Thursday, August 18, 2011

Butter Burgers and a little Hamburger History

Let’s just get this straight from the beginning… I had no idea about the history of the hamburger –– criminal, but true.    I decided I would rectify that rather large gap in my food history knowledge base. 

Hamburg Market 1811

Firstly… the myth is true… hamburger, at least the word, does come from the beautiful city of Hamburg in Germany.  The inspiration is a little fuzzier.  When I read it was Hamburg sailors who got the ball rolling, I had to check my map because I could have sworn Hamburg was landlocked… and I was right –– sort of.  Although the city is not on a seacoast, it is the junction of many rivers including the Elba and that made Hamburg a major trade stop on the way to the North Sea and Baltic Sea. 

The city of Hamburg was named after Hamburg Castle (built in 808 and long gone). It has grown to become the second largest city in Germany and made the “Ten Best Places to Live in the World” list last year.

I sort of love the idea that the birth and evolution of the hamburger took place in Hamburg because of its location… a multi-cultural crossroads.  There are rumblings that the Russian influence of steak tartar (which in turn was absorbed by the Russians from the Tartars, or Tatars who used to put raw steak under their saddles, using the “pound while you ride” system to tenderize the meat and add a certain je ne sais quoi to the flavor) flowed into Hamburg.  The Hamburgians made a meat dish called frikadeller (pan-fried minced meat, egg, soaked bread, sautéed onion, salt and pepper usually served with fried potatoes).   Hamburgian sailors and travelers brought a more durable version of this on their journeys that was made of salted and smoked minced meat, first mentioned as Hamburg steak in 1802.

By 1894, Delmonicos immortalized Hamburg steak in The Epicurean cookbook, even though something like it had been served at the restaurant both cooked and raw since the middle of the century.

Fanny Farmer had a recipe for hamburger in her 1896 Boston Cooking School Cookbook.

But when did it get the bun???  One story has it that in 1885 a messy meatball at a Seymour, Wisconsin State Fair was tamed by putting it between 2 slices of bread. There was a bunned burger mentioned in 1891 but it was the St. Louis World’s Fair of 1904 that really got the bun and burger idea rolling.

White Castle came along in 1906, McDonalds in 1956 and the rest is history…. Americans now eat 4 hamburgers a month… 13 billion a year. 

 Photo of DB Burger from DB Bistro Moderne in NYC

For the flip side of the economy –– the side that eschews fast food and loves excess, there’s a $5000 Fleurburger in Vegas (with a bottle of Chateau Petrus, one of the most expensive wines in the world served in a Ichendorf Brunello glass) made with kobe beef, foie gras and a truffle sauce OR for the gourmet burger lover there is the famous DB Bistro burger with foie gras, braised short ribs and truffles at their centers on parmesan buns from the wicked mind of Daniel Boulud (cheap at $32 –– $75 with shaved truffles).

What about Butter Burgers?  The name probably came from dairy country –– a place called Solly’s (formerly Solly’s Coffee Shop, now Solly’s Grille) in Glendale, Wisconsin that’s been around since 1936. There the butter is chopped into the meat and then the burgers are fried in butter and served with stewed onions –– all that for under $5 –– not bad. There's also a Kroll's Hamburger (East and West) in Green Bay that's famous for butter burgers.

I started making my butter burger after reading an article years ago that had a few famous chefs sharing their favorite burger recipes.  I can’t find it anywhere so I could be remembering this all wrong –– BUT –– I’ve been making this burger for years and I could swear it was Julia Child’s idea.  I never really wrote it down and just put them together, making the herb butter with whatever I have around.  It always has garlic and parsley but I have done it with many different combinations like jalapeno, chili powder, cilantro and lime or truffle butter with madeira and loved the result.  I include a honey bun recipe I found on Annies Eats  and loved it for a change from my regular bun recipe.

I can’t finish this without talking about the beef.  Butter is a fabulous addition but the quality of the beef is what makes a burger shine.

I had nearly stopped eating beef and pork until a few years ago.  I had gotten sick a few times with ground beef (do you know half the time you think you have flu you have food poisoning??) so that I always ordered my burgers well done –– YUK (and this happened in good NYC restaurants).  I am a girl who likes her meat “black and blue” (charred on the outside and just warm on the inside) so well-done was a drag.  I also didn’t like all the bad news about the state of the beef/pork industry.  I call that kind of beef or pork “misery meat” as the animal spends its life sick and stressed... I didn’t want to support it anymore.

Andrew “Chip” Chiapinelli of Grazin Angus Acres at Union Square

Then I found Grazin Angus Acres at Union Square Market in NYC.

Dan Gibson (picture from the Grazin Angus Acres Site)

Dan Gibson’s 450-acre farm (plus more acres for harvesting hay) in Columbia County, NY is home to big, beautiful Black Angus cattle as well as a windmill for electricity!  They use pastured chickens for pest control and fertilizer (yeah, I get my gorgeous, orange-yolked eggs from them too). Oh yes, they are going to be offering pastured organic pork raised the same meticulous way very soon… can’t wait!

