I am a Montana native with a cattleman grandfather, so I have pretty strong opinions when it comes to beef. Quality beef should be prepared simply, without too much fuss or window dressing, so the flavor of the meat can shine through. In my view, this approach should be applied to hamburgers as well filet mignon and rib-eye steaks.
This week’s selection is "Cafe Salle Pleyel Hamburger." This recipe has garnered much favorable attention, and reputedly makes the best hamburger in Paris. The reviews and commentary made us cautiously eager to see what a sinfully delicious hamburger would be like. I say “cautious” because both my companion and I like the “simple is better” approach. In fact, he valiantly lobbied against the cornichons and capers, but we eventually settled for the recipe as presented in Around My French Table by Dorie Greenspan.
A good hamburger needs good meat, so we got good ground sirloin--as specified in the recipe-- but also a mixture of equal parts ground sirloin, chuck and brisket. This allowed us to see how Dorie’s ingredients worked with a traditional and somewhat untraditional beef base.
The foundation for this recipe is the onion marmalade that provides a ketchup/mustard substitute and subtle, caramelized onion flavor and texture. But, in general, the recipe reminds me of a meatloaf preparation. Oil-soaked sun dried tomatoes are drained and chopped and added to a mini-food processor with capers, fresh parsley, tarragon and cornichons. It is the equivalent of putting all your condiments and garnishes together, mixing them up and adding them to the meat. This combination creatively eliminates the need for the traditional egg and bread crumb mixture used to bind the patties (or the meatloaf). Because capers and cornichons are participants, I was a little light on the salt and pepper and this was reflected in the final result. If you try this at home, don't be as cautious as I was when seasoning with salt and pepper.
The meat patties held up well when cooked in the cast iron pan. No breakage! Three minutes per side is probably enough for medium-rare sirloin burgers, but we cooked the sirloin/chuck/brisket meat patties about thirty seconds longer on each side for the same doneness. The hamburger is adorned with shaved parmesan cheese curls that add an element of sophistication in appearance and are a nice departure from the standard slabs of American or cheddar cheese. We used sesame seed buns, and they worked just fine. But we really wanted something more interesting, like a tasty brioche bun, to compliment this fashionable recipe.
The result was a moist, well cooked and visually attractive hamburger whose homogeneous textures and flavors made us long for an In-and-Out hamburger. There was no crunch of crisp lettuce, no explosion of juice and flavor from a tomato slice, and no firmness of meat in which to sink your teeth. The flavors of the various ingredients were unassertive and the onion marmalade blended with the texture of the meat patty to the point we could not tell where one stopped and the other began. Such was the overall homogeneity of the dish that we could not tell the sirloin hamburger from the sirloin/chuck/brisket hamburger.
Considering the rave reviews this hamburger recipe has garnered, I am willing to try again. Perhaps the fault lies with the chef. But next time I am going to try also a few alterations that meet my personal tastes and see how that compares with the original recipe. Stay tuned for the results.