A French Burger

There are two refrains to remember for this recipe:

  1. Do something… Add butter.
  2. Add butter… Do something.

I embarked on the preparation with all intentions of fearlessly adding all the butter all four times, but I… I… I couldn’t do it. I used maybe a quarter of it. It was still delicious, though.

This recipe comes from Julia Child, Louisette Bertholle, and Simone Beck’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Vol 1, which lays down the statement that “real French people living in France eat hamburgers.” It is essentially a burger with finely chopped onions, thyme, and an egg added to the meat, and it is rolled in flour before being sauteed. Instead of a bun, it is finished with a sauce made from the coagulated pan juices, whose thickening is probably helped by the cooked flour in the pan.

They advise that the leanest beef makes the best burgers, which seems to be in disagreement with fatty beef advisors, but the recipe also calls for additional fat (such as… butter) to be mixed in with the meat. So, you still get your succulence.

I was very happy with the result. It has a rich flavor thanks to the onions, herbs, and butter that makes you feel like you’re eating something more complex than it is; the authors, in fact, recommend serving it as an “excellent and economical main course for an informal party.” You can serve it with red wine and vegetables you’d like with a steak. I would also recommend it as an quick dinner after a long day that gives you the chance to chop a little, mix a little, saute a little, and sauce a little.

French Burger

Bifteck Hache a la Lyonnaise (Ground Beef with Onions and Herbs)

For 6 Hamburgers; Adapted from Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Vol 1

  • 3/4 c finely minced yellow onions
  • 2 Tbs butter
  • 1.5 lbs lean, ground beef
  • 2 Tbs softened butter, ground beef suet, beef marrow, or fresh pork fat
  • 1.5 tsp salt
  • 1/8 tsp pepper
  • 1/8 tsp thyme (plus add’l for garnish, optional)
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 c cup flour on a plate
  • 1 Tbs butter and 1 Tbs oil, or sufficient to film the bottom of the skillet
  • 1/2 cup beef stock, canned beef bouillon, dry white wine, dry white vermouth, red wine, or 1/4 cup water
  • 2 to 3 Tbs softened butter

Cook the onions slowly in the butter for about 10 minutes until very tender but not browned. Place in a mixing bowl.

Add the beef, butter or fat, seasonings, and egg to the onions in the mixing bowl and beat vigorously with a wooden spoon to blend thoroughly. Correct seasoning. Form into patties 3/4 inch thick. Cover with waxed paper and refrigerate until ready to use.

Just before sauteing, roll the patties lightly in the flour. Shake off excess flour.

Place the butter and oil in the skillet, and set over moderately high heat. When you see the butter foam begin to subside, indicating it is hot enough to sear the meat, saute the patties for 2 to 3 minutes or more on each side, depending on whether you like your hamburgers rare, medium, or well done.

Arrange the hamburgers on a warm serving platter and keep warm for a moment while finishing the sauce.

Pour the fat out of the skillet. Add the liquid and boil it down rapidly, scraping up the coagulated pan juices, until it has reduced almost to a syrup. Off heat, swirl the butter by half-tablespoons into the sauce until it is absorbed. Pour the sauce over the hamburgers, garnish with thyme leaves, and serve.

13 Responses to “A French Burger”

  1. Sweet Napa » Blog Archive » Bouchon - Yountville Says:

    […] I would also like to mention that I have only recently discovered what a wonderful combination meat and thyme make. After this lamb, the roast chicken sprinkled with thyme, and the French burger laced with thyme, I only regret that I haven’t discovered this sooner, and I look forward to playing around with it. In general, Keller uses a lot of herbs for the Bouchon recipes, so those will probably be guides… […]

  2. JimG Says:

    My father was a diner owner and chef in Alameda, California. He died in 1980 before passing on the recipe for his frenchburger, which was famous in the East Bay area. If you know anything about the recipe, blog please!

