Hamburgers are best in English muffins, a baguette, or a firm, dense hamburger roll. The bread must be buttered and toasted for that final sensual “push.” The fitting drink with this sandwich, and one without which the burger falls short of its overwhelming effect, is a luscious, old-fashioned, deep red, rich and powerful Burgundy—a La Tâche, any wine made by Roumier (his own or Comte de Vogüé), or a Morey-Saint-Denis—in a large balloon glass, so the perfume of the wine and the truffled beef hit one’s brain at the same time. If you are using a charcoal grill, the beef should have 22 percent fat; if using a flat-top griddle or frying pan, only 18 percent fat.
Chop the truffle finely and mix three-quarters of it into the beef by hand. Cover loosely and let sit at room temperature for 4 hours, so that the truffle perfume permeates the meat.
Mix the remaining truffle into the mayonnaise. Refrigerate it covered for a few hours.
Season the truffled burger meat and form into 4 patties by hand, making neat edges but handling it as little as possible. Do not compact the meat.
Split the muffins. Fry, griddle, or grill the hamburgers, seasoning them a little more on the outside as they cook. Toast or grill the muffins and butter each half. Put the burgers on the muffins, spoon
Another great brain food, for cold-night eating and only for the brave, is blinis. My Russian uncle and his roué pals explained to me many times, with nostalgic tears in their eyes, how to judge how much butter one should use with blinis: enough, they said, so that when one picked up a blini or a piece of coulibiac, the butter should run down the soft inside of one’s wrist, through the ruffles and into the shirt sleeve. I always took it for granted that the vodka took care of any ensuing butter discomfort throughout the rest of dinner.
To put that assumption to the test, I held a twenty-first-birthday party for an undergraduate friend in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in 1970, while I was studying graduate architecture. He had never been to my uncle’s manhood initiation lunches, and needed, so I thought, some old-fashioned Russian training. Among those present were the guest of honor,
To this day there are as many versions of the end of the party as there were guests, but there was unanimous agreement that three blinis are the maximum and no amount of butter is too much.
Even now it takes weeks to train cooks to use enough clarified butter on a blini. I have to say “More . . . more,” as their eyes grow larger and whiter.
The most satisfying way to eat them is with frozen vodka. One “shoots” the vodka down whole, waits just until the burn starts in the back of the throat, then pops the whole, caviar-laden, buttery, creamy hot blini into one’s mouth. This exercise needs large napkins and a seat for everyone.
When I look back at personal favorites, at the momentary passions that have happened sometimes by accident and can be repeated, I remember the terrace of the Oliver Messel suite at the Dorchester Hotel in London one pink and blue evening in 1958, and a cocktail party given in anticipation of my return to America. That is when I discovered gin and tonic and canapés. To this day, on a hot evening of a harried day, a tall Waterford crystal glass filled to the brim with ice, a full measure of dry gin, the pulp of half a ripe lime, cold Schweppes tonic water (and a few violets) can bring, for a while, perfect peace.
In the category of memorable drinks I would also place the margaritas in Yelapa, a little fishing village near Puerto Vallarta, where I had gone for some severe recuperation after the first year at Chez Panisse. I would lie in a hammock and watch the day boat arrive and leave, a process that consumed about six margaritas. They were perfection: freshly squeezed lime juice, ordinary tequila, and sugar syrup, with no salt on the glass, and very, very cold. The salt was supplied by the occasional dip in the turquoise ocean; coming back to the hammock with the salty tropical water still dripping down my face, I’d be handed a fresh cold margarita, and a minute portion of the seawater on my lips became incorporated in the cocktail.
I remember great moments of a huge and cold Scotch and soda after dinner instead of brandy, or freezing champagne after working in the garden all day in summer or the perfect smoked salmon at the Hyde Park Hotel in London in the fifties (salmon of that quality is very rare these days). My taste for that cold-smoked salmon made from fresh fish (not frozen), and sliced paper-thin at a long, shallow angle, placed together with the dark meat from beneath the skin on a plate in a symmetrical pattern, was formed on a voyage on the Queen
Some simple dishes take a great deal more work than salmon or blini, however, and often they are not so obviously appealing visually. A great such favorite of mine is fish soup, the soupe de poisson of the south of France. In French Provincial Cooking,
Whereas the fish soup is fairly insignificant in appearance (except as it can evoke one’s memory and nostalgia), a very simple dish that also looks stunning is one that I first cooked for
© 1986 Jeremiah Tower. All rights reserved.