(picture from the Grazin Angus Acres Site)

I know I’ve told you about the benefits of grass-fed beef.  I’ve told you that feeding an herbivore corn is bad for them and gives them ulcers that require antibiotics because corn makes their normal PH stomachs turn acid.  It changes their fat from healthy and full of Omega 3’s to unhealthy, bad cholesterol-inducing fat and feedlots are a nightmare.  

These babies live longer lives to develop flavor.  Instead of 1000 pounds, they are allowed to reach 1300 and that’s what gives the meat the fine marbling and flavor.

The fat even has beta-carotene, you can see in the yellow fat on the left side. 

Michael Pollan’s Omnivore’s Dilemma can tell you all about the virtues of grass-fed (and Grazin Angus has a great set of links on their site HERE to tell you more about it) much better than I can in a few paragraphs.   You can eat beef knowing that the animal led a good, healthy life–– that means a lot to me.

The bottom line for cooks is that it is well-marbled and delicious.  Owner of Grazin Angus Acres, Dan Gibson says: “Our Black Angus are born on the grass here and raised on the grass here in compliance with Animal Welfare Approved standards.  They roam until they are large enough to be thoroughly finished, well marbled and tasty.  We carnivores are “hard-wired” to enjoy beef raised this way.  When you take the time that we do, you get a tender delicious steak with all the environmental, ecological, social and health benefits of grass-fed.”

I know, it is more expensive but I figure, eat better meat, even if a little less if you have budgetary concerns. Think of it this way, would you rather have one pair of gorgeous well made and designed shoes that you will keep for years or a few pair of poorly made and designed numbers from SHOES –R-US that self destruct in a year and hurt your feet??? 

ALSO, eating locally and supporting farmers directly is a great model with no middleman or store profits to take away from the farmer or to pad a bottom line and a CEO”S pocket while paying employees minimum wage. More money to the farmer! This makes farming more profitable which is too often not the case with the product being bought below cost by big stores.  There is a human cost to cheap food as well as a horrible cost to the environment and the animal world (Mark Bittman talks about sustainable farming this week in the NYT HERE ). 

I just saw a video from The Perennial Plate about Magnolia Farm in Oregon.  They raise beautiful sheep there and the owner Alissa quoted naturalist Henry Beston  who said "We need another and a wiser and perhaps a more mystical concept of animals. In a world older and more complete than ours they move finished and complete, gifted with extensions of the senses we have lost or never attained, living by voices we shall never hear. They are not brethren, they are not underlings; they are other nations, caught with ourselves in the net of life and time, fellow prisoners of the splendour and travail of the earth." Gorgeous, right?

(picture from the Grazin Angus Acres site)

OK, I’ll get down off my soapbox … your reward for reading is the Butter Burger… a spectacular treat!

Butter Burgers serves 4- 8

2 pounds hamburger, salt and pepper

1 stick butter
3 T chopped chives or sautéed shallots
3-4 T chopped rosemary, thyme, marjoram, parsley… whatever fresh herbs you have
a splash of lemon juice or a few gratings of lemon zest (optional)
1 -2 cloves of garlic, minced
s & p

Your choice of fixings. I used lettuce, tomato, pickles (Susan at Savoring Time in the Kitchen has a great pickle recipe)  and Ketchup

Blend when butter is soft and form into a log and freeze or refrigerate. Slice off 4- 8 slices depending on the amount of burger you are using.

Form 4 - 8 burgers and insert the butter into center of the paddy and close well.  Fry or grill to your desired degree of doneness.

Have all your fixing ready to go.

Put the fixings on the bun, then the burger and top with another thin slice of butter and top with bun top.

Honey Whole Wheat Buns (makes 10, they freeze well) from Annie’s Eats

1 ¼ c milk
2 t yeast
2 c flour (plus a little more if the dough is too wet)
1 c whole wheat
½ t salt
¼ c honey (this makes them sweet… taste the dough… you may want 2- 3 T Honey)

2T butter, melted
1 T honey
sesame seeds

Put the first 7 ingredients in a stand mixer and blend for 8 minutes… it will be quite sticky.  Then let rise till doubled in size (or do as I do and let rise an hour then put in the fridge for a day or two to let the dough develop more flavor).

Take the dough and divide into 8-10 balls and put on a parchment-lined pan.  Cover and let rise till double.

Brush with honey and butter and sprinkle with sesame seeds.

Cook for 15 minutes in a 350º oven, turning midway

Thanks to Gollum for hosting Foodie Friday!

PS:  Congratulations to our friend Karen at Globetrotter Diaries for making it on Saveur's Sites We Love.  She has a fabulous site with GORGEOUS photos and food and a great attitude.  She was also kind enough to mention Lostpastremembered, for which we are most grateful.

