The old-fashioned hamburger

I have always loved hamburgers but, for the life of me, I cannot understand how the simple, plain and tasty hamburger became the gourmet item that EVERYONE and EVERY eatery THINKS it should be!

The classic hamburger that I remember from the 1950s, was a bun, cut in half across its diameter and lightly toasted with a smear of butter, a couple of thin slices of onion, a tasty (note: TASTY) beef patty, two or three thin slices of tomato and close the top. If the diner wanted pickles, or lettuce etc he asked  and might have to pay extra for it while tomato sauce (or ketchup, if you must) was usually – by default – in a bottle on the counter as were salt and pepper shakers.

A cheeseburger was exactly what I have described with one or two slices of cheese on the patty (I like cheddar) as the only difference. Even the egg-burger was merely a fried egg added as another layer in the burger.

Then they started to add mayonnaise (sob)…and beetroot (sobs again), and half a head of lettuce and all manner of other fine-dining shrubbery and relishes and sauces (more snuffling-into-a-handkerchief sounds  heard from the wings).

The net result is that the humble burger becomes this THING that is almost unrecognisable and in which the meat, the BURGER part of it, is so subsumed by the other flavours swirling around it that they could be putting just about anything (and I believe some places use some dodgy stuff) into that patty because, as long as you don’t find an eye or an obvious piece of offal in it, you have NO IDEA what you are eating.

When I order a hamburger and ask for all the shrubbery and sauces to be skipped and to just put some raw onion and tomato on you would think I was speaking a foreign language. And then I get my order and there is some reddish glop on it, soaking into the top of the burger. I ask what it is and am told “…that is our (pick one: savoury sauce; relish; fried onion relish etc, etc)…) and we ALWAYS put that on”.

I then ask why it was added when I was SO SPECIFIC about NO SAUCES…and I get the hurt, offended, angry look and the “…but we always…” speech.

My wife tells me that they will react that way because they think that is how it should be – she also likes over-dressed burgers. And then she adds that by chucking off all that “good” stuff I am paying full price for less. My retort that at least I am getting what I want only gets me a pitying look.

 But why? How did this happen?

What happened to my plain, and very tasty, burger that I described in my opening paragraphs? 

Everyone tries to tell me my preference is wrong but no-one will try a simple burger. I guess if they did they would be disappointed – as I have often been – by the indifferent beef patty and the flat taste. That need not be so if GOOD beef mince is used, properly seasoned when mixing and with fresh onion and tomato and a nice firm bun completing the burger.

Perhaps hamburgers are dressed up like the Chelsea flower show because ORGANIC is such a buzz word – and a licence to print money, if you want my opinion – so they feel if they add all this light, airy, taste-confusing stuff it is now going to be the healthy option.

Somehow I am reminded of that order for “…a large bucket of fried chicken and chips with bread rolls and a diet soda…”

Anyway, I firmly believe that less is more – why, for example is minimalist FINE DINING so popular with ecstatic reviews of a simple mix of simple ingredients and so on ad-nauseam but simple is not right for the burger? Come on!

Scroll down to see my recipe for an outstanding burger.