By Eric Kim, The New York Times
She was not your typical grandmother.
Grandma Fern was an Aunt Mame, the kind to see the world, the kind of grandma who would take you to a piano bar or teach you how to play blackjack. Her exuberant personality matched the lively energy of Pie ‘n Burger, the cool restaurant in Pasadena, Calif., Where she took her grandson Michael Osborn as a child in the 1960s.
Today, decades later, Osborn owns the restaurant.
“For a lot of people it’s like home,” he said of his 35-seat facility.
One menu item, the burger steak plate, has been served for as long as Osborn can remember. But the dish is a bit of a relic – more common on restaurant menus decades ago – and these days it can be hard to find.
At Pie ‘n Burger, it’s a half pound of premium ground beef that’s shaped into a patty, then cooked on a flat griddle. The plate is accompanied by a salad and hash browns made from steamed potatoes, as well as a buttered and toasted bun. Osborn diners treat the patty like a steak, eating it with a knife and fork and adding Worcestershire sauce, Heinz 57, or ketchup for seasoning.
Americans today might ask: why would someone order this over a regular burger or even a steak?
“Sometimes at night people want something other than a sandwich or a burger,” Osborn explained, adding that the burger plate is “a lot more profitable for a customer than a steak.”
Today, Osborn sells far fewer burger steaks than the traditional burgers his restaurant is known for. But he remembers a time in the heyday of the Atkins diet when burger steak was all the rage.
The history of these pancakes goes back even further. At the end of the 19th century, German immigrants to the United States brought with them Hamburg steak, a round of seasoned minced beef. It was later called hamburger steak and became a popular item at American restaurants and meal counters.
During World War I, the “burger steak” became “the Salisbury steak”, as part of an effort to limit the use of words borrowed from German, according to HL Mencken, the specialist in American English. The name nodded to Dr James Henry Salisbury, who recommended eating this dish three times a day (for health reasons). Now, it usually comes in a brown sauce, sometimes lacey with onions.
This recipe, inspired by Salisbury steak, German Hamburg steak, and other patties from around the world including Danish frikadeller, Japanese hambagu, and Korean hambak steak, flavors a ground beef patty with Worcestershire sauce, nutmeg and grated onion, which keeps the meat moist. The rest is just a simple assembly, organizing fresh, crunchy accessories – tomatoes, onions and pickles – to accompany the tender patties.
While, of course, you can sandwich all of these ingredients between bread, eating them separately allows you to enjoy each part – a chance to really savor what makes a burger great.
Recipe: Plate of hamburgers
Total time: 20 minutes
Yield: 4 servings
- 1 small Vidalia or yellow onion, peeled and trimmed
- 1 pound of lean (90/10) ground beef or vegetable ground meat
- 1/4 cup panko breadcrumbs
- 4 teaspoons of Worcestershire sauce
- 4 teaspoons of ketchup, plus more for serving
- 2 teaspoons of dark brown sugar
- 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
- 1 teaspoon of kosher salt (crystal diamond)
- 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
- Neutral oil, such as vegetable or canola oil, or light olive oil
- 4 slices of American cheese or sharp cheddar cheese (optional)
- 1 pound of Campari, cocktail or other small tomatoes, halved or quartered if large
- 4 dill pickle wedges, halved
- 4 thick slices of soft white bread, like sourdough, toasted and halved
- Yellow or Dijon mustard, for serving
1. Using a Microplane or other fine grater, finely grate about 1 tablespoon of onion from the root into a large bowl and set aside. Cut the remaining onion crosswise into 1/2-inch-thick rings, add to a separate small bowl and fill with cold tap water. Soak the onion rings in the refrigerator to melt them.
2. In the bowl with the grated onion, add the ground beef, panko, Worcestershire sauce, ketchup, brown sugar and nutmeg. Season with salt and pepper. Shape beef into 4 patties (about 1 inch thick).
3. Heat a large skillet over medium heat. Add enough oil to lightly coat the bottom of the pan and wait until it is sparkling. Gently add the patties to the pan and cook until golden brown and caramelized, 2 to 3 minutes per side.
4. Remove the pan from the heat, top each patty with a slice of cheese and cover the pan until the cheese is melted and the burgers are no longer pink inside, 1 to 2 minutes.
5. To serve, divide cheese-topped patties, tomatoes, pickles and bread evenly among 4 plates. Drain the onions and add them to the plates, with a splash of ketchup and mustard. Eat with a knife and fork or, if desired, sandwiched between bread.
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.
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