the new issue of Saveur Magazine (the September issue, apparently, in a surprisingly commonplace example of publishing time lapse – how does this come to be, actually? i’ve long ago inured myself to shock of dissonance this pre-emptive publishing creates, but honestly, how does this actually happen? how does it get to the point that a
magazine is publishing a month and a half in advance of the unrolling of the rest of terrestrial history? boggling.) is devoted in predictably summery fashion to THE HAMBURGER. preferring not to dwell on what has to be the to-the-umpteenth-power repetition of this theme, i’d like to say it’s a damn good issue, despite how much of the meat-guidery is of no use to me. in typical Saveur fashion, there is a good mix of historical overview, down-homey anecdote, pop gastrosocial cultural studies, and attractive design mixed in with the recipes and practical content (“The Fine Art Of Making French Fries,” “Signature Sauces,” “Putting Heat To The Meat”), but the point of my mentioning it here is not to paraphrase something you can go read on your own anyway (online, even).
what this issue really got me thinking about was the lack of burger in my life – which is not to say that it got me really craving ground beef or contemplating a vegetarian vacation, but it did make me reflect on the paltriness and vacuity of what we vegetarians have found to substitute the hamburger. a significant portion of the issue revolves around the burger as an essential piece of americana, an ultimate comfort food, which is notable for its apparent simplicity obscuring the complex interplay of tastes and textures (almost boundless in potential variety, as the past few decades epicurian burger boom has demonstrated, often somewhat obnoxiously) that all but the most spartanly condimented of burgers represents.
and what have we done, by and large? contented ourselves, all too often – even we who pursue quality, nuance and integrity in our other culinary ventures – with a sad imitation not even of the honest Backyard Dad [sic] Burger, but of the already almost universally maligned chain fast food burger – easily approximated in processed soy by virtue of its already dubious ingredients and circumstances of production!
i’m going to take a breath. i am not unilaterally shitting on the fast food burger. the burger king, a&w, wendy’s, whathaveyou burger, because sometimes that is exactly what you want, and therefore it only stands to reason that shitty fucking veggie burgers that taste more or less as mealy and uninspired as those are sometimes exactly what one wants as well.
but let’s face it. on a fairly objective level, veggie burgers basically suck, and probably -more- than many other sketchy mock meat products, really can’t hold a candle next to a real burger on a real grill, or even in a frying pan, for god’s sake (the frying pan being the primary burger engine in my familial household, inexplicably non-bbq-owners as we were).
neither are bean burgers generally much help. they are a fine, outstanding example of a food that bears a homologous resemblance to another food, but is best enjoyed on its own terms, with the sparest possible reference to its carnal corollary. best not to even consider it a corollary. better a coincidental affinity. like bird and bat wings.
what i’m really talking about is how this magazine really made me feel the dearth in my life, the as-yet-unfilled vacuum left in my stomach, my summers, my social soul, effectively, from my barring the burger from my diet. moreover, how there needs to be, i need there to be, a vegetarian burger which obviously doesn’t imitate the meat burger, but succeeds in stimulating the palate and the imagination in a similar fashion. one about which we don’t have any illusions, but about which we can still feel pretty good. and it needs to be reasonably easy to prepare, freezable, possessing of enough structural integrity to be grilled without fear, and more importantly to provide sufficient resistance when eating to give one the satisfying sense of biting -into- something, something which is actually the core of the burger (the, duh, burger of the burger), not mostly undistinguishable from the slew of toppings that only serve to obscure the shameful reality that there is nothing, truly, being topped. the contemporary, run-of-the-mill veggie burger is just that, the necessarily disavowed open secret that there is no burger, that only barely materially exceeds the pre-veggie burger insult-option of the fast food restaurant’s hamburger without the burger.
i think there will be mushrooms involved. but sufficiently chopped so as to offer something of textural association. and it has to be juicy somehow. i don’t think this is a job for the big companies, because they don’t seem to have even gotten the hint that little congealed pockets of oil that heat up and inevitably scald and drip all over your face when you take a bit would incalculably improve the quality of veggie sausages the world over (also, a separate skin. to invoke Chicago wienery Hot Doug’s, “There are no two finer words in the English language than ‘encased meats,’ my friend“).
No, This One Is Up To Us, and our ingenuity, blah blah blah, and our staunch devotion to the idea and ideal that it is not imitation that is our aim, but evocation. the powers of this burger will need be associative, that one may be brought back, not even to some far flung and probably 88% fictive nostalgic june bugs, dirty knees and lemonade past, but just back to earth. back to the yard. back to the bbq.
where you’ve got a reason to eat that hot off the grill, and to not leave it on too long in the first place, and hell, maybe where you’ve got a reason to cook it that isn’t just heating it up. and eating it, on earth, in a yard, at a bbq, and finally saying to your burger, as much as to yourself.
“Oh. Yeah. Fuck yeah.”
(there’s also a goddamn five page photographic guide to hot chilis which i dare say is going up on my goddamn fridge. i, mostly in a fairly transparent and ineffectual attempt to convince myself of my own competent adulthood, bought myself a subscription to this magazine, by the way. don’t ask me why this makes me feel more like i’ve got my shit together than having an RRSP, but it does.)