Murray offers some tips on how to beef it up when it comes to ordering a burger – or making your own.
I’ve been thinking a lot about responsibility recently, partly inspired by the lack of it shown by men like Boris Johnson and Alex Salmond, antediluvian creatures apparently leading not so much from the top as from their rather unappetising, flaccid middles.
Analogies about gammon, prime cuts and rumpy, pumpy steak might put you off tonight’s dinner and I certainly wouldn’t want to over-egg this particular suet pudding but suffice to say that some male egos can rise and fall with the alacrity of the finest soufflé, but with much less crowd- pleasing results.
Now that certain men’s late -life crises have sadly claimed us all as unwilling participants, all we can do is look to the changes in the USA and remember that all things must pass. Quoting Shakespeare – in place of, before, during or after sex – won’t be enough to get us plucky yet beleaguered Brits through those long dark nights of the soul, but the restorative bite of a well-made burger might.
I’m not being pious here when I say that I don’t really eat fast food – although I’m an expert in eating food fast.
The idea of chewing 40 times to ensure a business-class smooth passage through your salivary glands is one that’s completely alien to me – sometimes I barely let the food touch the sides before it proceeds in transit, little anticipating the shocks it might encounter as it journeys through this relic of a structure that was once so sound.
Hernia? You got it! Acid reflux? Coming right up – literally. Gallstones? Turn left at the liver and try not to worry because anxiety is so acid-forming and the whole world is on Omeprazole anyway. Not for nothing did HRH Nigella coin the term ‘temple food’ for those days when the whole complex edifice seems to be collapsing and only brown rice and tempeh will glue the pieces together.
I have fast food maybe twice a year, unless you count pizza.
McDonalds is reserved for the one time a year I’m drunk on Oxford St in London and trying to work out whether I can remember enough of the city to attempt walking back to my hotel.
Burger King is for never, just as Pepsi will never rival Coke and quality dark chocolate will never take the place of Dairy Milk. These things are just fixed points in life and as deeply imbued in my psyche as socialism, liberalism and the best lines from Ab-Fab.
My one exception is Kentucky Fried Chicken which was founded in America in 1930, in the middle of the Great Depression; maybe that’s why, as we stagger into the abyss, KFC suddenly seems very comfortably of the moment – although I imagine if you eat too much of it there might be no tomorrow anyway.
I love KFC and am so pleased we don’t have one nearby in Fife because I think it’s the closest it’s possible to get to a gourmet experience whilst waiting for a night bus, a can of cider in your pocket and a disco compilation in your headphones. In other words, bliss.
A more heightened form of fast- food euphoria has recently come from a regular Saturday treat, helping to celebrate the end of another amorphous clump of indistinct days – what we used to call the working week, really, before time became an abstract concept.
The Saturday lunch menu from the brilliant Kinneuchar Inn has brought such a lift to the past few weekends that I could eat it in driving rain and still find nirvana.
I’ve already written quite a lot about this place but make no excuses for doing so because Kinneuchar has consistently raised the game for food in this area.
Worthy winners of two major trophies at The Menu 2020 Food and Drink awards – newcomer of the year and restaurant of the year – Kinneuchar has adapted to the enforced restrictions of lockdown with typical aplomb; in doing so they have introduced a brace of new classics to a takeaway menu that is revealed each Monday and often sells out by the end of the day. Order quickly!
My absolute favourite is the spicy fried chicken milk bun (£8.50) which is food heaven in seven bites.
Excellent quality, herb fed chicken thigh is marinated overnight in buttermilk and fried to order – the buttermilk ensures the chicken is incredibly moist and, since buttermilk is very low in fat, you can even feel virtuous as you eat this superlative fried delight.
Little gem lettuce, pickles, the most delicious house-spiced mayonnaise and a homemade milk bun ensure that this is the best fried chicken burger you will ever eat. A modern classic.
How to Eat
(Incidentally I’ve been re-reading Nigella Lawson’s wonderful debut cookbook How To Eat and was amazed to find it was published 23 years ago. On page 349 of my very battered, signed hardback copy she explains how to make an easy buttermilk marinade for chicken, although it’s not a recipe you need to follow assiduously – all you need is buttermilk, garlic, Dijon mustard, soy sauce, and a plastic bag to marinade the chicken in).
