Play It Up . . . Like a Real Hamburger

Is a hamburger by any other name still a hamburger?  Not if it’s bifteck haché.  Move over for a moment, All-American hamburger, and make way for this knockout straight from the Cordon Bleu.  Fresh thyme, bacon and minced onions are mixed in to provide a subtle complexity, both herbaceous and smoky but never overpowering the flavor of beef.  At least this is the way I make it.

It’s an adaptation of Julia Child’s ground beef with onions and herbs and her hamburgers with cream sauce carefully explained on my dog-eared and food stained pages 301 and 302 of Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Vol. I.  The patties can be served with a sauce or not.  This is my “or not” version so you’ll need hamburger buns.

The quality of the beef is very important.    Some of the least expensive cuts, chuck and neck are the most flavorful.  85 per cent lean is about right.

French Hamburgers

Ingredients for 6 burgers

2 T butter

¾ cup finely minced onion

3 oz. finely chopped bacon (smoked applewood or black forest)

1 ½ lbs. ground beef

1/8 t freshly ground black pepper

1/8 t ground thyme or ½ t minced fresh thyme

1 egg

1 T butter for sautéing patties

6 slices Gruyere cheese (optional)


1. In a large frying pan, cook the onions slowly in the butter until slightly wilted.  Add bacon and cook until onions are very tender and bacon cooked through.  Remove, leaving bacon fat in pan, and let cool.

2. In a mixing bowl, add beef, seasonings, onions, bacon and egg.  Mix lightly but thoroughly with your hands.  Taste for seasoning.  Form into six patties.

3. Add butter to the bacon fat in same frying pan over moderately high heat.  When the butter foam begins to subside, sear the patties.  Sauté for 2 to 3 minutes on each side or to desired degree of doneness.

4. Now, to Frenchify these babies a bit more, melt a slice of Gruyere on top of each.    Place on lightly toasted hamburger buns and add condiments of your choice.  Personally I like soft buns that you can bite into and not have the toppings squish out the sides.

Enjoy your meal! (You know how Julia would have put it.)

Play It Up . . . Like a Real Hamburger

by Victor Ribaudo

I like all-American food.  Even if it originated in another country, as is often the case.  I guess the hamburger is one of those national favorites.  They say that the Germans invented it.  Hence the name “hamburger” (from Hamburg Steak).  I don’t know.  Seems that the concept of chopping meat and then forming it into patties has probably been seen in many countries throughout history.  Don’t forget, I am Italian and meatballs belong to us (and the Swedes, I guess.)  Perhaps German immigrants were the first to introduce a chopped meat patty to America.  Doesn’t really matter where it originated, though; the hamburger is a true American classic in this guy’s culinary book.

Now, I know that hamburgers abound in fast food chains.  They taste great and I never knock them.  My nephew loves them too much.  But that’s not what I’m after.  To me, a hamburger must be prepared freshly at home to be of any real interest to my taste buds.  It all starts with the meat, of course.  Good quality beef is a must, but we can’t have it too lean or you’ll be eating cardboard instead of juicy goodness.  About 85% lean – as Phyllis Kirigin suggests in her fantastic recipe above – is great.  I like them hand formed, but you can use one of those hamburger gadgets.  All good.  Then there’s the cooking technique.  I prefer good old fashioned grilling on the backyard BBQ.  The charcoal smokiness really does it for me.  I will, however, take my hamburgers to a frying pan every once in a while.  I kind of like the steaming effect you get – not unlike White Castle. Really moist.  Broiling is also a decent option. But be careful.  Overcooking might occur.  That’s never a good thing.

Now those are the basics.  Next to consider are the toppings.  The perfunctory ketchup is a must for me, but I also like to add mayonnaise to that mix.  (Mustard, not so much.)  Sometimes I adorn my burger with relish or pickles, when I’m feeling fancy free.  Cheese is always nice.  I adore brie on mine, but any variety will do.  Sautéed or raw onions are welcome enhancements…as well as bacon or smoky ham.

But that’s really the beginning.  I get bored fast.  So I’ll often make it a Californian with the addition of fresh avocado slices, tomato and onion.  My Mexican gets guacamole, along with Monterey Jack, sautéed jalapenos and salsa.  The Italian dons mozzarella and tomato sauce.  The Indian gets chutney.  And the Greek gets chopped cucumber, tomato, dill and feta.  The possibilities are endless.

When I was a teenager, I discovered a recipe for hamburgers stuffed with sautéed mushrooms and onions.  After pan frying, I was supposed to add wine to deglaze and create a sauce.  Well, I poured in the wine right in the middle of the frying process.  Needless to say, my Mom had a mess on her hands.  Point is, I’ve always been a hamburger connoisseur – even if I did mess up every once in a while.  Wanting to broaden my burger horizons, so to speak.  So aside from substituting turkey or chicken for beef, I’ll often change up the meat mixture to include ground veal, pork – even loose sausage meat.  Or I’ll serve lamb burgers and throw everyone for a loop.  I suggest creativity with your spices and herbs as well.  Try cumin and coriander in the lamb burger and make it Middle Eastern.  Minced garlic, parsley and grated cheese give the burger an Italian flair.  Chopped scallions, ginger and soy sauce – especially with ground pork – offer everyone a taste of Asia in a bun.

Speaking of buns, they are important.  So much from which to choose.  Pick your favorites.  But please, do toast them on the grill or in the oven.  No one likes a hot burger on a cold bun.  A lot to say about a simple hamburger?  Not really.  I could go on and on about sliders as well.  Just some thoughts for now about Americana fare and the leader of that pack.

Recipe by Phyllis Kirigin

Photographer Bill Brady

Written by Victor Ribaudo

Blog syndicated at the


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