Hamburger a la Julia Child

April 27th, 2011 / Comments 9

As I was reaching for my copy of  Julia’s Kitchen Wisdom, a book written by Julia Child and published in 2000, I started to think of food before she came into my life.

thyme Hamburger a la Julia Child

Before Julia, salad was a wedge of iceberg lettuce topped with bright orange salad dressing poured on top. Cakes, either chocolate, yellow, or spice came as a mix. Mayonnaise was not something one ‘made’. Onion soup was a brown powder to be mixed with sour cream as a dip for potato chips. Cheese was American, Swiss or cheddar. Seasoning consisted of salt and pepper and perhaps a decorative sprig of curly parsley that was pushed to one side before whatever it was decorating was eaten. Shallots, capers, garlic, leeks, fresh herbs, and olive oil were exotic ingredients found in foreign kitchens.

In 1967, newly married and living across the road from The French Market, in the Georgetown section of Washington, DC, I considered lunch from the French Market a treat. It might be a sandwich on a crusty baguette with rare roast beef, salami, brie, or pate, with butter, or Dijon mustard. Some days I chose an assortment of salads – mushrooms a la Grecque, carrots in mustard vinaigrette with fresh dill, marinated green beans with olives, and potato salad in lemon vinaigrette. I was hooked.

I loved the scent of garlic, lemon rind and parsley that the market’s butcher minced for the lamb roasts he skillfully turned into perfect replicas of duck decoys that waited in the meat case until clever cooks roasted and served them.

Another man prepared escargot. He pushed cooked snails into shells and then filled them with a mixture of sweet butter, garlic, parsley, and ground almonds. I knew I was a foodie, an term that did not exist in 1967, when I bought two metal snail pans, two small forks, and two snail holders, metal tools that looked like eyelash curlers gone wrong. Snails were easier than macaroni and cheese.

Other than snails, I cooked simple dinners, familiar fare – pork or lamb chops, hamburgers, or chicken breasts, boiled, baked or mashed potatoes and frozen corn or green beans. The only cook book I owned was a paperback called Cook Book.

Then, on September 27th, 1967 Julie Child came into my kitchen when a friend gave me Mastering the Art of French Cooking.  Until that moment, I hadn’t occurred to me that I could cook the sort of food that came from the French Market. I began reading and discovered that I had already met the first requirement – I was indeed “servantless”.

I read ‘Mastering’ as if it were a novel, struggling with the weirdness of spelling and pronouncing French words such as pâte à choux and crème pàtissèrie. I discovered that vegetables could be carefully cooked, and sauced, and read about complex desserts with amazing names.

I decided that bifteck hachè à la Lyonnaise would be my first Julia dinner. Yes, I was feeling bold, but after all, its English subtitle was Ground Beef with Onions and Herbs. French hamburgers!

Here’s how I did it.

Bifteck hachè à la Lyonnaise - French Hamburger

I cooked half a cup of diced onions in a tablespoon of butter over medium heat until they were translucent, about ten minutes and then combined them with three quarters of a pound of lean ground beef, a tablespoon of butter, half a teaspoon each of salt and pepper, a pinch of thyme (purchased from the French Market), and one egg. I used a wooden spoon to mix it all together, and then made four patties that I chilled for half an hour.

Carefully following directions, I rolled the patties lightly in flour and dusted off the excess. The floured patties went right into a tablespoon each of butter and oil that had begun to foam in my cast iron skillet. I followed Julia’s directions, cooked the hamburgers for about two minutes on each side and then put them on a platter while I finished the sauce.

It was simple, pour out the fat, add half a cup of liquid and boil rapidly until thickened. The recipe suggested either stock, beef bouillon, red wine, white wine, dry white vermouth, or water.  I used red wine and remembered to scrape the bottom of the pan to dissolve the tasty brown bits into the sauce. Finishing the sauce meant removing the pan from the heat and swirling in two tablespoons of butter that thickened the liquid into a light sauce. With mashed potatoes and green beans waiting at the table, I poured the red wine sauce over the hamburgers and dinner was ready.

Wine sauce – red wine sauce on a hamburger – Who knew that it could be so simple, so tasty, so French?

Download and print cookie recipe with an ingredients list here.

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• 9 Responses to “Hamburger a la Julia Child”

  • diana o'Leary says:

    My grandmother who was German/Iris decent made me a hamburger stuffed with diced onions and fried in butter on both sides until brown and pink in the middle. She would make gravey with drippings and served it with mash potatoes and corn or peas. This was in the 1950-60. I have made it often over the years and everyone likes it. I will try it with red wine.

  • Carole says:

    I wonder if Julia Child realized what an effect she has on us all?

    I’ll have to try these French hamburgers; I’ll probably use red wine for my sauce. Thanks for the inspiration via Julia.


  • Noelle says:

    So glad I found this! I was inspired by Julie and Julia too, and after weeks of searching, finally got my hands on a copy of MTAOFC last night ~ (almost impossible to find in my neck of the woods after the success of the film!)

    In flipping through the pages last night, I also decided that this would be the perfect first attempt at one of Julia’s recipes, and after reading your blog, I’m definitely going to try it tonight – sounds delicious!

    Bon Appetit! 🙂

  • Jeff says:

    Oh la vache! The kids were out tonight and I whipped this up for me and my wife, and it was delicious! (And easy to make.) Loving the column in the Valley News; keep it up!

    • Carol says:

      Thanks for your kind words. It is a great way to make a hamburger for a candle lit dinner for two. I’m enjoying writing the column. I”m going to Sicily for a couple of weeks so the blog may have a few less posts but I hope to come back with inspiring tales.

  • sarah says:

    I read your recipe in the Valley News. We are trying it for friends tonight.

  • Carole Clarke says:

    When I read the recipe for “French hamburger” I knew it was something I wanted to try. I made them last evening for dinner. It was love at first bite… I have to say though I did cut back a little on the butter and increased the oil and I used red wine to make the sauce. I don’t know that I’ll ever be able to eat a plain hamburger again…

    • Carol says:

      My husband is my editor and he noted that there was butter in every paragraph. i’m very happy that you tried the recipe and that you were pleased with the results. I’ll be back in the Valley News next Wednesday.


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