I say that the “burger” is actually the most flexibly and loosely defined food in the world – and I think that is why I am so intrigued by them. It is not very easy to answer the question “what is a burger”. Here is why it is so difficult.
At it’s core, a “burger” can be loosely defined the way that Webster’s dictionary defines it:
1. A sandwich consisting of a bun, a cooked beef patty, and often other ingredients such as cheese, onion slices, lettuce, or condiments. Often used in combination: a cheeseburger.
2. A similar sandwich with a nonbeef filling. Often used in combination: a crab burger; a tofu burger.
There is no other food in the world which leaves it’s definition open to so much interpretation by the cook. Fried rice is always fried rice. A ham and cheese sandwich is always just that – ham and cheese on bread. A veal parm is always fried veal with sauce and cheese on a roll – and a cheese steak is always steak and cheese. An apple is an apple and a pear is a pear – Always.
You would think that at least the core elements of the “burger” would be defined – but they aren’t. When someone says “burger”, I immediately think of “a beef patty on a bun”. However, other people have completely different things pop into their minds when they hear the word “burger”. Some think of a mix of meats ranging from lamb to different cuts of beef. Or maybe a turkey patty, a veggie patty or a tofu patty.
Then there is the question of how it should be cooked. With most other foods, it is either cooked or it is not cooked. Seemingly only with the burger (and steak) do we identify individually with the degree to which the meat is cooked. I like mine medium well – a trace of pink but cooked through for the most part. Many people like it rare, medium rare, medium, or well done. This is the only food where the eater can and will be very disappointed if it comes out of the kitchen cooked to the wrong temperature.
We can’t even all agree that a “burger” should come on a bun. Some people like it on toast, bread or an English muffin. Some people eat them with no bun at all.
So…. Once you take your patty of….. something, cook it to some preferred degree, and put it on your undefined bread product (or not), the “chefs interpretation” doesn’t end there. Now we have to talk about toppings & fixins. I personally like to add a slice of American cheese and some bacon. But this practice is as ill defined as the rest of the “burger”. Some people like to put some other crazy things on there – and since all is fair in building a burger – they are allowed to do that. Some add some other type of cheese to make theirs unique. I’ve seen everything from Swiss to provolone to blue cheese. Some prefer without bacon. Some add some marinara sauce and mozzarella cheese and call it a pizza burger. Some folks down in Texas add a fried egg. Some even like to add some salad – lettuce, tomatoes, avocado, onion or pickles – I even saw olives on a menu once.
Another thing the “burger” community can’t seem to agree on is size. Should it be a full pound of meat, a half pound – or even smaller??? I’ve seen everything from a fast food patty to a 15 pound piece of meat served on a pizza platter classified as a “burger”
But the fun doesn’t stop there. Let’s talk about condiments. I like to add a little bit of catsup. Other people prefer mustard, relish, hot sauce, thousand island dressing (or as McDonalds calls it “special sauce” – yeah, we are on to you Ronald!). Some people add salt and/or pepper – some add other spices.
So I guess the moral of the story is that no matter how you like your burger, it is still considered a burger. I am sure as we move on with life, there will be plenty more twists, turns and spins in the creation of burgers – and I for one stand up and say “bravo”. I will try them all. Long live the burger – whatever the hell it is.
AND in that vein – I commit to my readers that I will try a different interpretation of the “burger” each month (some of which I will create from scratch myself – and some I will steal from others) and report to my readers on what I think of it. I am excited – this will be fun!! Stay tuned each month.