Eric Kim, New York Times
She was not your typical grandmother.
Granny Fern was Aunt Mame, a peace lover, a grandmother who would take you to a piano bar or teach you how to play blackjack. Her flamboyant personality matched the tumultuous energy of Pie ‘n Burger, a classy Pasadena, California restaurant that she took her grandson Michael Osborne to when he was a kid in the 1960s.
Now, decades later, Osborne owns the restaurant.
“For many, it’s like home,” he said of his 35-seat establishment.
One item on the menu, a plate of steak hamburger, has been served for as long as Osborne can remember. But this dish is something of an heirloom – more common on eatery menus decades ago – and can be hard to find these days.
In a Pie ‘n Burger, this is half a pound of premium ground beef that is turned into a patty and then cooked in a flat skillet. The plate includes salad and potato pancakes made with steamed potatoes and a toasted bun with butter. Visitors to Osborne treat the pie like a steak, eat it with a knife and fork, and add Worcestershire sauce, Heinz 57, or ketchup as a condiment.
Today’s Americans may ask: Why would anyone order this instead of a regular bun hamburger or even a steak?
“Sometimes at night people want something other than a sandwich or a hamburger,” Osborne explained, adding that a plate of burgers “is much more cost-effective to the consumer than a steak.”
Today Osborne sells far fewer hamburger steaks than the traditional hamburger for which his restaurant is known. But he recalls the heyday of the Atkins diet, when hamburgers were all the rage.
The history of these pies goes even further. In the late 19th century, German immigrants to the United States brought with them a Hamburg steak, a chunk of ground beef with spices. It was later called a hamburger and became a popular dish in American restaurants and eateries.
According to H.L. Mencken, a connoisseur of American English, during World War I, “hamburger steak” became “Salisbury steak” in an effort to curb the use of German loanwords. The name nodded to Dr. James Henry Salisbury, who is known to recommend eating this dish three times a day (for health reasons). Usually it is a brown sauce, sometimes laced with onions.
Inspired by Salisbury Steak, German Hamburg Steak, and other cakes in the world including Danish Fricadellers, Japanese Hambagu, and Korean Hambak Steak, season the cutlet with ground beef with Worcestershire sauce, nutmeg, and shredded onions to keep the meat moist. The rest is just assembly, preparation of fresh crunchy ingredients – tomatoes, onions and pickles – for tender pies.
While you can of course sandwich all of these ingredients in between the breads, eating them individually will give you a taste of each part – a chance to truly enjoy what makes a burger great.
Recipe: Platter of Burger
Total time: 20 minutes
Harvest: 4 servings
- 1 small onion vidalia or yellow onion, peeled and chopped
- 450 grams of lean ground beef (90/10) or plant-based ground beef
- 1/4 cup panko bread crumbs
- 4 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
- 4 teaspoons of ketchup, plus another serving
- 2 teaspoons dark brown sugar
- 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt (Diamond Crystal)
- 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
- A neutral oil such as vegetable oil, canola oil, or light olive oil.
- 4 slices of American cheese or hot cheddar (optional)
- 1 lb Campari, cocktail, or other small tomatoes, cut in half or sliced if large
- 4 dill marinades, halved
- 4 thick slices of chewy white bread, such as sourdough toasted and cut in half
- Yellow or Dijon mustard for serving
1. Using a microplane or other fine grater, finely grate about 1 tablespoon of onion from the roots in a large bowl and set aside. Chop the remainder of the onion criss-cross into 1/2 inch rings, add to a separate small bowl and cover with cold tap water. Soak the onion rings in the refrigerator to soften.
2. Add ground beef, panko, Worcestershire sauce, ketchup, brown sugar and nutmeg to a bowl of grated onions. Season with salt and pepper. Shape the beef into 4 patties (about 2.5 cm thick).
3. Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add enough oil to lightly coat the bottom of the pan and wait until it is shiny. Gently add the patties to the skillet and cook until browned and caramelized, 2-3 minutes on each side.
4. Remove the pan from the heat, place a slice of cheese on each cutlet and cover the pan until the cheese is melted and the burgers are no longer pink on the inside, for 1-2 minutes.
5. Divide the cheese patties, tomatoes, pickles and bread evenly into 4 plates before serving. Drain the onions and add to the bowls along with the ketchup and mustard. Eat with a knife and fork or, if you prefer, place it between the bread.
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.
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