I'm don't know if I'd be making as many hamburgers as I do if I didn't have kids, but I sure like making them. They have all of the hallmarks of the kind of food I like making: they don't taste good if the ingredients are not high quality and carefully chosen and handled. They are ridiculously easy to cook and let's face it, hamburgers are iconic cultural signifiers that remind us with each step of their prep, every sizzle and hiss from the grill where we are in time and, by association, who we are.
And, and this is an important and, the recipe for a great hamburger is reduced.
My favorite recipes are the ones that yield most easily to the question "What can I leave out to get the best result?" Some recipes are an absolute pain in the brain pan when it comes to this question. Take apple pie for example. What can you leave out of an apple pie recipe and still get something that looks and tastes like an apple pie? But because a hamburger in it's most perfect and essential form-ground beef- is so simple, the question is almost moot. A burger is more like an apple than an apple pie I suppose. There isn't anything to leave out of an apple to make it taste good, yes?
So really all you have to do to make a good hamburger is get some good meat, grind it, shape it with your hands into a ball, flatten it and cook it. Adding salt to the meat before you grind it helps to emulsify some of the salt soluble proteins and helps the burger to cohere. And because the salt raises the temperature at which the water in the meat evaporates, the burger will not dry out as much when it cooks. Oh yeah, and salt jukes up the taste. But other than salt, there really isn't anything to remove.
What got me thinking about burgers this morning was an email exchange on the subject with one of my regular readers Don Luis and an article by The Minimalist, Mark Bittman
(For the Love of a Good Burger - New York Times) Bittman comes close to matching my view about the best way to make a hamburger, but veers off track a bit by seeming to advocate adding stuff like chili powder or garlic or-for christ's sake!- Worcestershire sauce.
Something you did not know about me : I've never eaten a MacDonald's hamburger (at least I'm not aware that I've eaten one.). Weird huh?