I hear people are having trouble leaving comments... I've tried a change... hope this helps.  Sometimes  you have to click twice!

Hey guys,  visit my friend Deborah Chud and her great new ap for cooking on the fly: Trufflehead.  It's cool, it's hip and it's simple.  Check her out here too.  Deborah runs the great site  A Doctor's Kitchen.  She has even shown a butterhound like me the path to eating better.  You'll love what she does.

Thanks to eHow for mentioning my butter burgers in their Burger slideshow.


Jane and Lance Hattatt said...

Hello Deana:
We cannot honestly remember the last time we ate a hamburger, but we have found your account of its development absolutely fascinating.

As for the merits of eating locally produced food and well reared meat, we are with you completely. Indeed, we should much rather eat less of better quality meat than its cheaper mass produced equivalent. It is true that one must pay for better quality but as we can all probably eat less than we do, then that is a good compromise in our view.

SavoringTime in the Kitchen said...

How wonderful to have two Wisconsin mentions in your post (not to mention my pickles - thank you!). I've had the burgers at Sollys and they are dripping with buttery goodness. I can't believe I've never made a butter butter at home! I may reward my husband and I with these on Sunday :) The buns sound wonderful too.

I was at my favorite farmers' market today and found a vendor selling grass fed beef raised in a nearby Wisconsin town. I would be only fitting to use their ground beef.

Wonderful hamburger history, Deana. I thought my Danish ancestors invented the frikadeller.

Elizabeth said...

Oh my goodness, I did not even know that Solly's was known outside of Wisconsin! I love that place and have so many fond memories of the burgers and time with my grandfather! They are delicious!

I love the history lesson and the recipe, I will try it and report back!

Thank you for the wonderful memories, they brought tears of happiness to my eyes!

pam said...

We have made the switch to only organic meat, and now we eat a little less of it, and enjoy it so much more.

El said...

I can't believe how much history is behind the hamburger. I'm a little stunned that there are such pricey hamburgers around but completely agree on the importance of buying local. One question though, did anything come up in your research (which is incredible) about this place in CT Just curious. Fascinating post!

Laura@Silkroadgourmet said...

Hi Deana!

Wonderful history on 'how the hamburger got its bun' (sounds like a children's classic)!

Also like the frailities of memory that led you to the butterburger. I thought it was this . . . but it might have been that. I've invented variations and even whole recipes thinking that I remembering something I read or heards from someone etc.

We will have to try the butterburger soon. Liek a lot of men, my hubby like to cook meat over open fires in the backyard - giving that wonderful charred outside that you mentioned.
Will let you know how it goes.



indieperfumes said...

I realize I am still such a carnivore, your presentation and description are making me hungry right now...been vegetarian off and on over the years, and currently eat meat maybe once or twice a week. This would most certainly be the right way to do it if doing it at all.

Lorraine @ Not Quite Nigella said...

Wow I loved this post Deana! I had a vague idea of the history of the hamburger but I didn't know that a butter burger existed (and I looove butter!). And I couldn't agree more about grass fed beef!

Erika Beth, the Messy Chef said...

Butter burger sounds amazing and LOOKS amazing! Interesting history of the burger, too!

Anonymous said...

Fascinating to find out the history of the hamburger! And your butter burger looks spectacular!

Ken Albala said...

I atill think a burger is about as good as food gets. Either the best or the absolute worst. This one looks mighty fine.

Lori Lynn said...

Really enjoyed all the burger details.
Your version would disappear instantly around here.
We've had the pleasure of enjoying the DB burger, with a fine old claret there, no complaints.

T and Tea Cake said...

I don't live too far away from Hamburg myself (Hanover) - a really beautiful city it is!

It was really funny reading the history of the glorious lump of beef and your recipe really turns it into a high class meal!


tasteofbeirut said...


I could count on you for making a hamburger taste and look like a fine piece of foie gras; butter burger indeed! I am now thinking of making your recipe, MOI, who never, ever, makes hamburgers! (My son would be delighted). I am taking note of your grass-fed cows and the Hamburg/German connection does not surprise me one bit!

chow and chatter said...

wow looks amazing and fun history

Tasty Trix said...

You tell it sister! It's SO true and I have said this before here but I hate it when "grass fed/grain finished" is passed off like a virtue. And no - I don't want to eat misery meat. Exactly: eat less meat. And ... omg, butter burger. Wantwantwantwant

Anonymous said...

I really loved this post. I asked myself the same question when I visited Hamburg, so I knew some of the story. I snobbed hamburgers for years since they were the icon of fast food for Italians - we don't grill them in barbecues. Now I enjoy making a good quality one at home now and again, but I have to admit that I find the idea of butter hamburger really one step too decadent!

Linda said...

Wonderful post as always Deana....and of course you made a beautiful burger! It looks delicious!
I must try that bun looks great!