Ernest Hemingway’s Favorite Hamburger Recipe

Image via Wiki­me­dia Com­mons

In 2013, the food writer Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan stum­bled across an arti­cle in the Boston Globe describ­ing a trove of dig­i­tized doc­u­ments from Ernest Hem­ing­way’s home in Cuba that had been recent­ly donat­ed to the John F. Kennedy Pres­i­den­tial Library and Muse­um, home of Hem­ing­way’s per­son­al archives. One line in the arti­cle caught her eye: “And the more mun­dane, like his instruc­tions to the house­hold staff, includ­ing how to pre­pare his ham­burg­ers: ground beef, onions, gar­lic, India rel­ish, and capers, cooked so the edges were crispy but the cen­ter red and juicy.”

Tan, a Hem­ing­way fan and the author of A Tiger in the Kitchen: A Mem­oir of Food and Fam­i­ly, set out to find the recipe and try it. She report­ed her expe­ri­ences on the Paris Review Dai­ly blog. “I had made burg­ers before, count­less times on count­less evenings,” Tan writes. “This one was dif­fer­ent; I was­n’t mak­ing just any burg­er — I was attempt­ing to recre­ate Hem­ing­way’s ham­burg­er. And it had to be just right.”

Here is Papa’s favorite recipe for pan-fried ham­burg­ers, as report­ed by Tan:


1 lb. ground lean beef

2 cloves, minced gar­lic

2 lit­tle green onions, fine­ly chopped

1 heap­ing tea­spoon, India rel­ish

2 table­spoons, capers

1 heap­ing tea­spoon, Spice Islands sage

Spice Islands Beau Monde Sea­son­ing — 1/2 tea­spoon

Spice Islands Mei Yen Pow­der — 1/2 tea­spoon

1 egg, beat­en in a cup with a fork

About 1/3 cup dry red or white wine

1 table­spoon cook­ing oil

What to do–

Break up the meat with a fork and scat­ter the gar­lic, onion and dry sea­son­ings over it, then mix them into the meat with a fork or your fin­gers. Let the bowl of meat sit out of the ice­box for ten or fif­teen min­utes while you set the table and make the sal­ad. Add the rel­ish, capers, every­thing else includ­ing wine and let the meat sit, qui­et­ly mar­i­nat­ing, for anoth­er ten min­utes if pos­si­ble. Now make your fat, juicy pat­ties with your hands. The pat­ties should be an inch thick, and soft in tex­ture but not run­ny. Have the oil in your fry­ing pan hot but not smok­ing when you drop in the pat­ties and then turn the heat down and fry the burg­ers about four min­utes. Take the pan off the burn­er and turn the heat high again. Flip the burg­ers over, put the pan back on the hot fire, then after one minute, turn the heat down again and cook anoth­er three min­utes. Both sides of the burg­ers should be crispy brown and the mid­dle pink and juicy.

Spice Islands stopped mak­ing Mei Yen Pow­der sev­er­al years ago, accord­ing to Tan. You can recre­ate it, she says, by mix­ing nine parts salt, nine parts sug­ar and two parts MSG. “If a recipe calls for 1 tea­spoon of Mei Yen Pow­der,” she writes, “use 2/3 tsp of the dry recipe (above) mixed with 1/8 tsp of soy sauce.”

Hem­ing­way’s wid­ow, Mary, pub­lished the same basic recipe in 1966 in the sixth vol­ume of the Wom­an’s Day Ency­clo­pe­dia of Cook­ery. The one-pound of beef was intend­ed for only two serv­ings. For more on Hem­ing­way’s ham­burg­er recipe and his culi­nary tastes, includ­ing a fas­ci­nat­ing list of gourmet foods he had shipped from New York to his home in Cuba, be sure to read Tan’s arti­cle at the Paris Review.

Update: You can also now enjoy Ernest Hemingway’s Sum­mer Camp­ing Recipes.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

The Recipes of Icon­ic Authors: Jane Austen, Sylvia Plath, Roald Dahl, the Mar­quis de Sade & More

MoMA’s Artists’ Cook­book (1978) Reveals the Meals of Sal­vador Dalí, Willem de Koon­ing, Andy Warhol, Louise Bour­geois & More

David Lynch Teach­es You to Cook His Quinoa Recipe in a Strange, Sur­re­al­ist Video

How to Actu­al­ly Cook Sal­vador Dali’s Sur­re­al­ist Recipes: Cray­fish, Prawns, and Spit­ted Eggs

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