Is there any other dish so immediately and vividly satisfying and delicious as this all-American specialty? Nope.
Credit: Maura McEvoyIs there any other dish so immediately and vividly satisfying and delicious as this all-American specialty? Nope.
I take a bite, and a world of flavors and textures reveals itself: the animal saltiness of well-seasoned, moist ground beef, its abundant juices soaking into the soft, sweet white flesh of the flour-dusted roll; the sourness of the vaguely chewy melted sharp cheddar; the crisp, saline, smoky authority of well-cooked bacon; the faint crunch of a cool iceberg lettuce leaf turned translucent by the warmth of the meat and cheese.
I am bewitched, seduced, transported. I am satisfied even before I have begun to digest. At times like this, I am quite prepared to propose the perfectly constructed bacon cheeseburger as proof of the existence of God.
I love hamburgers. When it comes to this variously enhanced, definitively American (but unquestionably universal) sandwich I am a true believer. I would rather eat a burger than a hot dog, a pizza, or a chunk of chocolate cake. I would rather eat a burger than a T-bone. If I were told that I had to give up either hamburgers or foie gras for the rest of my life, I'd swear off that fattened poultry liver so fast you wouldn't see my lips move. And if I were then told that I had to give up hamburgers anyway, I do believe I'd get old Doc Kevor-kian on the line. They will pry this burger from my cold, dead fingers.
A culinary psychotherapist (and if there isn't such a beast, I'm sure one will pop up soon, probably on the Food Network-Frasier meets Emeril) would no doubt find evidence of arrested development, of nostalgie de baby-food, in my predilection for ground-up protein-which extends far beyond the hamburger and its cousin meat loaf, incidentally, to encompass sausages of every description, pâtés and rillettes, chicken croquettes, even fish cakes.... Let them think what they want.
I mean, I've got perfectly good teeth and enjoy applying them to sirloin steaks and lamb chops and baby back ribs as much as the next carnivore. But there is something about meat or fowl or fish that has been ground or finely chopped or shredded, then properly seasoned and correctly cooked, that appeals to me immediately and viscerally, that gladdens my heart, that connects me with neither artifice nor irony to the sheer pleasure of eating.
A Hamburger is literally a person or thing from the city of Hamburg, the great northern German port that was part of the Hanseatic League in medieval times. What this Teutonic municipality has to do with Big Macs and Whoppers is a subject of much speculation, some of it quite silly. The Hamburg New Media Association even devotes several pages of its website to the question. Like many other would-be authorities on the subject, the New Media folks trace the burger's beginnings back to the Tartar hordes who swept out of Central Asia about 750 years ago, supposedly riding across the steppes with slabs of raw animal flesh lodged between their saddles and their mounts. The meat was thus tenderized, it is said, and when the Tartars stopped for the night, they'd simply chop the meat up and dig in. (Think steak tartare.) How and why some saddle-softened Central Asian warriors' fodder became a "Russian delicacy" (as those New Media Hamburgers call it) in Hamburg and eventually found its way to America with a Hamburg provenance attached is not revealed.