  3. Carolyn T Says:

    Nina – just thought I’d tell you that I’m going to post (sometime in the next few days) Julia’s recipe for French Hamburgers. I never knew where this recipe came from, but I’ve had it for about 40 years! So today I did a search for the French title and bingo – up came your blog, that I already read! Your blog is listed on my blog roll anyway. I’ve made these dozens and dozens of times. I gave you a plug for it. I don’t have a photo of it (I have a broken foot at the moment and am not doing much cooking), so wrote up for people to head over to Sweet Napa to see the finished product.

  4. Nina Says:

    Carolyn – Cool, thank you! 🙂

    I’m so glad that you posted about it b/c I haven’t come across much information about French Hamburgers… and I’ve always vaguely wondered who else has made them and how they serve them. I barely knew how to cook anything when I made these last year, so it was all new to me — I remember debating whether or not to use a hamburger bun. 🙂 I’ll have to try them again with pasta, as you suggest — you’re right, the sauce would be perfect for that.  And funny — this recipe also introduced me to thyme’s virtues. 🙂
    Great post (and blog), btw. I love all the details!

    And I hope your foot heals soon!

  5. Leslie Says:

    My parents adored Julia Child’s cookbooks and began making this dish in the ’70s. Our family has eaten “French hamburgers” with great regularity since then. I’ve introduced this recipe to many friends who all love it. I use a palmful of fines herbes or herbes de provence in the burger. I deglaze with a cup of red wine, and then add a cup of beef bouillon. In fact, I’m going to rush home and make this recipe right now.

  6. Scott Says:

    One of the best things about this recipe, in addition to the meat itself, is the miraculous sauce that’s left, giving you the opportunity to drizzle its wine-infused, oniony fatness over a pile of white, fluffy rice.

  7. Glyn Says:

    Dear Julia,

    Our affair has lasted for more than 40 years–indeed, since the publication of your Volume I in 1966, the year of the marriage to the love of my life. Admittedly, our relationship has not been without its bumps. Remember the Ile flottante, sinking like a new Atlantis into a sea of golden custard, and your Pithiviers transformed into Oxygen Tart when the filling re-emerged magically on the floor of the oven? Ah yes, but then there was your Bifteck Hâché à la Lyonnaise! Pages 301-302 of Volume I, obscured today by an unappetizing palimpsest of sauce stains, still stand as the mute witness to so many nightly tristes over the years. Alas, it now can be revealed that at times I went astray. On occasion, I have defiled your recipe with two tablespoons of sautéed pine nuts as an ephemeral variation, but that said, I have always come back to your basic text. My daugher Leslie who has recorded her thoughts above can attest to my fidelity. If any more resonant evidence could be found that good recipes make good memories, this would be the most emblematic of all your culinary texts. My heartfelt thanks from this side!

  8. Nina Says:

    Leslie, Scott & Glyn – I’m so happy that this burger has finally gotten the attention it deserves from such a lively group! 🙂

    This may be a silly question, but I still wonder — how do you eat the burger itself??? On a bun or with a knife/fork? It seems like Scott matches it with rice…

  9. Leslie Says:

    Dear Nina, thanks for letting us sound on te topic of French hamburgers! We always ate them with a knife and fork, with a pile of white rice, and the sauce in a squat fat dark green gravy boat. (routinely you’d help yourself to more rice and gravy) In the ’70s, usually with frozen vegetables on the side. My sister and I would fight–she was the green bean fan, I liked peas. As an adult, I sometimes make it with a side of peas and lettuce. How do you serve it, and how did you discover French hamburgers? Cheers, Leslie

  10. Nina Says:

    Oh, nice — mystery solved! That sounds very good. I’ll have to try it like that. I discovered them just by leafing through Julia’s book. I only made them that one time…. and I probably just had it with a side of peas!

  11. martha Says:

    I lost this recipe over the years. Could never quite capture its essence without the original recipe. Thanks so much for publishing it!

  12. Nina Says:

    Glad to help another French Burger fan. I think I decreased the butter in this version, but I’m not sure by how much….

  13. Tasting Spoons » Blog Archive » Bifteck Hache a la Lyonnaise - aka French Hamburgers Says:

    […] I also found the recipe on one of my favorite blogs, Sweet Napa. If you want to see what these French Hamburgers look like when finished, click on over to her blog […]

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