New on Desk #90 — Hamburger Wisdom

I skipped a newsletter last weekend, let’s blame seasonal depression for that one. Hopefully I’m back in the saddle now, though. As for the topic, have I got the low-effort feature for you, took several days to figure this one out.

The Hamburger and the Grillburger

One of the things I do on occasion is some low-effort cooking at the restaurant, treating friends and feeding the team when working on something or other in the premises. Basic diner fare; it took me a moment to find a good English word for it, but “diner” is pretty perfect. Pizza, too, but let’s focus on the traditional diner grill arts now.

A superficial search of the English-language Internet leads me to believe that what is known in Finland as the “grill burger” is not known by that name in the native land of the hamburger, the USA. I believe that a Finnish reader has instinctive understanding of the difference between a grill hamburger and the fast food (as in, McDonalds) hamburger; they’re really pretty different strains of the same thing. In particular, the toppings and dressings are distinctive. Nothing too shocking, but different like Italian pizza and American pizza are different.

I just learned from the ‘net that grilled egg, a core conceit of the Finnish grill burger, was also a default topping in one of the earliest known hamburgers, that of Otto Kuase, c. 1891. Interestingly this fellow is the only European with any claim to fame re: inventing the hamburger, other likely originators are all American as per Wikipedia. To my understanding the Finnish grill burger isn’t particularly Finnish per se; entirely possible that it came from Germany in the late 19th century and it’s slightly different from the standard American hamburger due to belonging in this different originating branch of the hamburger arts.

(A bit of useful trivia, or as useful as trivia ever gets: while there’s no real “original hamburger”, it seems to be pretty clear that this particular type of sandwich hit the American consciousness during the 1904 World’s Fair in Saint Louis. So while the substantial origin is probably the same as with all traditional foods — invented again and again arbitrarily everywhere — the cultural concept of the hamburger came into being there.)

The Grill Burger Recipe

But I’m not here to talk hamburger history, I’m discussing my recent cooking at the diner (or “village restaurant”, ‘kyläravintola’, as we’re now calling the place), and specifically, my grill burger recipe. Gastronomic trends in a living community come and go, but one of the things that I’ve been grinding (preparing repeatedly) this year is the humble grill burger. When doing AV maintenance or other restaurant handymanning, it’s been burger time. Or pizza time, or fries time, but recently more burger time; there was some breakthrough in my burgering technique (more on that below), and now it’s tasting really good, so it’s been getting more opportunity on the plate.

First, the schematic of my grill burger goes as follows, toppings top to bottom:
Bun top, toasted
Capsicum (bell pepper) mayo, a specific conceit of this restaurant; grill burgers usually have ketchup or similar
A couple of bacon slices for the fat of it
Pineapple slice, grilled, a distinctive grill burger element
Fried egg, a distinctive grill burger element
Cheddar slice, processed, because why not put everything in there when you’re at it
Hamburger patty, one of those thin cheapo frozen pucks
A dash of salad for crunch; shredded
Grill relish, a pickled cucumber relish, a Finnish grill cuisine standard
Bun bottom, also toasted
All from the restaurant’s own cupboards; this food saga only involves standard ingredients. Like your local greasy spoon used to make.

I’ve been in the artisan burger game in the ’10s, but this is the taste of home: back in the 20th century Finnish interior the hamburger was usually a grill burger. My version here has mayonnaise, and I’ve dropped ketchup and mustard, but that’s more due to specific audience tastes than purposeful. Otherwise I would argue that what makes the grill burger most distinct from an American-style fast food burger (think Big Mac or similar) is the pineapple and fried egg, two ingredients common in Finnish diner cuisine. I’m sure they use them in the USA as well, but it’s not too common from what I’ve seen. I’d still recognize a grill burger even from just the relish; American hamburgers use pickle slices instead from what I’ve seen.

My grill burgers haven’t been this good before, but now I’m actually pretty happy with it. The working theory is that the bacon, egg and mayonnaise make this disgustingly fatty hamburger harmonize deliciously. I recommend it to sturdy male types with no side dish; if you’re still hungry after eating one of these, I’m afraid you have an eating problem, which I can say because I’m not a cook and you’re not a customer. (Then again, who doesn’t have an eating problem in this fallen world.)

It occurs to me that for this to be a real social media account, I’d need a photograph of the burger. Foiled by my lack of photographic instincts, once again.

The alternative explanation for why the hamburger’s suddenly become good instead of merely mediocre is that my cooking has stabilized; as I don’t regularly work as a diner chef, the nuances tend to drift over the years. I guess I’ve gotten my bun treatment (unfreezing, toasting) and the overall dampness factor (how many wet ingredients to dry ingredients) under control, and all the ingredients get fried in a timely manner so the burger is still warm when it’s finished. This sort of detail stuff surely helps for a good outcome, too.

