Hemingway’s Hamburger Helper
Ernest Hemingway wrote lean prose but liked his burgers fatty and flavorful.
The famous author had great appetites. Food and friendships were a moveable feast for him, from Oak Park to Paris to Key West and many points in-between. On the eve of the new season of Check, Please!, I’m passing along a hamburger recipe that local kitchens ought to relish.
When Ernest Hemingway was a well-established and wealthy author, he gave specific instructions to the cooks at his Havana home on the proper way to prepare Papa’s patties.
A shopping trip in and around his hometown last week got me most of the way there. Minus one ingredient, it was still one hell of a burger.
But first: thanks and credit to Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan, author and food blogger for The Paris Review. A Hemingway fan, she came across his notes to his Cuban housekeepers. The recipe had been published before in a cooking encyclopedia after his death, but I was unaware until I saw Ms. Tan’s blog post last month. I probably owe her a burger and an order of F. Scott Fitzgerald french fries.
1 lb. ground chuck (fattier than I’d prefer, but more in line with what was available then)
2 minced garlic cloves
2 chopped green onions
2 tablespoons of capers
1 egg beaten
1 tablespoon cooking oil
1/3 cup of dry red wine
1 teaspoon sage
[And then it gets a little more rarified]
1 teaspoon, India Relish (a mix of pickled veggies unavailable at Caputo’s, Whole Foods or Penzey’s Spices — so I skipped it)
1/2 teaspoon Beau Monde Seasoning (basically onion, celery and salt with a touch of pepper and sweetness)
1/2 teaspoon Mei Yen Powder (a discontinued blend, but an online guide suggested part salt, part sugar and a dash of soy.)
Mix the ingredients and let them marinate for 20 minutes. Shape four burgers and fry them on a hot burner — Hemingway liked his burgers fried, not broiled. Cook for four or five minutes per side, until crispy on the edges and pink and juicy in the middle.
It took a long time to gather and prepare the ingredients, and it took about 75 seconds to devour the burger. I had to eat a second one to savor what I’d missed during the first inhalation.
It was delicious — even though my carnivorous son took one bite and labeled it: “weird.” And my vegetarian daughter never stepped into the dining room. And my wife said, “It’s good, but I don’t see how it’s worth the trouble.”
Trust me, it’s worth the effort at least once. I ate it on a toasted bun with lettuce and tomato. I wanted a taste before deciding which condiments to add. It needed nothing. I took one bite, then another, then it was gone. The ground beef was infused with flavor and moisture. A-1 sauce, ketchup or mustard would have been sacrilegious. In all Ernest-ness, it was the best burger I’ve ever made