Wealth doesn't just magically materialize into your bank account. It comes from the ground, human effort, the flesh of animals, the sun, and the atom. The global economy is driven by nature, and yet it's not usually found on the accountant's balance sheet. Perhaps it should be. I'd like to know the true cost of the stuff I buy. Embodied energy and carbon footprint calculations are a good start, but it would be nice if the product itself came with a True Cost number or rating, like the nutritional information on a cereal box or the Energy Star rating on a refrigerator.
When True Cost is factored in, conflict diamonds become a morally expensive choice to make when they're fueling turmoil in the world. Likewise clothing made in sweatshops. Organic tomatoes flown in from Chile may be less expensive at the register, but how much carbon dioxide was released into the atmosphere flying/driving them to your table? What's the energy cost of living in the suburbs compared to living downtown? Do the people who made the clock hanging on my wall get paid a fair wage and receive healthcare? Just how bad for the environment is the laptop on which I'm typing?
See, by placing a ball of meat on a hot, un-oiled griddle and smashing it down firmly into a flat, thin disk, you greatly increase the contact points between the meat and the griddle, which in turn increases the Maillard reaction. That's the series of chemical reactions that creates the rich brown crust that makes our steaks and burgers taste so freaking good. Maximum crust = maximum flavor = maximum craving.
I've already discussed the basic ins and outs of smashed burgers in the past, but after writing that article, I found myself wondering, what if I were to take this to the extreme? Is there a way I can pack even more flavor into a burger?
Spoiler alert: the answer is a big fat (or should I say short smashed?) yes.
Ernest Hemingway liked a good burger and had a specific recipe he wanted his staff to use when preparing meals. Using his instructions, Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan recently recreated the Hemingway burger.
Fingers deep, I kneaded. Fighting the urge to be careless and quick, I kept the pace rhythmic, slow. Each squeeze, I hoped, would gently ease the flavors -- knobby bits of garlic, finely chopped capers, smatterings of dry spices -- into the marbled mound before me.
I had made burgers before, countless times on countless evenings. This one was different; I wasn't making just any burger -- I was attempting to recreate Hemingway's hamburger. And it had to be just right.
Surprisingly, with 11 different ingredients, Hemingway's burger is not as stripped down as his prose. For a more minimalist burger, you have to turn to Dean Martin:
This is a five-minute video of Andy Warhol eating a Burger King hamburger accompanied by Heinz ketchup.
The scene is part of a film done by Jorgen Leth called 66 scenes from america.
Leth had his assistant buy some burgers and directly advised him to buy some in halfway neutral packaging as Leth was afraid that Warhol might reject some brands (Warhol always had an obsession with some of his favorite brands).
So Andy Warhol finally did arrive at the studio, of course along with his bodyguards, and when he saw the selection of burgers the assistant had brought he asked "Where is the McDonald's?" and Leth -- slightly in panic -- was immediately like "I thought you would maybe not like to identify..." and Warhol answered "no that is the most beautiful". Leth offered to let his assistant quickly run to McDonald's but Warhol refused like "No, never mind, I will take the Burger King."
Tomatoes are in season in the late summer. Lettuce is in season in in the fall. Mammals are slaughtered in early winter. The process of making such a burger would take nearly a year, and would inherently involve omitting some core cheeseburger ingredients. It would be wildly expensive-requiring a trio of cows-and demand many acres of land. There's just no sense in it.
A cheeseburger cannot exist outside of a highly developed, post-agrarian society. It requires a complex interaction between a handful of vendors-in all likelihood, a couple of dozen-and the ability to ship ingredients vast distances while keeping them fresh.
According to the In-N-Out nutrition guideline, replacing the Spread with ketchup results in a decrease of 80 calories per sandwich. I know that ketchup has about 15 calories per tablespoon, so If we estimate that an average sandwich has about 2 tablespoons of sauce on it (that's the amount that's inside a single packet), then we can calculate that the Spread has got about 55 calories per tablespoon (110 calories in two tablespoons of Spread minus 30 calories in 2 tablespoons of ketchup = 80 calories difference in the sandwich). With me so far?
It just so happens that relish has about the same caloric density as ketchup (15 calories per tablespoon), and that mayonnaise has a caloric density of 80 calories per tablespoon. Using all of this information and a bit of 7th grade algebra, I was able to quickly calculate that the composition of the Spread is roughly 62 percent mayo, and 38 percent ketchup/relish blend.
Upon tasting it, my immediate thoughts are mayo, ketchup, a little yellow mustard, a hint of garlic and paprika, perhaps a touch of cayenne pepper, and an elusive sour quality that I can't quite pinpoint. It's definitely not just vinegar or lemon juice, nor is does it have the cloying sweetness of relish. Pickle juice? Cornichon? Some other type of vinegar? I can't figure it out. This was going to take a little more effort.
Totally doing this for dinner one of these nights. We'll probably cheat on the ground beef...we've got some Pat LaFrieda patties stockpiled in the freezer.
Four-star chef Eric Ripert checked out the burgers at McDonald's and Burger King to use as a pattern for a burger at his new D.C. restaurant. Part of what he learned is proportion is everything.
Just looking at the basic burgers at each of these chains -- particularly the Big Mac -- showed me a couple of very key things: First of all, the burgers are a perfect size. You can grab them in both hands, and they're never too tall or too wide to hold on to. And the toppings are the perfect size, too -- all to scale, including the thickness of the tomatoes, the amount of lettuce, etc. In terms of the actual flavors, they taste okay, but you can count on them to be consistent; you always know what you're going to get.
Here it is, the awful truth. After sampling In-N-Out Burger twice this past weekend (a cheeseburger with raw onion and, 4 days later, a Double Double w/ no onions) and having had several Shack Burgers this year (my most recent one was a couple of weeks ago), an adequate comparison between the two can be made. The verdict?
The Shake Shack burger wins in a landslide. It's more flavorful, features a better balance of ingredients, and a yummier bun. On the french fries front, In-N-Out's fresh-cut fries get the nod.
Courtesy of Mena, something to keep in mind: a cheeseburger at In-N-Out is $1.85 while a similarly appointed Shack Burger is $4.38, almost 2.5 times as much. SS french fries are nearly twice the price of In-N-Out fries. The burger comparison is an unfair one because, despite its location and style, Shake Shack is a restaurant and In-N-Out is a fast food joint. That the burgers are even close enough to compare -- and make no mistake, I still love the In-N-Out burger -- says a great deal about In-N-Out.
"If I were told that I had one last meal before I died and then I was given the choice between a super chic 15 course degustation meal cooked by Thomas Keller, Tetsuya Wakuda, Ferran Adria and Joel Robuchon and a perfect cheeseburger, the choice would be easy. I'd pick the burger without a moment's hesitation."