cook and the establishment that hired him/her.
Made from lean, unadulterated, quality ground beef, harvested from healthy, roaming, grazing cows slaughtered in a humane, clean, sanitary abattoir, where the meat is properly prepared, packaged, stored and delivered is where the story begins.
In the kitchen, the thick patty of meat is grilled or broiled to a juicy, pinky medium-rare. It is the beef, all the beef and nothing but the beef. There may be herbs and seasonings mixed in, but you must start with good quality, fresh beef.
Next, the cheese. This component is more complicated than the beef, because cheese is made from raw or pasturized and/or homogenized milks. Organic, artisanal, curdled cheese is the way to go. Not ‘cheese flavored’ or a ‘cheese food’, but real cheese made from healthy, mostly grass-fed grazing cows and goats, that still retains the nutrients and complex flavors.
Last, but never least: The roll. Organic whole grain flours or conventional, all purpose flour that is not bleached or treated in any way, correctly fermented, freshly-baked on site or nearby and delivered. Toasted.
Considering the importance of each ingredient along the way (farm to fork), it’s safe to say, there is no such thing as a lowly hamburger, people. As with any food, how it is sourced, harvested and prepared is what matters. The quality is what makes a dish superior (or not).
Another worthy aspect of chomping a burger, is it’s a relatively inexpensive way to explore a restaurant. Enjoy dining mid-day at an establishment where the dinner menu may be twice as expensive, but not necessarily twice as good.
To me, the real bottom line is if a restaurant respects its chef’s craft and its customers’ health and palates enough to carefully source, prepare and serve REAL food cooked to its individual perfection, the food will broadcast that noble truth loud and clear. And any such establishment deserves my, and your, business.
Any food snobs out there who need more convincing about the value of hamburgers? OK, you asked for it. Time to send out the big guns. Who else but Julia Child? This is what she wrote in her iconic Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Vol. 1:
“ Ground Beef-Hamburgers (Bifteck Haché): Shock is the reaction of some Americans we have encountered who learn that real French people living in France eat hamburgers…the French hamburger is an excellent and relatively economical main course for an informal party.” She then goes on to provide information on best cuts of beef and recipes.
So there, smarty pants. It’s not a mere hamburger, it’s a biftek haché. I rest my case.