Truth Hammer: On Mark Bittman's Decidedly Un-Minimalist Burgers
OK, yes, we've seen Mark "The Minimalist" Bittman's piece on "sausages in burger form" (his words, not mine) in the New York Times today. It has caused much grumbling at AHT headquarters.
The premise—and I'm paraphrasing here—is that plain ol' all-beef burgers are boring and that pork- or lamb- or even shrimp-pork shumai-burgers ("and adding seasonings aggressively") kick beef-burger ass.
I'm not the super hard-line burger purist I once was, but I'm still pretty committed to the notion that a burger—or at least one worth eating—is made from beef. But I'm going to set aside that argument for now and point out the fallacy that's got the AHT crew up in arms.
Quoth The Bittman:
In fact, I wondered while making (and eating) my first pork burger of the grilling season: Why would anyone make a plain burger? Why would you begin with supermarket ground beef—whose quality is highly questionable and whose flavor is usually disappointing, if not depressing—and then cook it without much seasoning beyond a few crystals of salt?
Read that closely. I'd say that's a pretty good example of the classic straw man fallacy in action. Here, Mr. Bittman presents the notion that beef burgers are boring but sets up a straw man made of "supermarket ground beef" that's barely salted.
Well of course those burgers are going to suck.
As one AHT'r here, said:
The thing that doesn't make sense is that he pans normal burgers made with supermarket beef, so the piece is set up to be a story about how to improve supermarket meats by adding crap to them. Then he goes on to say you should grind your own meat in the recipes. We all know that a burger made from meat ground yourself can be fantastic, so the premise doesn't hold.
I have nothing against adding stuff to burgers if you want to, but to say that a burger made with fresh ground beef is boring is ludicrous. It's the second paragraph combined with the grind-your-own meat recipes that don't make sense to me.
From almost Day One on AHT, we've lobbied for GIY burgers (Grind It Yourself*) made from fresh, good-quality beef cuts you get from a trusted butcher. Those burgers the real deal, folks, and Mark Bittman knows it. In this May 2007 Minimalist piece, he writes:
What the burgers of my childhood all had in common was high-quality meat, and this is exactly what is missing from most of the backyard barbecues I visit. I see people buying everything from packaged ground meat to frozen patties. With these ingredients, the best they can hope for is to mimic fast food....
The only sensible solution: Grind your own. You will know the cut, you can see the fat and you have some notion of its quality.
To be fair, my guess as to what's going on here is that in the run up to Memorial Day grilling season, there's only so many times you can write the GIY burger manifesto and that Mr. Bittman's editors were pushing for a new burger angle. I only wish The Minimalist** wouldn't have maligned beef burgers in the process of exploring new "burger" territory.
*Yes, I just coined that term. Go forth and propagate it!
**Ironic, innit, that "The Minimalist" is calling for a lot of additions to an otherwise perfect dish?