Samuel Muston: Ernest Hemingway's hamburger is a moveable feast
Writers famously like drinking. Drinking in the morning, drinking in the evening, and possibly drinking themselves into an early grave if they are Dylan Thomas (the day before he died he offered the maid cleaning his room a glass of whiskey; posterity does not relate her reply). It is a trope so well-travelled that it has become almost lore, with people writing entire books about what Hemingway drank in the Ritz and what Amis would put away over lunch at the Garrick.
You don't find that many recipes for food created by scribblers, though. Perhaps it is, as Amis said, that a large glass can supply "that final burst of energy at the end of the day" or else booze silences the vinegary voice in your head that says "you can't write that" in a way coq au vin never will. Either way, you don't often find a writer's recipe. So when you do it is a surprise.
It felt like a mini triumph – admittedly one shared by quite a few others – when I read that amongst the many papers Ernest Hemingway left to the John F Kennedy Presidential Library, there is a full, typed-out recipe for the perfect burger. A burger! It seems so down-home, so intimate, the product of a relaxed moment at home, rather than some show-boating drink recipe (his ubiquitous Hemingway Daiquiri famously has no sugar and double the rum of the regular version).
As it is the anniversary of his birth on 21 July, I thought I'd eat in his honour so here I am in my kitchen wrist-deep in mince.
The first thing to note about the Hemburger is that it is rather simple and unadorned, uncustomarily so (just read his shopping lists which are also in the museum). Or at least it would have been in the 1950s – a slight problem is presented by the fact that the Spice Island Mei Yen Powder, one of the fulcrums, has been discontinued. But a recipe online reveals it to be made up of 9 parts salt, 9 parts MSG, and 9 parts sugar. There are shades of the double-rum daiquiri here, but we are mercifully only using 2/3 teaspoon with 1/8 tsp of soy sauce.
So, after kneading my beef, scattering in the 2 cloves of garlic, onion, sage and Spice Islands Beau Monde Seasoning which a pal had sent from America, and then throwing in the wine, relish and a single egg, I moulded the beef in my hand. It felt as cold and as firm as dough.
Next came cooking. I always grill my burgers, but Papa had different ideas. Burning hot pan meets meat patty. The scent of charred meat, and spices browning in the pan swirls up, filling my nostrils and kitchen. It smells good. But I don't have long to savour it, because Hemingway liked his burger "crispy brown and the middle pink and juicy" – it comes out of the pan and into the waiting arms of a brioche bun.
It looks superb, a muscleman's burger. And the taste? Deep and earthy peppered with spice, and soft and oozing in the centre. It was, one might say, a Moveable Feast.
The height of fine dining
With prices as high as the tower which houses it, many punters have been put off Hutong, the upscale Chinese joint in the Shard. But that may be about to change with its new dim sum lunch menu. You pay £28 and get five dishes made up of four elegant dim sums. Still sound expensive? Consider this: a ticket for the Shard viewing platform is £24.95.
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