My mother, although multi-talented, had an aversion to the kitchen and has often said that I learned to cook at an early age “out of self-defense.” When she made chicken à l'orange by smearing a chicken with powdered Tang, I quickly developed a necessary passion for creating tasty things to eat. Somewhere in the family photograph album is a picture of me at the stove, age ten, happily stirring marinara sauce.

I developed a lifelong fascination with food; good food. There was even a foray of working as a chef’s assistant at a French restaurant during my mid twenties, just for fun. I had always loved watching Julia Child and knew that Mastering the Art of French Cooking was to be revered. It wasn’t until I read her biography (long before the Julie & Julia movie) that I really became fascinated with her work. From that book, I decided to prepare her recipe for mayonnaise.

Upon tasting it, I wept. . . .

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Monday, August 2, 2010

Bitokes á La Russe, Hamburger in Cream Sauce

Hamburger patties in Mastering the Art of French Cooking?
You bet.

That’s what drew me to this recipe – I just had to see Julia’s treatment of this lowly “all-American” food item.

Bitokes á la Russe, or "hamburger in the Russian style" calls for a pound-and-a-half of really lean ground beef, but don’t think for a moment we’re heading into low-fat territory. The fat content of the lean beef is oomphed up by the addition of pork fat, beef suet, or butter (your choice).

Markets in downtown Chicago likely didn't carry pork fat and since I had no access to a British butcher in the 19th century, beef suet was out, too. I opted for butter.

Minced onions are sautéed (in butter), added to the ground beef mixture along with an egg, pepper, salt, and thyme.

This mixture gets pattied, dusted with flour and fried (in butter). After they’re removed, beef stock is added to the drippings and reduced. To that, cream is added and reduced again. To that, three tablespoons of butter is whisked in.


Fresh herbage, lemon juice and a scritch-scritch of nutmeg finish the sauce.

The verdict?

I over-salted it. Big time.

When cooking with this much butter, one should really use unsalted butter. I’m able to get this really fresh butter from an Amish farm, I love the stuff, but it only comes in the salted variety. Also, the beef stock I used, Progresso, doesn’t come in a low-salt version. When one is reducing this much sauce, any saltiness is only going to be concentrated. The recipe calls for 1½ teaspoons of salt in the meat mixture. I should have employed a bit of foresight and left that out. Mea culpa.

The first bite presented me with a hefty, saline punch.

Other than that, well, sure, it was scrumptious. Of course, cream and butter are awfully appealing. Coating the patties with flour imparted a crispy texture on the outside and probably kept them juicy. (Butter in the meat mixture certainly didn't hurt.)
I really should try it again and correct the salt problem. This recipe is easy enough and I’ve always got these ingredients on hand. I really think a dollop of mustard in the sauce would improve it, though.

Mustard on hamburger -- who ever heard of such a thing?

I should be ashamed.

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