The burger teaching in general

While I’m at it, I’ll drop a few words of general hamburger wisdom. I got interested in hamburger cuisine in the mid-’10s (yeah, real original, I know) in Helsinki, so I have some basic notions about the matter. First, these are the cultural weight classes that seem to exist in the burger world:

Fast food hamburgers are priced low (like 5–10 € in Finland) and sold fast. The virtues of the fast food hamburger are effortlessness and cheapness (and sugar, fat and salt), and it’s trying to be an inoffensive and mild to please large audiences, so it’s not really fair to compare it with higher artistry. Within the weight class it is of course entirely legitimate to ask how to do best within the constraints. My grill burger, above, is an example of a fast food hamburger.

Artisan hamburgers are pricey (e.g. 12–20 € in Finland) working class prestige items, part of the general hipster street food movement. The beef patty is thick and carefully fried, the bun is of high quality and the toppings and dressings seek unique flair. The restaurant is usually more of a pub than a fast food joint, unless it’s a street food cart.

Haute cuisine hamburgers are generally even more expensive (20+ €in Finland), although still typically the cheapest item in the menu of the kind of place that sells them. The hamburger may be “deconstructed” or actually some other kind of sandwich altogether. As tends to be the case with haute cuisine in general, the merits are more imaginary than real.

So the reason why I’m interested in these weight classes is that if you’re looking to make a good hamburger, the actually relevant field of comparison, the people to learn from, are found in the artisan burger weight class. Fast food burgers are specifically created with streamlined techniques and ingredients, and while you can work in the same area (as I’ve been doing), a hobby chef shouldn’t actually stoop this low when actually trying to make a good hamburger; if you’re bothering to DIY, the effort is better put into artisan style burgers. Haute cuisine hamburgers are of course a dumb idea, best to ignore their existence altogether.

Also, if you want to embark on a burger quest, too, the weight classing is your basic guide to what to even eat, and how to relate it to other offerings in the cruel game of Top Chef Cooking Wars. Nothing wrong with scouting out fast food joints, but comparing them to the most dedicated artisan places is a bit unfair. I particularly feel that if you’re doing price/quality comparisons, which is entirely feasible in the first two classes, the comparisons will necessarily have to be limited to the specific class of burger.

That all aside, I’ll also bequest a quick guide to cooking an artisan-grade hamburger. The basic model is not that difficult, and you might enjoy cooking stuff yourself! Simple steps:

Patties: Buy high-fat ground beef, more fat the better. Divide the beef into appropriately shaped patties, lightly nudging them together. Don’t squish the patties more than you have to, airy is good. Season with salt and pepper.

Frying: Grill the patties at the highest temperature your cooking system (whatever you’re using, a frying pan on a hot plate) manages. Use cooking oil. Place the patty on the grill, let it sit until its bottom surface goes brown, then flip. Don’t hassle the patties unnecessarily. You’ll know that the patty is ready to flip/remove when it detaches from the grill effortlessly. The ideal goal here is a “medium” doneness, combined with a seared surface: the patty is brown (and Maillard sweet) on the outside while remaining succulent and slightly pink on the inside.

Buns and toppings: Get the best quality buns you can find, the kind that you like. The price won’t bankrupt anybody. Get toppings that you enjoy having on hamburgers; classics are salads and cheeses, but the possibilities are infinite and the composition here is actually kind of the point once you have the basics down.

Dressing: Actually crazy important for the taste and the mouthfeel (due to the moisture). As with toppings, start with something and try out different combinations; basics are mayonnaise, ketchup, mustard, different relishes… I list dressing separately from toppings because of its importance. Even if you decide to not have any toppings, you’ll want to have some kind of dressing to balance out the dryness of the bun. (If you drop the bun as well, you’re just left with the patty; that should go down well without a dressing, but it’s not a hamburger any more, is it.)

Repeat and vary: There are apparently no important variations or considerations for the hamburger patty; technically speaking the thin patty does exist, but why would you want to use that? Or a meatloaf patty (popular in the Nordic countries), but again why? Likewise the bun, I’m pretty sure at this point that the variations are either unimportant or clearly inferior. The real potential for variation in hamburgers is in the toppings and dressings. And the real mastery in grinding the execution until you can manage the patties, composition and presentation right.

And that’s my hamburger wisdom. It is a simple dao, but rewarding when you’re hungry.

It occurs to me that I’ve also been doing burritos this week. But I’ll save that topic for later.

Monday: Coup de Main #62

This was actually last week’s session, as the newsletter is late by a week. Peitsa has fortunately kept the reportage up faithfully.

