Sometimes, it feels like to be British is to have a strange relationship with The Hamburger. For most of us (I speak as a 31 year-year old man, so maybe I just mean ‘for me’) our first experiences of eating hamburgers will have been an strange combination of McDonald’s and those odd, indistinct little Iceland-style patties that were a mainstay of summer barbecues. Neither particularly gave forth much of a sense of the animal from which they came (and, in the case of the Iceland-Barbecue-Burgers, ‘the animal from which they came’, in light of more recent revelations, was probably a far hazier concept anyway), so the beginnings of our relationship with that great tradition of meat was a misleading time indeed.
Then, at the end of the 1990s, along came the Gourmet Burger Kitchen revolution to confuse things further. Despite being founded by two New Zealanders, this restaurant (and its many, many imitators) seemed to have a particularly British angle on the Burger, i.e. there should be, preferably, an almost literally infinite number of options on the menu, the buns should be some kind of artisan affair (to make it ‘special’), and the patties should be absolutely enormous (to make them ‘good value’), meaning that you’d either be chowing down on mouthfuls of raw, luminous-red minced beef, or hacking your way through two inches of grey cotton wool, depending on how you’d ordered your meat (the very fact you could have your meat cooked to order was an indicator that this distinctly down-low food had been shoved uncomfortably upmarket).
Of course, at the time, as our Hawaiian Peanut-Butter-Pineapple Burger with Chunky Chips and Thousand Island Dip arrived, we thought, ‘This is it! Burgers are finally good!’, but we were wrong, and the whole sorry episode only served to deepen the British Burger Identity-Crisis.
Since then, London seems to have wised up; a glut of food-truck nerds went to America, ate some actual hamburgers and realised that, essentially, things had been perversely over-complicated, and what people were really after was ground beef, seasoned with salt and pepper, topped with cheese that melted properly, in a bun that didn’t fall apart before you’d finished eating it which, rather ironically, is a relatively accurate description of the McDonald’s burger most of us first ate as children, albeit (hopefully) with a slightly more pleasing beef arrangement in the middle of it.
Anyway, I digress. Tonight we made ‘Real Fast Food’s burger (partly as a result of the wary look my wife shot me as I picked the book up after breakfast, and the ‘does it have a burger in it?’ that was proffered immediately after) and, as I flicked to page 256, I was pleased to discover that, despite being published in 1992, Nigel had eschewed any tendency to fill up his burger mix with any old thing just because he could, and the recipe is simply beef, salt and pepper.
He recommends beef of 10% fat content or above (we used 15%, ground coarsely, from a rib cut: Swedish supermarkets are good enough to tell you all that on the packet), fried in a mixture of butter and oil.
In our house, there are strident rules applied where burgers are concerned, in that they should look and taste like ‘proper hamburgers’ and not be too big, so I fried well-seasoned, palm-sized patties (somewhere around the 100g mark), to medium-rare and placed them on good old fashioned toasted sesame buns, topped with lettuce, red onions, pickles, ketchup, mayonnaise and a cheese single, the packet of which carries the frankly inspired name ‘Ched’ Up’. It was as far from a ‘gourmet burger’ as it’s possible to get, and was just, very simply, a hamburger.
It was delicious.
Buy your own copy of Nigel Slater’s ‘Real Fast Food’ HERE.