OK, I finally decided which recipe I wanted to share. The combination of summer here in NYC and Callum’s gastronomic tour of the city got me thinking about what we Brits think is American food. In less than two years here, I have realised that the dishes change as you traverse this vast country. Southern cooking legendarily has a lot of fat, but the food we had in New Orleans was without exception fantastic and I lost a couple of pounds. We’ve all had TexMex and that phrase encompasses a multitude of sins, but we all ate well in Texas. There is the more authentic Mexican food found in Arizona or California, but Mexico too is a large country with regional variations. Florida has an abundance of Cuban restaurants. The North East is famous for its seafood – oysters, clams, crabs and lobsters – cooked or raw. Any one of these regions is both distinct and different from the others. There are of course some dishes which are eaten everywhere. My own view is that the crab cake is the single greatest contribution to world cuisine made by the United States. From my first taste in Norfolk VA, I order them pretty much whenever I see them on a menu and I am intrigued by the variations of spices and density of crab. I have even bought a cookery book called I Love Crab Cakes with over fifty versions of the dish. The book could have been written just for me.
When I told a friend here my opinion on crab cakes, he thought for a moment and said that no, the hot dog is the greatest contribution to world cuisine. We discussed this at great length with me contending that the hot dog isn’t a totally original dish, deriving from the German wursts served in buns. He, however, feels that I’m wrong. I suppose that because I’m not a great fan of hot dogs (although not averse to one of Nathan’s finest if I’m in Coney Island), and I do love crab cakes, then I’m rather biased.
Anyway, enough of this! Today’s recipe is for something that everyone recognises as being a quintessential American dish, although, as with the hot dog and partly because of its name, it was most probably German in origin. However, there seems to be no doubt that its world-wide popularity is due to this country and the many fast food chains which serve it. Today’s recipe may horrify Hallie because my recipe doesn’t simply mix meat with salt and pepper like most US recipes, and I apologise but I do like my meat more seasoned. It is of course the Hamburger. Callum and Tom went to Shake Shack, allegedly NYC’s best burgers. Their verdict as with all friends and family who’ve eaten them is well, they’re very nice, but the best? In the interest of fairness we all feel we need to try more. Umami Burger is soon to open here – a transplant from the West Coast. In the interests of research, we will try one and let you know what we think.
Now I need to point out that if you don’t toast the burger bun, then according to Wikipedia it won’t be a true hamburger and will just be a sandwich. I like Bacon Cheeseburgers – British smoked back bacon and real strong Cheddar – so you can see I don’t often get to eat them here the way I like. If I’m feeling wild, I like to add avocado or guacamole. Being me, I never add tomato or pickles, but I do like some raw onion and lettuce. That’s the great thing about burgers though, you just build your own. Remember that the patties will shrink so make them larger than you think they should be. As I typed the above, I was thinking about Dad griddling the burgers and then building them for us. I don’t remember a single family argument while we were eating these for dinner. If I’m wrong, don’t tell me – I want to keep that memory intact even if it is flawed! This recipe originally came from the very useful Dairy Book of Home Cookery, but I’ve tweaked it slightly over time.
Hamburgers – Ingredients
- 500 g / 1 lb lean minced beef
- 50 g / 2 oz fresh white breadcrumbs
- 1 small finely chopped onion (the original recipe says to grate finely, but I found that too wet and the pieces weren’t vaguely uniform, but you can try if you wish)
- 1/2 level tsp English mustard (not powder, made mustard)
- 1 tsp Worcestershire Sauce
- Salt and pepper to taste (honestly adding pepper doesn’t make much difference – we’ve left it out when Big Andrew’s been visiting – the salt is crucial though)
Mix all the ingredients together. The recipe says that this will make 8 burgers. Simple maths will tell you that if you want quarter-pounders then it’ll only make four. It’s up to you. Try and get the burgers to be equal sized so you don’t have to concentrate too much when cooking.
You can either grill or griddle these. Whichever you choose don’t cook them on too high a heat unless you want them to be medium rare. If you cook on a barbecue, let the flames die down a bit or again you’ll have charred on the outside and raw inside.