Wednesday, March 05, 2008

the theory of hamburgers: introduction

Only an uneducated rube would would expect to throw the components of a hamburger onto a bun any old way and get a proper sandwich. The design and construction of a proper hamburger requires finesse and forethought and the careful balancing of flavors and textures. In addition it requires the engineering of structural stability. Nothing is more melancholy than the features of man as he gazes despondently downward at his erstwhile burger, lying ruined in the dust, accidentally squeezed from between the buns of an unstable sandwich. The goal of hamburger theory is to prevent such tragedies, while at the same time providing a foundation of knowledge that leads to an optimal taste experience.

A hamburger, at its most basic consists of four components: the Burger, the Bun, the Condiments, and the Garnishes. The Burger is a flattened meat product formed of ground beef. The Bun is a bread product consisting of two relatively flat and broad bread segments, the upper or top Bun and the lower or bottom Bun. The lower Bun should be flat on both sides to give a firm platform for the rest of the sandwich. The Burger, the Condiments, and the Garnishes, are arranged upon this platform, and the whole is finally covered with the top Bun, which should be flat on the lower side to provide stability to the structure.

This treatise will not dwell at length on the Bun and the Burger because there are readily-available commercial solutions that are more than adequate to the task. Simply visit your local grocer and purchase high- or mid-quality packaged hamburger buns and hamburger meat. For the Bun, sliced bread, while it can be used effectively in the drier designs, is prone to losing its tensile strength in the presence of hamburger fluids which will lead to catastrophic failure of the hamburger structure. It is therefore not recommended for the beginner.

The three basic Condiments are Mayonnaise, Ketchup, and Mustard. Advanced condiment theory deals with more exotic ointments including barbeque sauce, Buffalo sauce, and hot sauce, but such advanced condiments are beyond the scope of this introduction.

The four basic Garnishes are Lettuce, Onion, Tomato, and Pickle. The Pickle here is the sliced dill, which is sliced along the short dimension in order to produce a nearly circular pickle product. The longitudinally-sliced sandwich dill may be substituted (with certain caveats about the difference in overall pickle area) but the dill spear is an advanced topic due to the difficulties that it causes with structural stability. Onions and tomatoes are to be thin-sliced but the direction is less critical because of the spherical nature of the source product. They can be used in diced form but this is much less desirable for both structural and culinary reasons. Other advanced Garnishes not to be covered here include Cheese, Jalepeno, Bacon, and Fried Egg.

In the next installment, I shall discuss the stridency and condimentation properties of the condiments.

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