October 2018

The Hamburger

Let the burger speak

A burger is not a dish, but a blank canvas, a recipe that genuinely allows cooks and chefs to express themselves, either displaying the beautiful produce of their hometown, sharing a childhood memory, or making a statement. Burgers talk to us about the people that make them. Today we talk back. To truly appreciate our beloved comforting dish, let’s talk about where it comes from, where it is today and what awaits our favorite sandwich in the future.

The burger is a genuine American dish that stands on its own merits. There’s no doubt that the best hamburgers come from well-established steakhouses and respected gastropubs. Dedicated chefs all around the country have elevated the hamburger to perfection. Americans eat 14 Billion burgers every year, and the range available is spectacular. There are 50,000 burger joints in America. 86% of them are chains, and the rest fall into a category between mom and pop’s dinners, and Michelin starred restaurants.

Ground beef was always the way to serve the less desirable cuts of meat, a way to get profit from the unprofitable. This is no longer the case. Any chef today would question using anything below Certified Angus Beef for their patties and will create precise blends of meat with the perfect lean-to-fat ratio. At Franklins Public House we use a delicious blend of Short Rib, Brisket, and Chuck for the perfect patty. Butchers are the new rock stars in gastronomy. Dedication at its finest.

We could discuss what’s best, the potato bun or the brioche; we could talk all night about french fries; or debate about the monstrous act of adding a pineapple slice to a burger; but we all know a good burger is all about the meat.

The history of hamburgers goes back to the Mongolian Empire, where entire hoards, commanded by Genghis Khan, roamed Asia on an insatiable conquest. These armies fed on anything they could but had a rare appreciation for raw minced meat, the word is they broke down the meat by putting it below their saddles. As they rode up north to Russia, their favorite dish became mainstream and the steak tartare was born.

Steak tartare might have evolved into meatballs and the first patties in Eastern Europe. Bulgaria is famous for its kyufta, a big meatball patted into shape with a spatula. Sounds familiar? Sure, mincing meat and shaping it into balls is hardly advanced cooking, the ancient Roman cookbook De Re Coquinaria, written by Apicius has many meatball recipes. Food anthropology is still a new discipline.

And then there’s the Hamburg steak. After centuries, the Russians seem to have taken their love for tartare with them through Europe until they reached the port of Hamburg, in Germany, where they established a considerable Russian community. Minced meat took the form of a fully cooked ground beef steak. And it was the German immigrants who took the newborn hamburger steak on the long trip to New York.

Thanks to Karl’s invention, ground meat became available to the masses, and once the meat grinder had an engine attached, the sky was the limit, which takes our story in another direction.

Of course, mincing meat was hard work until a German inventor with an unusually long name, Karl Friedrich Christian Ludwig Freiherr Drais von Sauerbronn (let’s call him Karl) developed the modern meat grinding machine in the first half of the nineteenth century. He also designed the typewriter and the early bicycle.

Rescued restaurant menus from the year 1900 reveal that the hamburger steak was already a fashionable item: both Bristol’s Oyster & Chop House and Mills Hotel Restaurant sold the ground beef steak. The gastro-temple Delmonico, one of the first modern restaurants, also served the Hamburger steak, plain or with onions.

Sometime between 1880 and 1904, someone served a hamburger steak on a bun. Unfortunately, no one quite knows who that was; another anonymous hero. Of course, many people have claimed to be the creators of the hamburger sandwich, from Texas to Rio de Janeiro.

A growing consciousness about the origin of our food applies to hamburgers too. Grass fed beef, organic farming, low stress, happy cows, heritage cattle breeds, and respect for the environment. It’s all about the quality of the ingredients.

On the other hand, some chefs aim for the flair, and won’t settle for anything other than wagyu beef and exotic toppings to make some of the most expensive burgers on the planet. Kobe beef, foie gras, truffles, and lobster have been used to make burgers with four-digit price tags, and people seem to love them. You might end up with gold leaf stuck between your teeth, but hey, that’s the price of living large.

Social media has played its part too. #instaburger, #burgerlovers and #burgertime are all popular hashtags around the net. The #burger hashtag has been used 11.9 million times, and if you think about it, that’s 11.9 million burgers served. Join the trend with our own #franklinspublichouse the next time come by and tag your Franklin’s burger. Spread the love!

Today hamburgers are all about diversity. Umami Burgers with Port and Stilton, Bacon burgers, Kimchi burgers, and Teriyaki sliders are just a few species in the burger kingdom. The cheeseburger is the quintessential American meal. Be honest; chances are you had one this week. But the burger is steadily evolving; this story is not over.

The twenty-first century greeted us with the birth of the impossible burger concept. A patty that looks like meat, tastes like meat but is made from plants. It’s Beyond Meat. It’s not just music-to-the-ears of our vegan friends, it might actually be the solution to global warming; animal agriculture produces the biggest climate-warming emissions.

What would a burger do without Ketchup?
Plan Check, a modern American comfort food restaurant in LA, revealing their newest invention: the ketchup leather. Dehydrated ketchup that carries the same flavor of the Heinz original, in a solid form, which means it comes without its bun-sogging properties. But more significant discoveries are yet to come.

If you’re into saving the world but are not planning on renouncing real meat, there’s news for you: In vitro patties are around the corner, real meat grown in a lab, that might as well be the holy grail of the burger industry. Millions of dollars have been invested to develop this eco-friendly, although scary new product.

Final Thoughts
Trendy or conventional, current professional chefs dedicate as much time refining their burgers as they do with any other dish. People line up to try their favorite chefs’ burgers; as their sandwiches have become personal statements. The late Anthony Bourdain once said, “The way you make an omelet reveals your character;” The same can be said about burgers.


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