Hamburgers are an affectionate memoir of the 20th century American appetite, recalling backyard barbecues, squirt bottles of ketchup, and thighs sticking to vinyl in a small-town diner. There’s no stopping the free-wheeling burger, and in the spirit of free enterprise, empires continue to be built in the 21st century upon our insatiable, unblushing appetite for quarter-pounders, fully loaded, piled high on a sesame seed bun.
Hamburgers burst forth in a spirit of democracy, particularly suited to a capitalist economy. In Ann Arbor, for instance, you may grab a burger at the roll-back price of two bucks plus change at Krazy Jim’s Blimpy Burger. Then, head up the street, hang a right down Main, and pull up a chair at Vinology, where Kobe beef sliders, with a trio of house-made ketchups, make a small meal for ten big ones. Catch the restaurant at happy hour and that same plate is half price.
The egalitarian hamburger may be customized to suit regional tastes. The West Coast palate might prefer a legume-based burger on a 12-grain roll, chock-full of fiber, basking in sunny health. A Southerner might insist their high fat to meat ratio burger be grilled, then served on a snow-white bun as plushy and soft as a goose down pillow. Ann Arborites, such as myself, tend to vacillate; pictured is a high-fat burger on a whole wheat bun.
The following recipe reflects our predilection to borrow recipes from overseas and conform them to our own palate. I found this recipe online at Food and Wine. com, which plays off the Italian Caprese Salad composed of tomatoes, basil and fresh mozzarella.
The recipe’s author, Grace Parisi, makes her pesto with basil, almonds and Pecorino-Romano – a laudable combination with the tang of sheep’s milk cheese. I made a huge batch of pesto several months ago and froze it, but used pine nuts instead of almonds and cow’s milk Parmigiana Reggiano instead of Pecorino. Most cooks who love Italian food have their own version of the classic Italian paste, and any made-from-scratch pesto would be appropriate in the following recipe.
The debate may never end regarding fat-to-meat ratios, whether grass- or corn-fed cattle produces the best grind, or if the knowledge regarding the source of the product is important. I waffle when it comes to fat content; my palate prefers a fattier, thus juicier, burger, but health data suggests I refrain. But I avoid eating corn-fed, feed-lot beef, and especially grinds, when I haven’t a clue as to the origin.
A steak, for instance, may be reasonably safe. But one cello-wrapped package of grinds may contain meat from dozens, if not hundreds, of animals, exponentially increasing the risk of bacterial contamination. You could kill most bacteria by cooking burgers well done to hockey-puck consistency, but I think hamburgers are best cooked—at most—to medium.
I could grind my own meat, but that’s a hassle, so it’s great to have a variety of places to shop that provide specific information as to a product’s origin. I’ve visited Lamb Farm in Manchester and know for a fact those grass-fed cattle are humanely raised; their grinds are available at Arbor Farms.
Whole Foods has an animal welfare rating system, which rates meat products on a scale of one to five based on the quality of the animal’s life. The six-step, color-coded labeling system allows consumers to make their choice based on specific criteria. I purchased the grinds for the following recipe at the Eisenhower Whole Foods, and the counter staff have an encyclopedic knowledge regarding the origins of the products they sell.
At the end of the day, when the debates have ceased, you just want to know: Does it taste good? After the first bite of this Caprese Pesto Burger, I pronounced the fusion brilliant; a burger where dreams are made—a burger to remember. The only issue was the attack; this is one big son-of-a-gun, so I’d advise using a minimalist bun.
The following recipe was adapted from Food and Wine.