If you order the chicken bun from Kinneuchar then you really have to order the chips (£3) and please don’t think that one portion will keep two people happy because there is quite enough discord in the world without scrapping over fried potatoes, however celestial they may be.
A delectable crab and hot chip butty – hand- picked crab, brown crab mayonnaise, herbs and triple cooked chips is £9 whilst the burnt aubergine, pickled chilli, labneh flatbread (£8) is another future East Neuk classic from chef James Ferguson.
As travel restrictions ease I would suggest building a short sightseeing jaunt around a takeaway lunch at Kinneuchar, perhaps defying convention by heading to some of the lesser-known attractions of the East Neuk.
Elie, St Monans, Pittenweem, Anstruther and Crail are all indescribably beautiful but other options are available. In Lower Largo, for instance, you can gaze wistfully at the ghost of the Crusoe hotel – now up for sale, surrounded by steel barriers yet still optimistically bearing a sign pointing to the Juan Fernandez Lounge and family bar.
It’s unbelievably sad to see such places closed; my friend Janie Munro remembers childhood holidays in Lower Largo where she would sell crabs to the chef at the kitchen door and it’s possible to imagine this seafront
hotel as being a bit of a destination in its time. I bet the Juan Fernandez lounge has seen some action!
Another highlight of Lower Largo is the fantastic sculptural driftwood and mosaic artworks by Alan Faulds, visible on many of the buildings and also in a garden sculpture called Malagan, which took more than a year to make. I look forward to returning to Lower Largo when you can buy a coffee there.
Back home, further delight came with the delivery of the wagyu burger box (£39.95/£29.95 with offer) from chef Dean Banks. This was a revelation, and all the better because it came at a time when I actually craved a great burger, having been eating quite blandly for the previous few days.
The kit contains everything you need to make your own burgers for 4 people, although I wolfed my first one so quickly I could easily have eaten another right after. The beef itself is wonderfully flavoured, making this easily the best burger I can remember eating in recent years.
It was actually only 13 years ago that Japanese Wagyu cattle were imported to Britain and 10 years since they’ve been bred in Scotland, with the UK’s largest producer now being in Perthshire. If you haven’t tried wagyu beef I urge you to do so – and this burger kit is an easy and affordable way to do so.
Dean’s burger – the Waagyu, presumably named as a branding exercise along with his restaurant Haar – was ace and I was impressed with the thought that had gone into these kits, which took a few months to develop. Everything you need is supplied, from the brioche sesame buns that bring mild sweetness, the baby gem lettuce, the crispy onions and slices of mature cheddar.
What was so good about this box was that the whole thing didn’t seem rarified; the excellent buns were from Barnett’s bakery in Anstruther and were classic burger buns which they hadn’t tried to reinvent or improve on.
The cheese was presented as four slices which could have come from a packet of Kraft but were in fact vintage cheddar; I liked how no one had tried to pimp the whole experience up or bring in a sense of irony to a food that really needs no improvement.
The box comes with a playfully simple list of instructions although once you’ve cooked your burger (I cooked mine for much less than the prescribed time, because I prefer rare meat and there was no one from the Burger Police to stop me) then assembling is easy.
Strangely, the precooked onions which I hated the idea of, acquired a deeper, more pleasing earthy tang when combined with the meat. It all worked and was a true delight.
Should you want to make your own burger my favourite recipes are in The Quality Chop House Cookbook (their accompanying Lyonnaise onions take a few hours though) and the late Jeremy Round’s excellent The Independent Cook where his instructions for Sloppy Joe’s are prefaced with his idiosyncratic wisdom; ‘some people might call them tacky. But then tackiness, fortunately, never stopped anything tasting good’.
- Kinneuchar Inn: www.kinneucharinn.com or email firstname.lastname@example.org
- Waagyu Burger: www.waagyuburger.co.uk – Introductory offer gives £10 off signature Waagyu burger kit with code DONTHAVEACOW
- How To Eat. Nigella Lawson Vintage Classics Anniversary Edition £14.99
- The Quality Chop House Cookbook. £21.99
- The Independent Cook. Jeremy Round. Out of print but used copies from £30