Knights Temp, the swords for hire
Bob the Mundane, 3rd level Commoner.
Kermit the Hermit, 2nd level Savage of learned mien.
Abu Papi, 1st level Cleric aspirant.
(+ 8 henchmen along with Sven and Stone in the wings)

The party has finally named itself, by the way, apparently inspired by their incessantly heroic adventures in the Gnarley Forest. Having a name is generally a good idea (easier hiring + reputation benefits) unless you’re planning to be a nefarious rogue.

As Peitsa explains in the next paragraph, the players did a little bit of stable maneuvering: Sven the barbarian stayed back to cover possible strategic issues while Peitsa himself created the new Cleric to join a new excursion. So that’s a nice practical example of how stable play works in a sandbox campaign.

Back in Prigwort, father Rewalt had his hands full with exorcising young Violet Harrowmoor. Sven had decided to keep watch in case the evil spirit returned for a second round, and to stay in touch should sir Gavin the knight bring word from the Duchess Harrowmoor.

The operation would not lay in wait, though: Bob was aching to lead an excursion into the now vacated nest of the crow spirit while it might be away. Word of this carried over to the ears of Abu Papi, a young and upcoming priest in training, and the handsome youngster soon found himself on the back of a horse as a handful of men galloped once more to the ruined monastery after daybreak.

There had been lots of blocks in precarious position before, but the previous raid had forced fate’s hand. Now that the spirit had been forced out, there was an opening to look for the Archimandrite’s teeth in its roost in order to learn the secrets of the monastery, while the Harrowmoor Connection had been set in motion for another potential reward. Perhaps the nest itself also held something of interest?

As the party arrived, Abu Papi was immediately greeted by the stench of evil lingering in the area. The belfry would have to be consecrated, if only for the continued well-being of the cursed children, even though the all-permeating aura of Chaos in the area made it hard to draw on his divine patron for aid. Pushing through, as they stormed the now still empty bell tower, Abu started to chant and claim the region back from the clutches of darkness as the rest began to tear the freakish animal corpses into bags for wholesale transportation to the Archimandrite’s tomb. During this endeavor, thousands upon thousands of stained silver coins were discovered in the mess. Bloody magpies, indeed!

While everything had gone better than expected in the tower, real paydirt was hit with the memory fragments of the old abbot. Having found the teeth of the Archimandrite amongst the ruined animals, the apparition seemed pleased and rather talkative when questioned. With some effort in coaxing the spirit, the party learned much of the layout below. The sealed archives full of forbidden magic, tombs of the sanctified, secret passageways down from the Abbot’s house directly into the heart of the complex, vaults containing the treasury of the monastery… barring a detailed map, not much more could be hoped for. Only one hitch, really: the ghost didn’t know much beyond the memories of the ancient clergyman. No information on the brotherhood of monks apparently living down there, no news on potential traps built in the years leading to the downfall of the complex. Eh, c’est la guerre.

This was a massive win in the intelligence department, possibly circumventing the monks’ expected avenues of invasion and ranging the main targets’ value to several thousand gp’s and upwards in those locations.

After investigating and confirming that there was indeed a secret passage down in the ruined house, the squad hopped on their horses and set back towards Prigwort. This time there was danger in the air, though: an obvious bandit ambush awaited on the outskirts of the city. As the couple of un-liveried armsmen on the road waved the riders to stop, Abu shouted back demanding names without any intention to stop.

A hail of arrows burst from the trees and one soldier was thrown from the saddle, his horse punctured by a spear while one bandit in turn was crushed under hooves as the adventurers broke through, arrows sticking up from their horses like pincushions. Inside the city walls, it did not take long for the local sergeant to organise a posse of bandit hunters after Abu told them what had happened. Local reputation is a powerful tool, yo, even if the hunt turned out rather meager in the end. Sir Gavin did authorize a reward of ten gold pieces per bandit afterwards, though, so we might hear more about that later on should those highwaymen be unfortunate enough to meet a pissed off Sven next time instead.

While Abu Papi returned to the church to aid father Rewalt for the time being with the remaining children, it seemed like the curse had been lifted from Violet by the priest’s ministrations and she could be returned home to the Duchess. As luck would have it, sir Gavin had also brought an invitation from the Lady to have the heroes of the Knights Temp come over for a feast. A great offer not to be spurned, nor offended by looking… well, like these bloody hobos normally looked. One was a burly brute often caked in gore, another a hermit dressed in squirrel skins and the third was a turd farmer through and through despite all the efforts to the contrary. A swift makeover tour in the baths and tailorshops ensued before the ragged band was presentable enough to follow sir Gavin into Harrowmoor Keep.
Lady Harrowmoor’s hospitality seemed thus far genuine, having gotten their daughter back the nobles were keen to keep this proven pack of adventurers in their good graces. Wine flowed in the night and more coin changed hands on top of the bag sir Gavin had already given them. Who knew, perhaps there would be more work for such braves? After all, rescuing children and slaying dragons seemed like a pretty heroic resume…

What is this, noble deeds and chivalry? I am fully expecting someone to die in a ditch next session just to bring the operation back to earth 😛

The social maneuvers at the end are quite lovely.

