Earlier this year, I was perusing a Boston Globe story about some Ernest Hemingway papers from the writer’s years in Cuba that had just been donated to the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library in Boston.
A book editor who’s on the board of the Finca Vigía Foundation in Boston, which has been working on preserving Hemingway’s Cuba documents and bringing them to the United States, had told me of the story and I could not wait to read it. I’ve long been a Hemingway fan — an admirer of not just his work but also his appetite for life, food and drink.
So it was unsurprising that one line in the story about what the new papers contained struck me: “And the more mundane, like his instructions to the household staff, including how to prepare his hamburgers: ground beef, onions, garlic, India relish, and capers, cooked so the edges were crispy but the center red and juicy.”
Hemingway’s ideal burger? I had to find out more.
Many weeks and a few burgers later, I wrote about my quest to recreate Hemingway’s hamburger in The Paris Review.
I won’t go into details — you can read more there. But for the recipe and another glimpse of the burger, click right here …
One thing you’ll learn from just looking at the recipe is that how packed with ingredients it is. Here’s how my meat looked at the beginning — and this was even before I’d added the wine, egg, dry spices and more.
Having tried it, I have to say it’s the most umami-packed burger I’ve ever tasted. The recipe may look a little labor-intensive, with all that chopping and whatnot. But after your first bite, I can guarantee that you won’t regret it.
So, have at it and buon appetito!
PAPA’S FAVORITE HAMBURGER. There is no reason why a fried hamburger has to turn out gray, greasy, paper-thin and tasteless. You can add all sorts of goodies and flavors to the ground beef — minced mushrooms, cocktail sauce, minced garlic and onion, chopped almonds, a big dollop of piccadilli, or whatever your eye lights on. Papa prefers this combination.
1 lb. ground lean beef
2 cloves, minced garlic
2 little green onions, finely chopped
1 heaping teaspoon, India relish
2 tablespoons, capers
1 heaping teaspoon, Spice Islands sage
Spice Islands Beau Monde Seasoning — ½ teaspoon
Spice Islands Mei Yen Powder — ½ teaspoon **
1 egg, beaten in a cup with a fork
About one third cup dry red or white wine.
1 tablespoon cooking oil
What to do —
Break up the meat with a fork and scatter the garlic, onion and dry seasonings over it, then mix them into the meat with a fork or your fingers. Let the bowl of meat sit out of the icebox for ten or fifteen minutes while you set the table and make the salad. Add the relish, capers, everything else including wine and let the meat sit, quietly marinating, for another ten minutes if possible. Now make four fat, juicy patties with your hands. The patties should be an inch thick, and soft in texture but not runny. Have the oil in your frying-pan hot but not smoking when you drop in the patties and then turn the heat down and fry the burgers about four minutes. Take the pan off the burner and turn the heat high again. Flip the burgers over, put the pan back on the hot fire, then after one minute, turn the heat down again and cook another three minutes. Both sides of the burgers should be crispy brown and the middle pink and juicy.
** Spice Islands discontinued its production of Mei Yen Powder three years ago. If you don’t have any in your pantry, here’s how to recreate it:
9 parts salt
9 parts sugar
2 parts MSG
If a recipe calls for 1 teaspoon Mei Yen Powder, use 2/3 tsp of the dry recipe (above) mixed with 1/8 tsp of soy sauce.