Saturday, 12 June 2010

In which matters take an unexpected turn

Posted by Tania Kindersley.

I was going to do a little gentle football nonsense today. It's a Saturday after all. There might have been a rumination on the delights of Hidcote lavender, or a funny story about something that happened this morning with one of the dogs and the car, or even no blog at all, because you know sometimes I take the weekends off. But then I stumbled upon one of the stupidest recipes for a hamburger I have ever read, and you know how that kind of thing makes me cross, and I was driven to write.

You will be glad to hear that I am slowly turning myself into a World Cup cliché. I actually went to the shop to buy beer and tortilla chips. I shall be swigging Peroni and madly eating the spiciest home-made salsa when the Moment of Truth arrives. Then I realised that I would be in dire need of protein, and in fact iron, and there was some lovely Aberdeen Angus beef mince on special offer, and I can never resist a special offer. Hamburgers it would be.

One of the curious things about cooking is where the blind spots lie. You would think that making a hamburger is just a question of finding the best mince and not forgetting the ketchup. In fact, I have had minor disappointments with hamburgers. Mine often turn out a little bit bland; not horrid, just blah. Today, infected with the competitive spirit of the football, I decided I would perfect the burger if it killed me. I found several unsatisfactory recipes: far too many feature chopped onion; one actually suggested cream. The worst by far came from the most unexpected source. The mighty Heston Blumenthal gives a recipe derived from a traditional South African barbequed sausage, and his version sounds not only disgusting but actually dangerous. He recommends the addition of pork mince, and then says that you should flip them on the grill until 'the meat is cooked to your liking'. Well, what if you like it rare, as I do? What if you do not know that pork must always be cooked all the way through? If not, it's a one way trip to the doc with massive stomach cramps, and all kinds of parasites setting up shop in your gut.

Heston goes on to compound his schoolboy error by dictating the addition of hysterically inappropriate spices like cloves and nutmeg. One of the most lauded chefs in the world is suggesting you cook a burger which could give you trichinosis, hepatitis E, or even a tapeworm that might eat your brain. I am not exaggerating: look at this article from the California Institute of Technology. To make it worse, he wants you to make it taste of nutmeg. I understand nothing.

The most peculiar thing about this is that it comes from the Waitrose website, where Delia Smith committed her crime against risotto. What is it about these chefs and their appalling Waitrose recipes? Do they think they can just phone it in because it will only be read by polite middle-class people, who would rather eat their own Boden catalogue than complain? Is it a new front in the class war? I am profoundly shocked and disturbed by the whole fiasco.

Anyway, in the spirit of sanity, I consulted Jamie Oliver, and called my mother, and came up with a most satisfactory version. It is not yet definitive, but I can recommend it as a starting point, should any of you have suffered from the same blah burger problem as I.

For four hamburgers I took 500 grams of top quality minced beef. It really must be as fresh and good as you can find.

I whisked up an egg, added a handful of finely chopped marjoram from the garden, half a handful of finely chopped parsley, a jigger of Lea and Perrins, a teaspoon of Dijon mustard (this is a Jamie notion, and I think a good one), one minced garlic clove, and a big pinch of Maldon salt. I put in the meat and smooshed everything up together with my hands until the egg was absorbed and the beef felt lovely and soft. I shaped it into patties about half an inch thick. This is to your preference: you may prefer those big, thick, rustic burgers. Just adjust the cooking time accordingly.

My mother recommends a little dredging in flour, very lightly, to give the burgers a lovely crust. I almost never disagree with her on anything, but I think you can do it with or without.

I put a big frying pan with a little sunflower oil on top heat, and fried the hamburgers for two minutes each side. I think the high heat is important, because you get the slightly blacked outside, while still getting a pretty rare inside.

I let the burgers rest for a minute, then put them on lightly toasted pain rustique with sliced tomato and a scatter of rocket. You may like more exotic accompaniments.

They were very juicy and good, although I still think perhaps they could pack a little more punch. I am contemplating a little more Worcestershire sauce next time, or a pinch of dried chilli. I am not yet at journey's end, but I am definitely on the road to the better burger.




Oh, that was all a bit meaty, wasn't it? As an antidote, here are some soothing shots of a more bucolic variety, taken by me, in the woods and the garden in the last week, with the miraculous new camera:





Finally, if you want to make yourself very happy this lazy Saturday, and take your mind off World Cup nerves, should you be having them, I highly recommend this deliriously lovely post by the great Miss Whistle. It is not only beautifully written, but it really will convince your jaded old heart that true love is not just a wicked rumour put about to make you sad.

Miss W was one of the very first people I encountered when I dipped my tentative toe into the swirling waters of the blogosphere, and she could not have been kinder or more encouraging. Her blog is a thing of beauty, a perfect mixture of the poetic, the personal, the visual, and, occasionally, the metaphysical.  And it has dogs.

And: go England. I mean, really, GO. Never forget, it's in the back of the net where it counts.


  1. I'm glad you were able to find success with your burgers, they look delicious. Reading this post is making me hungry!

  2. Please thank your Mum for the tip of dredging with a bit of flour for crispness. i tried it on meatballs and it was scrumptious!

  3. It looks really yummy!


  4. Seriously T - Bobcat burgers ought to be your next pitstop for Friday.

  5. Tania, you are the most generous, kind person. So many people have visited Miss Whistle thanks to your recommendation. I am hugely grateful. Much love,

    Miss W xx

  6. Spangle - what a great compliment.

    Mystica - told my Mum, she is thrilled.

    Verus - thank you so much, I always worry about the rather substandard food photography I do here.

    Jo - great burger post.

    And Miss W: you brought a tear to my eye with your sweet words.

  7. Dear Tania, I was going to try Heston's recipe as it's ingrained in my head now after seeing his burger ad on the television so often during the football. I'm extremely glad I read your post which makes perfect sense and I shall not be bothering with any burger that includes a) rare pork or b) nutmeg.

    When I first made them they were bland so now I double or treble the seasoning. I now use Tabasco, Worcestershire sauce, celery salt, chilli flakes and Dijon. Organic shops sell a sea salt called Herbamare which is made by Vogel. I tend to throw a bit of that into a lot of my cooking too (instead of Maldon). It has celery, leek, cress, onions, chives, parsley, lovage, basil, marjoram, rosemary, thyme and kelp. It sounds a lot of ingredients but tastes great. Your burgers look absolutely delicious by the way xx


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