In recent years burgers have moved up from just being fast food faire to ultra-chic and hip with top chefs creating all kinds of exotically flavored and constructed burgers including using outrageously expensive Kobe or Wagyu beef, stuffing them with foie gras, wild mushrooms, truffles, the meat from braised short ribs or beef cheeks and more. I confess I’m one who likes mine in a simpler vein.
First, we should probably define what a Burger or Hamburger is and where they came from. I’ll begin with a little history. According to Alan Davidson in his wonderful encyclopedic book The Oxford Companion to Food (Oxford University Press 1999), the word “hamburger” has a relatively short history and first showed up in print around 1890. Cooked, flavored patties of meat however date a long way back and appear in many cuisines. It’s thought that the port of Hamburg in Germany and its Hamburg Steak, enjoyed by sailors there who introduced it to others in their travels, is probably the birthplace for burgers as we know them today. Their fate was sealed when “hamburgers” served in a bun were introduced at the St. Louis World Fair of 1904 and the rest is history as they say!
Burger purists will insist that burgers are only made from beef and that any other base ingredient puts it in a different category. I tend to agree with this but like so many culinary traditions “burgers” have evolved and now appear on menus made from fishes, birds and even vegetables. So in the spirit of ecumenism I’ll begin with what I think makes the best, juiciest and tastiest classic beef burger and then include recipes for my favorite fish, veggie and bird burgers.