WILLIAM RUTHERFORD: The quest for the perfect burger

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I love a great burger. Pure beef, freshly ground meat topped with seasonally fresh vegetables and grilled medium rare satisfies every taste bud in my mouth. Salt is important ó enough to enhance the flavor while not overpowering the burger, making the sandwich taste like the ocean. Pepper? Yes; just enough to add heat without noticing why the heat is there.

Since moving to North Idaho 21 years ago, Iíve been on a quest to find the best burger in my state. Iíve been pleased, satisfied, saddened and depressed by the sandwiches Iíve been served. Overcooked, previously frozen patties served on a stale bun, with pale tomatoes picked green in central America to ripen in a cardboard box on their trip to my home state disappoints. If the tomato is not fresh, leave it off my burger!

I used to cook burgers for a living. Hand-packed, pound burgers freshly ground daily with 1/2 chuck, 1/4 brisket and 1/4 maple cured bacon cooked on a hickory and applewood fueled grill for customers expecting perfection did not disappoint. Topped with caramelized onions, garden-fresh tomatoes, thick-sliced bacon and butterhead lettuce creates a burger that sticks with the diner for life. Thirty years later, I can still taste this amazing sandwich as I imagine the perfect burger.

Locally, my quest for a great burger is elusive. Searching for a burger with great meat, great toppings, a great bun and spectacular seasoning is tough to find. Many local restaurants have perfected the comfortable burger ó one that satisfies my gut while reminding me of home ó a burger I search for when I need comfort. Today, being comforted by a burger is OK.

Rogerís Ice Cream and Burgers and Hudsonís Hamburgers satisfy this need. A fresh meat, flat-top cooked burger on a soft bun with a great sauce makes me think of grandmaís burgers cooked in an iron skillet over hot heat, caramelizing the meat to perfection. These burgers evoke childhood memories. Cheese melted over meat makes me happy. I feel like a kid biting into this awesome burger as juice and cheese-oil falls over my chin. A gooey, umami mixture of gladness encased by a soft bun with a few vegetables creates a greasy, tasteful mixture of happiness and childlike giddiness.

Now itís time to get serious. A recent visit to San Francisco draws me to the Hubert Kellerís restaurant in Union Square he calls the Burger Bar. Keller, the owner of the famous Las Vegas restaurant, Fleur, and past owner of the even more famous San Francisco restaurant, Fleur de Lys, is one of my celebrity chef demigods. Chef Keller opens the Burger Bar to create and sell the best hamburgers in the world.

While visiting The Burger Bar, I order the Rossini Burger; a burger made with Wagyu beef, foie gras, truffles and topped with truffle oil. I leave the restaurant disappointed, frustrated and sad $35 later. Searching for the best burger in the world, the truth is right before my eyes. This burger made of amazingly spectacular ingredients leaves me craving a Huddy Burger.

In my search for the perfect burger, I realize simple is better. At home I substitute venison, elk or bison for beef and find the same olfactory satisfaction discovered waiting in line at Rogerís Ice Cream and Burgers. I will value this smell for the rest of my life.

Cooking wild-game burgers in my thick-bottom Dutch oven, I smell the same fragrance I did as a child when grandma cooked burgers for our family. Burgers are part of the American culture. From today on to perpetuity, I stand, celebrating our country, every time I smell a delicious burger cooking. Burgers are the culinary national anthem of America. I stand and salute the American burger.

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Send comments or other suggestions to William Rutherford at bprutherford@hotmail.com or visit pensiveparenting.com.

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