How It All Started

Bob Phillips

The title of this blog was inspired by one of my Spanish professor's at Miami University of Ohio, Dr. Robert Phillips, who died in the e...

Sunday, May 31, 2015

Simply Hot

Pam and I scanned the recipe shelf as we contemplated a Nueva Receta for this week, and for some reason our eyes rested on the same title: The Tabasco Cookbook, a slim volume written by a scion of the McIlhenny family on the occasion of the 125th anniversary of my favorite sauce (almost my favorite beverage).

Every page exudes Paul McIlhenny's upbringing in the midst of culinary legend. Many of the recipes we will save for seasonal ingredients, a larger crowd, or the availability of seafood. The vignettes of Tabasco lore sprinkled throughout make this a particularly good cookbook for browsing.

After a few minutes of noting recipes best suited for a different day, we chose "Craig Claiborne's Ultimate Hamburger" on page 88. (The name was familiar, but it is only upon finding his obituary that I realized he was both a food writer for the New York Times and a native of the Mississippi Delta.

The recipe is simplicity itself. Start with good ground beef and handle it minimally, just enough to form patties. Heat a cast-iron skillet to a searing temperature, sprinkle it with salt and then sear each side of the burgers. Once flipped, cook for three minutes or to desired doneness and then top with salt, pepper, Tabasco, lemon juice, Worcestershire, and fresh parsley. Transfer to buns and serve.

I digressed just slightly from this recipe. My one failing is that I got the skillet -- which I had just reseasoned -- hot but not searing hot. I will be braver next time. Second, I added a little Mexican cheese. I also used basil because we had it fresh and a little lettuce and tomato. Next time I will skip the cheese, cut back on the salt (the cheese combined with Claiborne's prescribed salt was just a bit much), and also skip the vegetables.

Regarding the salt, Pam pointed out that it was nicely balanced by the Wild Oats Shiraz we paired with this meal, and I agree.

It is fitting that as I prepared this, I listened to an interview about simplicity, food, and flavor that I am writing about separately under the title We Eat Giant Babies, forthcoming on my Environmental Geography blog. It was a hopeful interview, in which a food writer expresses the view that people really are starting to understand what we have lost in big-ag food systems, in terms of both health and flavor. A simple recipe works well if the food -- in this case the beef -- is real food with its own inherent flavor.

Actually, the title of this post is a bit of a lie. The pan was hot, and hot sauce was involved, but the author rates this as one chile on a four-chile scale, and we have to agree. Even New Englanders can try this without fear of excess Scovilles.

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