Thursday, May 31, 2007

The Mighty Burger

May 31, 2007

Everywhere I look I see recipes for hamburgers -- magazines, television, even The New York Times. I don't get it. Who needs instructions for making a hamburger?

Apparently lots of people. There are variations, of course: Lamburgers, turkeyburgers, burgers made with soy meat substitutes, etc. Some have exotic spices -- a little curry powder in ground chicken, rosemary in the lamb, things like that -- but basically you've got ground meat in some kind of roll. It doesn't take a whole lot of imagination to come up with a new incarnation. It's up to the cook.

The best hamburgers I have ever had were served at the swimming pool at Grand Hotel in Point Clear, Alabama in the 1950's. They used top grade beef and some special pickle relish that I've never been able to replicate. The atmosphere for eating a hamburger was perfect -- the faint smell of chlorine wafting in the breeze on a hot summer day...and of course you would be admonished by the beautiful lifeguards not to go in the pool for an hour after eating.

Hamburger memories extend into childhood, when we lived at 52 Semmes Avenue in Mobile and walked a couple of blocks away on weekend nights with Daddy to The Cotton Patch to have a hamburger "with everything," which included a slice of onion, a few pickles some lettuce and tomato, mayonnaise and catchup. The meat with hardly even noticed. It was incidental. Luckily so, because it was the thin, packaged patty that came to restaurants. Later I stopped eating onion on my hamburger, but I can still taste that loaded burger with a chocolate milkshake. Nothing like it.

But anyone can make an excellent hamburger, and I don't know why these chef-instructors bother with demonstrations. Rachael Ray has practically hung her whole career on them. Bobby Flay dresses them up and puts them on a grill. I don't think there's a single Food Network host or hostess who has not featured his take on the burger, as if there were some mystique or unknown recipe. You take some ground meat, season it, cook it (on the grill or not) and put it between bread with whatever you like. That's it. You've got it. Happy summer!

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