The Best Hamburger You Will Ever Eat


Or – as the French call it – Biftek Haché à la Lyonnaise. This is from Julia Child’s seminal book The Art of French Cooking. As I may (or may not) have said at some point or other – if you can only have one cookbook, this should be it. Even if you don’t think that you want to learn French cooking Julia will teach you more about food and cooking in general than any other cookbook in the world. It is not that the French don’t eat burger biggies, they do. And they do a much nicer job than the charred lumps that you are used to having.

For beginners – get cheap ground meat. I know that sounds contrary to what you may have thought that you knew – but trust me. Get ground chuck or neck (or grind you own) with no added fat! The leanest that you can find. We will carefully introduce exactly the quantity fat that we want in the flavor.

You will notice that I differentiate the butter into A, B, C, D. That is so you know which butter (and quantity) I am talking about. Somewhere or other I read a description of French cooking that went thusly:

  1. Do Something. Add Butter.
  2. Add Butter. Do something.

Seems reasonable to me.


3/4 cup finely minced yellow onions
2 Tbs Butter – A
1-1/2 lbs lean, ground beef
2 Tbs softened butter – B
1 tsp kosher salt
1/8 tsp cayenne pepper
1/8 tsp Thyme
1 Egg


1/2 cup flour on a plate
1 Tbs Butter – C
1 Tbs olive oil


1/2 cup dry white vermouth
2 Tbs softened butter – D

—– Burger —–

Mince the onion pretty fine. If you use a processor be careful not to go to a mush. As far as the onions go – a strong flavor is not a negative here. Cook the onions on low heat in butter – A for about 10 minutes until translucent but not brown. Mix together the onions, beef, butter – B, salt, pepper, thyme, and egg with a wooden spoon until blended thoroughly. Use some elbow grease. You may have heard that business about not mixing hamburger much, but that does not hold here – get it well mixed. Correct the seasoning to your taste. You want to wind up with patties about 3/4” thick. The easiest way to get there is to measure out 1/4 lb. patties on a good scale and then take a cutting ring about 3” or so and just pat down meat to a thickness of 3/4”. Adjust the size of the ring up or down so that you get nice round 3/4” thick burgers;. Cover with waxed paper and refrigerate until you are ready for action. You do want to do this ahead of time so that you can get the burgers rather cool. It makes them easier to handle.

—– Cooking —–

When you are ready then take a plate and put the flour in it and dredge both sides of the burger biggie carefully. Heat up butter – C and olive oil in a good cast iron or other heavy skillet, and set on medium high heat. When the butter just starts to turn golden put in the burgers. Now then, what you are looking for is a good sear to seal in the juices, but low enough so that you don’t wind up with burned shoe leather. Go for about 3 minutes a side on the highest heat you can get without burning and you should wind up about medium rare. Adjust the time up or down to suit your taste. If you are afraid of the meat then cook to shoe leather with some other method. Don’t waste this effort on something that is disgusting. Besides – if you are afraid of the meat, why eat it anyway? Set the burgers aside on a warming plate while you play with this wonderful sauce.

—– Sauce —–

Pour the fat out of the skillet, being careful to keep the brown goodies. Add the liquid and boil it down rapidly while stirring with a whisk. Reduce down to a pretty thick almost syrup consistency. Remove the skillet from the heat and blend in the butter – D a bit at a time, whisking constantly. If necessary return the skillet to the heat for a short while. If you do it right the butter will blend in completely forming a wonderfully smooth and flavorful sauce. Pour it over the burgers. Garnish with whatever suites.

Alternates: (But I gave the best in the base!)

For the butter – B in the burger you can substitute beef suet, beef marrow, or pork fat. Mostly you can’t get this stuff in the grocery, but if you have a source – try them.

For the cayenne in the burger you can use any other pepper that you like.

For the vermouth in the sauce you can use beef stock, beef bouillon, or red wine.

Garnish at the end. Try a few more leaves of thyme or some parsley.

The first time through with this don’t do the American thing with the bun. Just enjoy as-is with a simple salad and/or some fresh veggies and maybe some good French bread and butter. After you know what this delicacy is like do as you please. I will bet that you will want it without all the disguising that American burgers need to be palatable.


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