Tuomas is running such cool adventures, I’m almost jealous. He’s clearly doing good for the moral fiber of the party, they never were this glaringly Good when Tuomas himself was playing the Cleric and I was GMing…

State of the Productive Facilities

The brooding melancholy of man means that nothing has been accomplished. Even the incessant march of entropy seems to have frozen, forgotten the inevitable loosening of the amino-acidic bonds that keep together this fragile sheen of life. There remains but the man and the keyboard, and a super-esoteric self-insert isekai WWII novel I keep reading because I don’t feel like working. More on that in the next newsletter, perhaps.

Lateness Excuses: the Wheel of Apples

I wasn’t being super-productive last week, really, but the weekend’s apple-related shenanigans were what really broke the camel’s back. This is a really dumb story, but here we go, the highlights:

Breaking the Cycle: Over the last let’s say three years the family has been experimenting with cold-press juicing of apples. The juicer is this Latverian (Livonian, I think) rural-chic barrel-screw model that a slave turns to squeeze the life-giving nectar from the apples of immortality. As a new innovation this year, the serf collective decided that hey, what if we instead did not do that, wouldn’t it be nice? The output isn’t that great, and we have lots of other things to do, too. Seems like this is just like all the other duties in life: you can just decide to not do them, and hey presto, then you don’t have to do them. So that was easy.

Enter the Cidereal: A friend’s gotten some apple trees of his own, so they ask to borrow the juice press. Gotta make some cider, you see, and for that the first step is to make juice. They have like 25 liters of apples, so not that much. Well, of course I’m happy to loan the press, not like I’m using it myself, but you know what would be even cooler? Sipi has this entire unpicked apple tree that he’s been complaining about. Winter apples, so while most other trees have already been picked, this one’s still maturing. And that 25 liters isn’t really that much in the big picture, sort of questionable whether it’s even worth it to bring out the juicer and then clean it afterwards. We should totally combine these pieces and form a project team with Sipi. Combining my juicer, his apples and your cider-making quest will solve all issues in one swoop!

I must have been out of my mind. What was that even about, first I specifically skate out of the juice press stuff and then a month later actively arrange some extra juice pressing fun for myself. My only explanation is that I’m like some kind of vampire (you know, the “gotta count every grain before moving on” kind), completely OCD about systems optimization. Show me two or three puzzle pieces that fit together and I’ll fit them, apparently even if it means being drawn back to the Wheel of Apples!

So on Saturday (a week ago, that is) we picked like 150 kg of apples; that tree’s horribly big and fruity, and Sipi really genuinely doesn’t seem to have any use for the apples himself. The apples from this tree are fairly acidic and not very sugary, which I know from past experience makes for a nicely off-kilter apple juice. In a world suffused with fairly sweet drinks it’s a nice change of pace. So that part at least works.

Sipi actually gathered a fair-sized group of minions for the apple-picking, so that at least was pretty quickly done with; two hours or so. The sacks of apple filled my car to the brim at the end.

On Sunday, then, it was time for the pressing. The practical speed for this sort of small manual press is in the neighbourhood of 20 kg of apples per hour, so it took the entire day to process all the apples. The team was fairly done with apples by the end, and I was still left with like 30 kg of apples at the end. But at least we got more than enough juice for the cider project. The working label for the batch is apparently The Riddle of Apples.

I don’t think that the apple-pressing per se exhausted me, but I certainly haven’t felt like doing anything after that, and at least it explains why I didn’t write a newsletter last weekend: I was squeezing apples. I do feel the doldrums lifting while writing this newsletter, so hopefully next week’ll be more productive. I need to write an extra newsletter, at least, so it’ll be a two-letter week.

1 thought on “New on Desk #90 — Hamburger Wisdom”

  1. Markku Tuovinen

    Invoking the Big Brother privilege here to be a know-it-all.

    The patty advice is spot-on. Brioche buns are pretty good for tasty hamburgers instead of the fluffy, cardboardy standard sesame buns. Unless you don’t want the extended taste experience offered by a Better Bun™. Mayochup and thinly sliced gherkins (small cocktail pickles) for mustard haters, garlic/jalopeno/chili mayo for a bit of zing. Lettuce, hell yeah, for the extra crunch that so improves the holistic experience.

    I’ve started using the gherkins on my Hot Dog pizzas (sausage and gherkins; HK:n Sininen works well on those, and various thin bratwursts), since they’re so much better for the task than ordinary Finnish pickles that have this ginormous, floppy, WAP center that will never dry in the oven.

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