This should be simple!
As published in The Lake County Bloom.
When writing about food, a person must account for personal preference. The most amazing beet borscht may inspire poetry in one human and revulsion, due to deep-seated beet hatred, in another. So, at the risk of wading into rip current waters, I bring you my thoughts on burgers.
I consider a burger much the way I consider a human being. Yes, that could be a stretch, but hear me out. At the core of every human, there is a heart-spirit, or a soul, or whatever you want to call it that makes each of us truly unique and, frankly, either good or bad. That, my friends, is the burger. Simply stated, the most important thing about a burger is the burger. Period. It may be beef or lamb, turkey or chicken, salmon or tuna. What it’s made of doesn’t matter an iota. What does matter is that it is the highest quality, just like the core of a good person.
I wonder all the time why restaurants don’t get this basic concept. If we think about it, it’s not difficult. Yet, last week I again had a horrific burger. Not only does this establishment not even ask the level of doneness you’d prefer, but they take this poor piece of meat that a cow gave up its life for and cook it into complete oblivion. The resultant thing is the texture of cardboard, the color of desert sand and tastes somehow like both combined. Seriously, folks, we are better than this.
This brings up many points about burgers. First and foremost, and because it bears repeating, the most important thing about a burger…is the burger. I would venture that the second most important element is the bun. Whether you prefer them to taste like a sweet bread or be coated in poppy seeds, sesame seeds or onions, the bun needs to stand up to its job. That job is to hold the burger…until the last bite. A bun that falls into pieces is stale. One that turns to paper mache mid-burger is not dense enough and the one that jettisons all the contents out of backside as you take a bite is too dense. So now that we have a great burger, test your bun! If it’s all there and still holding all the greatness of the sandwich at the last bite – you have a good bun!
Note on buns and doneness: If you order your burgers medium rare, as I prefer, or even medium and you are lucky enough to find a restaurant with a chef who knows how to cook and meat fresh enough that it can be cooked to medium rare without making you ill…check carefully when they bring it to the table. If juices are still heaving out the sides of the burger, remove said burger from the bottom part of the bun and set it on your plate to rest for at least a full minute, maybe two if it’s still gushing. Then put it back on the bun and cut it. You have effectively just done the kitchen’s job for them by resting the meat. Your burger will taste far better than the dripping version that is often seen on TV commercials, and your bottom bun will have at least a fighting chance to stay solid.
Now to toppings, the third element. If you are under the age of 12, you are allowed to consider your burger as a boat to carry condiments to your mouth. Otherwise, no. Stop it! How can you even taste the burger under all that bottled business? What goes on your burger should complement your burger. Herein lies one of the great burger struggles of the day. As restaurants compete for your burger business, they keep coming up with more and more outrageously combined burger toppings. Why would I ever eat brie with a red onion? Just put a beautiful triple crème brie and a slice of red onion in your mouth. Does that taste good? Peppers on burgers? Sure, until you reach a heat level that you can’t taste anything anymore. And bacon jam? Can we be over this already? Don’t get me wrong; I’ll take a white cheddar, crisp greens, and heirloom tomato beef burger any day. A turkey burger with red onion and wasabi mayo. Lamb with feta, tomato, and cucumber. Veggie with more fresh veggies and a well-spiced aioli. I am neither anti-condiment or anti-topping. I am anti-make-it-bigger-hotter-more-topping-laden for the sheer purpose of making people think they’ve gotten a lot of good food when, in fact, they’ve gotten cheap, old, poorly-cooked meat and a bunch of leftover fridge BS on top. A tough, mean soul adorned with a scowling grimace and a daily bucket of grievances.
So there you have it. My two cents on burgers. I expect many will disagree and that is a-ok. Vive la difference. I’d add only, the best way to know a good burger in a restaurant is to make great burgers at home. Hmmmmmm. Let’s talk about that soon.