I’m sitting in the front room staring out the window, watchin’ the birdies, captivated by any bright and shiny object that happens to spin and sparkle on a breezy day, and I have a thought.
“I wanna burger.”
I didn’t say it was a profound thought, now did I? I rarely have profound thoughts. My ordinary thoughts — those that rise out of the mist, with no apparent cause—— tend along the lines of—“Pretty kitty,” and “Change underwear.”
So, “I wanna burger” fits the bill.
Actually, it exceeds the range of most of my everyday thoughts, in that the craving expressed implies a change of pace. Specifically, a culinary departure in that we no longer eat much red meat and, in particular beef. I search the memory banks and I can come up with maybe one instance in the last year when I chowed down on cow.
First, gout. A wad of red meat protein is a clear invitation to metabolic arthritic disaster, especially when it is combined with the red wine I refuse to deny myself. As in, a lot of red wine. A healthy amount of beef and a healthier amount yet of red wine and, the next morning, there’s a chance I might not walk anywhere without screaming.
Second, I am no fan of the corporate meat industry. This dislike of the agribusiness approach to meat production proves a problem with all flesh, including poultry, but especially with beef. In short, the neato plastic-wrapped packages of beef we find in the supermarket are too often the result of a system that degrades the animals and sullies the product with all manner of chemical nasties.
Don’t get me wrong: I am no vegan fanatic. I believe humans are omnivores and have canine teeth for a reason. We are made to eat meat, among other things. But, there is no reason the animal cannot live the best possible life prior to its death and that the death cannot register respect for the life taken. Further, the takeover of the meat biz by huge corporations has led to practices that result in a dicey product. Cattle are fed a lot of grain to fatten them up and provide what has become a standard taste; they therefore need antibiotics to counteract the effects of a feed regimen not suited to their ilk. Oh, and why not toss in growth hormones as well?
No thanks. A dose of growth hormone and antibiotics doesn’t mix well with the pesticides I get from my produce.
But … there is that thought: I wanna burger.
Kathy is out in the yard planting a deer buffet, circling plants with monofilament line, mounting yet another feeble defense against the rats of the wilderness — one that will surely fail, just like her frequent, loud forays that manage to scoot the deer about twenty feet from the plants. The deer just stand there, watching Kathy yell and gesture wildly. When Kathy returns to the house, the deer move back in and do their dirty work. It is, after all, their yard.
“I wanna burger.”
“As in a hamburger?”
“Yep. I am suddenly obsessed with burger.”
“Well, that’s a lot better than most of the things you are obsessed with. Can’t say I would mind a burger. One now and then is a real treat. But …”
Oh, my, here come the requirements.
“Remember, no ground beef from the supermarket. Every pack of burger contains the parts of lord-knows-how-many animals. And those animals stood knee deep in their own filth for a long time, you know. Oh, and no chemicals. And, don’t forget: I like mine thin, and cooked well.”
“You mean ‘cooked to death,’ don’t you?”
“Yep. A cinder, please.”
It’s on: Beefapalooza!
So, task number one: find the right meat. This I do easily. I go to the butcher shop and get a mess o’chuck, ground on the premises, 85-15 meat to fat (you need the fat for flavor). The shop promises the meat comes from stock not treated with antibiotics and not pumped with growth hormone.
Task number two: prepare the right side dish and procure the correct accoutrements.
The accoutrements: a pasilla chile, some medium cheddar cheese, a ripe avocado, cibatta and Kaiser rolls.
As for the side, I decide on a personal fave — one that serves many purposes well. After all, the side is nearly as important as centerpiece, maybe even more so.
I will make a version of a French potato salad that I have tweaked over the years — simple and tasty, with great mouthfeel and the power to fill. For the salad, I buy some new red potatoes, all about an inch and half to two inches in diameter. I snatch a red onion from the bin and throw a head of garlic in my basket. I get some fresh parsley and a dozen eggs, then make a snap decision. Do I want crunch? If so, I could add some celery. I decide against the celery — not one of my faves. Do I want a piquant sting? As in capers? Nope, not this time. Finally, I pick up a pack of frozen haricots vert.
Into a pot of boiling lightly salted water go the spuds and I cook them until they are just tender enough to pierce with the tip of a knife. I add half the pack of green beans for the last five minutes of cooking time. I drain the potatoes and beans and allow them to cool slightly. I want them warm for the next stage of the process.
At the same time I cook the potatoes, I hard-boil six eggs. I peel them.
Mise en place: finely dice half a red onion; dice and smush a large clove of garlic; mince a fistful of parsley.
I cut the potatoes in half, (or thirds, if the spuds are slightly larger). I put the chunks of potato in a large bowl and sprinkle with red wine vinegar. I cut the beans in half and throw them into the bowl. I chop the eggs roughly and toss them in with the potatoes and beans. In go the onion, garlic and parsley. I add a teaspoon or so of dried tarragon, some Kosher salt and fresh ground black pepper. Lastly, a quarter cup or so of mayonnaise and a teaspoon of country Dijon mustard. I adjust the seasonings and put the bowl in the fridge.
I preheat the grill on high and plop the pasilla on the grill, charring it on all sides. I put the pepper in a paper bag, close the top and allow the pepper to steam for a couple of minutes before removing the skin. I cut the top from the pepper, slice the pepper in half and remove the seeds and ribs. I slice the avocado and the rolls. I slash a couple slices of cheese from my “mini brick” of cheddar.
I turn two of the three burners of the grill to medium. I form two burgers. Mine is a thick beast, gently formed. I work the meat as little as possible — I don’t want a compact patty. Kathy’s burger, however, is relatively thin and smashed out to where it will cook quickly and (way too) thoroughly. I liberally salt each patty then apply a coat off freshly ground black pepper to each side. On to the hot side of the grill go the patties. I do not mash them down, I do not touch them. After four minutes, I flip the patties.
I give the patties another three minutes or so, then move them to the medium hot end of the grill. At the same time, I toast the buns on the hot side of the grill (it doesn’t take long, so they need to be monitored closely).
I test the bigger patty for doneness by gently touching it. Believe me, you can tell how well meat is cooked by pressing on it. My patty feels relatively rare; Kathy’s patty feels tortured. I plop a slice of cheese on each patty, remove the buns from the heat and close the cover of the grill, until the cheese melts.
I slather the bun with (forgive me) mayo, and a hefty amount of the country Dijon. I fan some avocado slices on the bun, lay the burger on, cover the burger with half a pasilla and close the operation with the top half of the bun.
My burger is just right — medium rare, juicy, peppery good.
Kathy’s is “just right” — cooked beyond recognition, more than a little dry.
“This is perfect.”
Indeed, my dear, it is. The burger is complemented by the salad and is in clear harmony with a French Malbec. A couple glasses of French Malbec.
As we eat at the table on the deck, Kathy nervously scans the yard below for any sign of her adversaries.
I indulge a food that has become a stranger. Beef. A burger.
And, I prepare for what might come the next morning … when I try to walk.