By Ardie Davis
AKA “Remus Powers”
..The version one usually finds at stands and lunch counters is a mercilessly flattened patty of indefinable flavor, cooked to a state of petrification and placed on a cold bun, then to be doused with catsup…At its best—juicy, filled with flavor—it is an excellent dish, not to be regarded with condescension. Certainly it has stimulated a great deal of innovation, both good and bad, in American cookery. -James Beard, James Beard’s American Cookery (1972)
I am old fashioned. I still like frankfurters with skin, and hunt them down ferociously. Hot dogs are also indispensable to the outdoor grill—in fact, you couldn’t maintain one without them. -James Beard, Barbecue with Beard – Outdoor Recipes from America’s Master Chef (1975)
Call them burgers, sliders, hamburgers, fast food, gut bombs or steak patties. They are staples in the American diet. Likewise frankfurters, franks, hot dogs; with skin or skinless; beef, pork, turkey, chicken or combo; expensive or cheap.
American food icon James Beard’s appetite for food “filled with flavor” ranged from gourmet to everyday comfort foods. I like that Beard wasn’t the least bit elitist about burgers and franks that are properly prepared. Incidentally, one of Beard’s best buds, Julia Child, shared his passion for hot dogs. One of her favorites was the all-beef Costco hot dog.
Beard once described himself as a “purist” when asked about fillers such as cereal in hamburger meat. He opposed it. Later he allowed that minced onions or minced celery was acceptable filler. He also recommended inserting some butter or cream in each burger patty, plus an ice chip, to enhance flavor and juiciness.
In the spirit of James Beard’s burger blending legacy, the James Beard Foundation is repeating its trademarked Blended Burger Project nationwide restaurant chef’s competition, ending July 31. The main requirement is that the burger meat be blended with 25% fresh cultivated chopped mushrooms. The top 5 competitors will be selected via online votes by restaurant customers. I know of four Kansas City restaurants in the competition. This year 500 restaurants, compared to 250 last year, are expected to compete. Go to the James Beard Foundation website for more details and check local sources for blended burgers in your neighborhood.
Those of us who aren’t eligible to compete in the official James Beard Foundation burger project can still have fun concocting our own blended burgers. Here’s some inspiration to get you started:
Blend some 80/20 ground chuck with chopped cultivated mushrooms; allow for 1/4 pound patties composed of 75/25 meat/mushroom ratio. Take Beard’s advice: insert a pad of butter and a chip of ice in each patty. Grill outdoors with hardwood charcoal, briquettes, flaming hardwood, pellets, gas or electricity. Grill to your desired level of doneness. Omit the ice chip if you prefer well-done. Serve in a toasted/buttered bun or roll with pimento cheese, tomato and onion or other favorite condiments. Be sure to try it with pimento cheese—a longtime South Carolina favorite.
Beard liked no-bean chili garnished hot dogs as well as a variety of mustard condiments. One of his tips for hot dog flavor enhancement is to split the dog and brush it with butter before grilling. Have a good time at the grill and a Happy Fourth!