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Cooking Off the Cuff: For A Neater Hamburger, Change The Shape, Not The Recipe

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With a knife and fork I'm as neat an eater as the next fellow. But give me a sandwich or anything eaten out of hand and I turn into a two-year-old without a bib. Juicy hamburgers, especially with slithery toppings, are a particular problem. Beef fat (and bacon fat if applicable), melted cheese, fried-onion grease, ketchup: A lot of this is going to wind up tangled in my beard and some of it, on occasion, will need to be extracted from my lapel by the dry cleaner.

Part of the problem for me, if for no one else, is the shape of the normal hamburger: a round patty on a round bun doesn't provide a leading edge for me to get started on. Yes, I know: I can and sometimes do cut the thing in half. That helps a bit, but the laundry bill suggests that it is evidently not enough.

Since I am in whining mode, I'll also lament the super-sizing of the hot dog bun (bear with me: this is pertinent). The best ones I can buy are made by local bread bakers, not by big industrial bakeries. They are light but sturdy, and they taste good: on the way to being brioche, though not as delicate. But they are gigantic: too thick and too long. A normal wiener is lost in their embrace, and the bread-to-sausage ratio is all askew.

Contemplating these cucumber-sized rolls, however, it occurred to me that they might be just the ticket for hamburgers of a sort. Unlike, say, chicken legs, hamburgers have no inherent form; they really can be any shape at all. So I made a couple of them to fit the buns - trimmings from a good brisket I'd bought at Dickson's Farmstand Meats in Manhattan's Chelsea Market, with a little hard white fat ground in to enrich it.

They took no special care in the cooking, although I used a long, narrow offset spatula from the pastry cupboard to turn them in the skillet, and they really did solve my problem. Jackie, of course, never makes a mess at the table, but she too found the longer, narrower hamburger easier to handle and more fun to eat.

This is the only way I'll ever cook a hamburger again, even if it means a downturn in the New York dry cleaning industry for 2014.

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