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Kitchen Mailbox Countdown to Dinner Dining
Countdown to Dinner: Easy, gourmet, French -- hamburger?

Thursday, December 07, 2000

Tested by Suzanne Martinson

So simple. So delicious. Who needs a bun? Nobody. It's French. The simple recipe for French Hamburger was an inspiration to Alan Perugini of Brookline, this week's Countdown to Dinner winner. "It has a slightly gourmet touch, a genuine French recipe. People don't realize it can be so simple."

He discovered the recipe in "The Art of French Cooking," by Fernande Garvin. It was first published in September 1958, and its final and 14th printing was in 1965. Sadly, he says, it is no longer available.

"Several of its recipes can still be found today," he writes, "but French Hamburger is one recipe I have yet to see in other French cookbooks. It was the first recipe I ever tried, and the success inspired an interest in cooking, especially French, in me to this day."

Of Italian descent, Alan says he grew up with "olive oil in my veins." That said, he was looking to expand his repertoire into a different genre.

"It's simplicity for a beginner like I was, plus its quick preparation has led me to send it to you," he wrote. We're glad he did, because this simplicity belies its depth of flavor.

Although French Hamburger has seven ingredients, Alan discovered that the bread crumbs can be left out with no real loss or change in flavor.

His mother found what he calls the "ancient book about the ancient art of French cooking" in a thrift store, and he later located it in the Carnegie Library, where he copied a couple of missing pages. "Anybody who wants to cook simply and cook French should have this book," he says.

Says Alan, an armed guard at Three Rivers Bank on the North Side and singer in a new rock band called Under Indictment: "Just because you're single doesn't mean you shouldn't have a tasty dinner. Heck, especially with recipes like this, the leftovers are really good for single people -- this sort of thing can stretch out for a while."

Many French sauces, he says, start with a simple deglazing of the pan, as in this recipe. "Whether using wine or consomme, or if you're throwing in that stock, it's basic French principles," he says.

If you want a bit more sauce, he suggests adding more consomme and sour cream. For accompaniments, he may have a salad or perhaps some buttered noodles. But no bun. "A French Bordeaux goes good with it, or my favorite -- Lake Country Red," he says.

We kid Alan that maybe we ought to include his phone number for prospective dates looking for a good meal. "Maybe 'cooking singles' is the next column," he says with a laugh.

French Hamburger

2 pounds ground beef (any percent fat)
1/3 cup fresh bread crumbs (optional)
1/8 cup milk
1/4 cup flour
3 tablespoons butter (doesn't have to be unsalted)
3 tablespoons sour cream
3 tablespoons canned consomme (found in soup section of supermarket)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper

Soak crumbs in milk. Squeeze to remove excess milk. In bowl, combine moistened crumbs (we used them), ground beef, salt and pepper. Mix well. Form into 7 flat patties, about 1/2 inch thick. Dredge with flour.

In large skillet, heat butter. Add patties and cook for 5 minutes on each side. Remove meat to heated serving dish and keep warm.

Pour fat off skillet. Add sour cream and consomme and cook for 2 minutes. Correct seasoning. Bring to boil, stirring constantly and scraping bottom of skillet until brown crust is dissolved. (This is called deglazing.) Pour over meat. Serve hot. Serves 4 to 6.

Tester's note: No need to discard the leftover consomme. Just measure it into ice-cube tray. Once frozen, store individual blocks in airtight plastic bag and use as recipes require.

Do you have an entree, salad or vegetable side dish recipe (no desserts, please!) that can be made in 30 minutes or less from six ingredients or fewer (not counting water, salt and pepper)? Share it with Countdown to Dinner.

The PG tests all recipes and if we select your recipe for publication, you'll receive a free selection from our cookbook grab bag of current releases.

Send your recipe to Countdown to Dinner, Post-Gazette Food, 34 Blvd. of the Allies, Pittsburgh, PA 15222, or fax to 412-263-1313. Please include your name, neighborhood and daytime phone number. Or e-mail to: nanderson@post-gazette.com. Questions? Call 412-263-1760.

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