Friday 7 February 2014

Hemingway's Hamburger

There comes a time in every cook's life where a recipe surfaces that is at once alluring and slightly revolting, for me, this was the case with Hemingway's hamburger recipe. On the one side, who doesn't like a good burger? Although I'm not the world's biggest fan of ground beef, anything with Hemingway's name attached to it is bound to be good. I mean, down to the basics, Hemingway was a man of great appetites! From delicious food to his more famous love of equally delicious alcohol, Hemingway was a first rate gourmet. This is confirmed by Hemingway's grocery orders for his estate in Cuba, part of a recent new discovery released by the Cuban government to the US. His grocery list, which featured lobster bisque, pheasant, sturgeon and guinea hen among other mouthwatering delicacies goes a long way to establishing the writer's food credentials. Snazzy food aside though, what better way to reflect someone's great tastes then a peek at the mundane? Hemingway's penchant for the best is reflected in this not so humble burger, featuring wine, capers and india relish this patty will happily take your tastebuds for a ride!

So ok ok ok all this good stuff, "But Nick! What was that about something revolting!?", well... there is an issue with Hemingway's burger. This recipe, which was researched by author Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan and published by the Paris Review has provided us with a bit of a conundrum. While she has yielded a delicious burger recipe, she also revealed a dirty little secret contained in this otherwise delightful recipe: the presence of MSG in one of the spice mixes. You see, MSG, which straight tastes like some strange pork extract and  delivers a huge punch of savoury/umami goodness, happens to be one of the main ingredients in a discontinued and awkwardly orientalist named spice mix which Hemingway used. Now, in recent years MSG has gotten a pretty horrid rap (as testified to by the countless labels screaming "DOES NOT CONTAIN MSG!" in Asian restaurants and grocery stores all over) but in its defense the stuff is found naturally in such things as soy sauce, generally as a result of fermentation.

So I was faced with a dilemma...make a historically innacurate Hemingway burger with MSG or leave the "evil" powder out? Well my inner historian seems to have won out, so I shamefully ran out and bought some of the little white crystals. It might be weird and nasty stuff but one thing I can that these burgers are an explosion of flavour in your mouth. Maybe next time I'll try without MSG but honestly, I think I might be hooked! Though of course, it helps when the burger is served with homemade buns, pickles and fries!

Credit where credit is due: this recipe was researched by Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan and posted for the Paris Review and brought to my attention by ever loveable blogger, scholar and documentarist Thomas Seal.


Ingredients --
-1 lb.  lean ground beef
-2 cloves, minced garlic
-2 scallions, finely chopped
-1 heaping teaspoon, India relish (I used chopped homemade mustard pickles)
-2 tablespoons, capers (chopped)
-1 heaping teaspoon, Spice Islands sage (I just used whatever sage was available)
-Spice Islands Beau Monde Seasoning -- ½ teaspoon (Not available in Quebec as far as I can see so I had to leave it out until I can get my hands on some!)
-Spice Islands Mei Yen Powder -- ½ teaspoon*
-1 egg, beaten in a cup with a fork
-About one third cup dry red or white wine.
-1 tablespoon cooking oil

Here's the MSG! Lu-Lien Tan inquired over at Spice Island for the recipe of this now discontinued product and it seems to be something around these lines:


9 parts salt
9 parts sugar
2 parts MSG

Mix 2/3 of a tsp. of this mixture with 1/8 tsp. soy sauce and voila, reconstructed Mei Yen!

As for any burger recipe the approach is pretty simple:

Chop capers, onions, pickles and crush garlic

Beat egg with a fork:

 Combine chopped veg with some of the seasoning

Integrate it into the ground beef evenly (I went to a butcher for mine, it is Hemingway after all, can't just have plain grocery store ground beef!). Should you need filler, oats are always a good choice (not canon, a travesty! I promise I made the recipe without additions the first time!)

Add the egg

 ...and the wine

And fry up! Hemingway liked it done on a pan so go ahead!

Serve with whatever condiments you like, if you have mustard pickles, they are by far the best!

Perhaps another time I'll even add the recipe I use for burger buns! For now, hope some of you are tempted to have a delightful gourmet burger!


  1. I was there for the dinner where these were first made, and I must say they were fantastic. Always good to be friends with a fantastic cook.

    1. Can't believe I only saw this now! Ever kind Simon, we'll just have to have a repeat!