Hamburger recipe

We did it and it’s still a classic

There are a lot of “Hemingway” foods and drinks. Papa was the original foodie, forging his own culinary path across the world. The Hemingway Sour and the Hemingway Daiquiri are probably the most popular. Then there’s the Hemingway burger.

I was only tangentially aware of this recipe. I’d read about it here and there, but really didn’t know any more that it was a burger Hemingway preferred to make when he lived in Cuba. I decided to rectify this situation and do the damn thing. But first, let’s take a look at the background.

This is a real recipe from Hemingway himself. This was part of the writer’s “papers” from his stay in Cuba which were donate at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum in Boston. The documents included correspondence with Hemingway’s editors, personal letters, and even shopping lists with handwritten notes and recipes, including the scribe’s famous hamburger recipe.

The essence of the recipe is twofold. First, it’s a burger full of flavor and texture inside the patty. Two, that’s supposed to be great ”juicyAnd fleshy. Hemingway Recipe was also very precise. It gives advice on how long to rest, marinate, sear and cook meat in just a few minutes. I tried to follow them as exactly as they were written.

I was not opening new avenues here. This road has already been traveled by Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan for the Paris Review. Tan gives very helpful instructions and also helped find a few ingredients that I couldn’t get my hands on. After following Hemingway’s instructions via Tan’s advice, I decided to see what would happen if I added my own style to the burger with some of the things I love about my burger.

Okay, that’s enough the preamble. I love to make recreational burgers. So, let’s step into the Hemingway burger and see if it stands the test of time.

The Hemingway hamburger

Zach johnston


  • 1 lb ground beef (85/15 lean / fat)
  • 2 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 1 green onion, finely chopped
  • 1 C. full teaspoon. India savor*
  • 2 tbsp. capers
  • 1 C. full teaspoon. Island sage with spices
  • 1/2 tsp. Beau Monde Island Seasoning with Spices**
  • 1/2 tsp. Yen Mei powder from the Spice Islands***
  • 1 beaten egg
  • 1/3 cup dry white wine
  • 1 tbsp. neutral cooking oil

*This is probably the ordinary Heinz India Relish from the late 19th century. The recipe on the jar is similar to Heinz Sweet Relish. So that’s what I used since that’s what I was able to get.

**Can’t get Beau Monde Spice Islands Seasoning. So I researched it and recreated it from scratch using Spruce Eats’ Recipe. It is a mixture of a tablespoon of ground cloves, onion powder, salt, ground bay leaf, allspice, black pepper and a teaspoon of pepper. white, nutmeg, mace and ground celery seeds. I combined everything in a small bowl and mixed everything.

***Spice Islands Mei Yen Powder was arrested. So I used the Tan instructions given in the Paris Review to guide. It is a mixture of nine parts of salt to nine parts of sugar to two parts of MSG. I combined 4 1/2 teaspoons of salt, 4 1/2 teaspoons of white sugar, and 1 teaspoon of MSG in a small bowl and mixed everything together.


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So Dad described the first step in the burger making process. As such: “Break the meat with a fork and sprinkle the garlic, onion and dry seasonings over it, then mix them into the meat with a fork or your fingers.

As you can see above, this is what I did… in a bowl that was too small. So I transferred everything to a larger bowl and used my fingers to mix the garlic, onion, and dry seasonings into the meat. Hemingway then said let the meat rest for “ten or fifteen minutes”. So I did it.

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And yes, I see the value in giving spices and salts a chance to pair with meat. Then I added the rest of the ingredients. I was a little incredulous anyway. I have added an egg to a patty in the past (I lived through the early 2000s after all). But this is often not necessary. And I really couldn’t see a third of a cup of white wine not making it all a bit sloppy. Either way, I walked diligently, trusting Papa’s greedy ways.

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So I added the beaten egg, chopped capers, relish and white wine. I worked the wet ingredients with my hands. It was a bit sloppy at first, but it started to come together into a super soft meatloaf after about a minute of kneading.

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I then let this meat rest for ten minutes to “marinate”. Finally, I formed four equally sized patties very delicately. The meat was very soft and needed a lot of coaxing to stay together. But, I was able to make four thick patties that met Hemingway’s requirement of “one inch thick and soft in texture but not runny”.

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To cook:

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I put my cast iron on high and added canola oil – a tablespoon depending on the recipe.

Once the pan was hot but not smoking, again according to the recipe, I added two patties and lowered the heat. I left the patties to fry for exactly four minutes.

Daddy then said to “remove the pan from the heat and increase the heat again.” Turn the burgers over, return the pan to the hot heat, then after a minute turn the heat down again and cook for another three minutes. So, I did exactly that. Accept one thing – I added two slices of Aged Irish Cheddar to one of the patties for my experimental update. It is also important to note that I have never pressed the patties.

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Meanwhile, I toasted two potato buns with butter and garlic powder in another pan. Once they were ready, the three minutes had passed on the second side of the patties and we were ready to set the plates.

As you can see below, the patties have shrunk a bit but have retained their circumference. I was hoping they also keep their juices as there is nothing worse than a thick pancake which is also dry.

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Looking at this cross section of the burger, it’s pretty clear that Dad knew what he was doing when it came to thick, juicy burgers. The look of this burger was very attractive with the relish, caper and onion stains adding a nice undertone. But what did it taste like?

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The damn thing was dripping with juices full of flavor too. It was slightly awesome with all the capers and tasted with real meat. It was also an umami bomb from a burger. The relish and capers added a little textural element which I would say is a step back from a crunch, but you know it’s there. It’s really all about the flavors and this burger was full of them.

I decided to forgo any lettuce or sauce. There is so much juice in the galette that the sauce would have washed away. As for the lettuce, I didn’t feel that a cold, bitter crunch would have added much more to all the flavors already in play.

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And yes, it was great. But about two bites, I realized this is a great burger not because of what I put in it, but because this fucking patty was so good. In fact, I would say the cheese muffled the crispness of the burger patty a bit, which I didn’t want at all.

Final thoughts:

This burger was so much better with the less that was on it. If I do this again, I would go full Ron swanson and simply serve you this galette on a well toasted bun. I watched your doubts turn to happiness when you took your first bite and realized you can have a perfect burger with just a patty and a bun and nothing other. I know this sounds crazy. But alas, it is also true that the sun rises again tomorrow.

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