August 15 is the anniversary of the birth of American icon Julia Child. Her determination to get the 684-page (originally much longer) tome that is Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Vol. I published is a lesson in persistence. Originally submitted for publication in 1953, it was rejected with the recommendation to trim its encyclopedic length. After six years of hard work, Julia and her partners submitted a heavily revised version to Houghton Mifflin, and again it was rejected as still being too long, elaborately informative and expensive to publish. It wasn’t until Judith Jones recognized its value and distinction and persuaded her seniors at Knopf to publish the book that it finally hit the presses in 1961.
There is much to be admired about Julia Child in addition to her persistence. I liked her down-to-earth straightforwardness. She knew how good food should taste. She never shied away from using the real thing –butter, lard, cream, bacon or foie gras. If you wanted to cut your calories, that was your business. She never lectured her readers or viewers.
On her famous TV series, The French Chef, she and her producer had the good sense to teach as well as entertain. She didn’t attempt to throw together a four or five course meal in 20 minutes. She most often treated one ingredient. In "The Artichoke Show," for example, she demonstrated how to select, clean and cut the artichoke as well as prepare it several ways and serve. The viewer was able to replicate the task at home.
I have many dog-eared pages in her cookbook—her beef bourguignon, French hamburgers and my favorite of all desserts (and this from a chocoholic), tarte tatin, to name a few. My cooking is constantly informed by her culinary gems:
Asked what her favorite meal was, she might mention duck or leg of lamb, but would almost always add, “I love good, fresh food cooked by someone who knows what he’s doing.”
The secret of Julia Child’s longevity: red meat and gin.
Food is terribly important. And if you don’t know how to cook, it’s tragic.
You don’t have to cook fancy or complicated masterpieces – just good food from fresh ingredients.
I was 32 when I started cooking; up until then, I just ate.
If you’re afraid of butter, and many people are, just use cream.
The only time to eat diet food is while you’re waiting for the steak to cook.
Is a hamburger by any other name still a hamburger? Not if it’s bifteck haché. Move over for a moment, All-American hamburger, and make way for this knockout straight from the Cordon Bleu. Fresh thyme, bacon and minced onions are mixed in to provide a subtle complexity, both herbaceous and smoky but never overpowering the flavor of beef. At least this is the way I make it.
It’s an adaptation of Julia Child’s ground beef with onions and herbs and her hamburgers with cream sauce carefully explained on my dog-eared and food stained pages 301 and 302 of Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Vol. I. The patties can be served with a sauce or not. This is my “or not” version so you’ll need hamburger buns.
The quality of the beef is very important. Some of the least expensive cuts, chuck and neck are the most flavorful. 85 per cent lean is about right.
Ingredients for 6 patties:
2 T butter
¾ cup finely minced onion
3 oz. finely chopped bacon (preferably smoked applewood or black forest)
1 ½ lbs. ground beef
1/8 t freshly ground black pepper
1/8 t ground thyme or ½ t minced fresh thyme
1 T butter for sautéing patties
6 slices Gruyere cheese (optional)
1. In a large frying pan, cook the onions slowly in the butter until slightly wilted. Add bacon and cook until onions are very tender and bacon cooked through. Remove, leaving bacon fat in pan, and let cool.
2. In a mixing bowl, add beef, seasonings, onions, bacon and egg. Mix lightly but thoroughly with your hands. Taste for seasoning. Form into six patties.
3. Add butter to the bacon fat in same frying pan over moderately high heat. When the butter foam begins to subside, sear the patties. Sauté for 2 to 3 minutes on each side or to desired degree of doneness.
4. Now, to Frenchify these babies a bit more, melt a slice of Gruyere on top of each. Place on lightly toasted hamburger buns and add condiments of your choice. Personally I like soft buns that you can bite into and not have the toppings squish out the sides. Enjoy your meal! (You know how Julia would have put it.)
French hamburger photographed by Bill Brady