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The Naked Burger
By Marguerite Thomas
Jul 6, 2021
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I don’t know what the weather has been like where you live but for me, and for many of my friends and colleagues across the country, this summer’s blistering heat has been perilously unpleasant to say the least.  

“Here we are under a sweltering sky—Yeow!” my friend Margianne exclaims in an email from her home in Portland, Oregon.  Under a sweltering sky myself, I am writing this column from a temporary retreat in New York City, where a portable air conditioner keeps the indoor temperature bearable if not exactly cool.  What to have for dinner has become the existential question of the day, for in weather such as this anything resembling normal cooking is simply out of the question as far as I’m concerned.  Who wants to turn on a stove, or even stand outdoors in front of a grill in this heat? Not I.

What I did want yesterday, however, was a burger.  I wasn’t interested in a classic burger hunkered down in a bun and awash in mustard, ketchup, relish, et al.  While I like that option from time to time, what I was hoping for in this case was the unsullied purity of good beef--a burger that would both satisfy on its own and, as a bonus, prove to be an excellent companion for good red wine.  

I might have achieved the results I was looking for by quickly searing the hamburger in a sturdy skillet on the stovetop, but given my reluctance to turn the stove on in this blazing weather I instead plugged in my handy induction cooktop and got to work.  After forming a fairly loose patty, patting it gently together just enough to hold its shape, I salted and peppered both sides, drizzled a little olive oil in the skillet and eased the hamburger in.  Since induction energy produces no discernible heat the entire cooking experience was comparatively simple, quick, and comfortable, and the resulting burger was perfect.  

Well, almost perfect.  What was lacking here was an extra touch of flavor and textural drama.  I might have topped the burger with a colorful slice or two of tomato or perhaps a mound of guacamole, but I felt that either of these options would have been too texturally soft for what I was looking for.  They also would have been a distraction from the visual and meaty simplicity of an unadorned burger.  And so, enter the onion.  

A half-inch or so slice of purple raw onion slipped under the burger proved to be exactly what I wanted.  That onion satisfied in many ways, including adding a sort of minimalist visual attraction that, were it hanging in a museum, might be titled “Naked Burger Reclining on a Slice of Onion.”  Furthermore, the onion added just the right amount of textural crunch to be pleasurable but not distracting and, somewhat to my surprise it contributed flavorful as well as textural complexity to the dish that proved an unexpected bonus when the wine was poured. 

I’ll admit I’d worried that the potential harshness of the onion might be jarring with the wine, but as it happened wine and onion actually did a flavorful little dance together across my palate.  The pleasingly sharp onion flavor was reined in just enough by the burger’s subtle fatty texture and beefy flavors.  In retrospect, I might have used one of the sweeter onions such as Vidalia or Walla Walla but I hadn’t seen any of those in the market anyway.  I might have soaked my onion slice in cold water which is said to take some of the “bite” out of raw onion, but that didn’t occur to me until the burger was cooked and ready to go.  In any event I found the onion to be a perfect addition here: crisp, crunchy, even somewhat juicy, and delivering just the right sharp, invigorating flavor and synergy to the pairing of burger and wine.

The wine was 2016 Spottswood Lindenhurst Estate Cabernet Sauvignon from Napa Valley.  At 14.5% alcohol it was certainly bold, but by no means a scene-stealer.  With its sleek texture, dark berry and cherry aromas and flavors, and judicious balance between fruit, a touch of cedar spice, and alcohol, I couldn’t have been happier with this duet of food and wine.

Read more columns by Marguerite:    Marguerite Thomas
Recipes and wine pairings:    Wine With...  
Connect  on Twitter:   @M_L_Thomas  and  @Wine_With_